The best books about immigrants

75 authors have picked their favorite books about immigrants and why they recommend each book.

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A Gift from Brittany

By Marjorie Price,

Book cover of A Gift from Brittany: A Memoir of Love and Loss in the French Countryside

A twenty year old American woman goes to Paris to paint, meets a French artist, marries, has a child, and together buy a farmhouse and make a summer home and art studios in rural Brittany: that story. A memoir. 

The book was published in 2008, but the story takes place in the early 1960s when rural Brittany was closer to the 19th century than the 21st. I was in Paris in 1967, and it was still possible to rent a hotel room for under five dollars a night, to travel in Europe for ten dollars a day. In 1967, you could not safely drink the water in France, including in Paris, and you had to have proof of a typhus vaccine to return to the U.S. It was still more Henry Miller’s Paris than Macron’s.

This was the time of the last of every day berets, blue…


Who am I?

Mark Greenside has been a civil rights activist, Vietnam War protestor, anti-draft counselor, Vista Volunteer, union leader, and college professor. He holds B.S. and M.A. degrees from the University of Wisconsin and his stories have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. He presently lives in Alameda, California, where he continues to teach and be politically active, and Brittany, France, where he still can’t do anything without asking for help.


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(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

By Mark Greenside,

Book cover of (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

What is my book about?

Despite the two decades that have passed since Greenside's snap decision to buy a house in Brittany and begin a bi-continental life, the quirks of French living still manage to confound him. Continuing the journey begun in I'll Never Be French, his 2009 memoir about beginning life in France, (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living details Greenside's daily adventures in his adopted French home, where the simplest tasks are never straightforward but often end in a great story. Through some hits and lots of misses, he learns the rules of engagement--how to get what he needs, which is not necessarily what he thinks he wants--and how to be grateful and thankful when (especially when) he fails, which is more often than he can believe. Experienced Francophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in Greenside's exploring the practical and philosophical questions of French life, vividly brought to life by his humor and affection for his community.

Rebel Cinderella

By Adam Hochschild,

Book cover of Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

This gem of narrative non-fiction tells the improbable story of an utterly impoverished immigrant woman who married into one of the wealthiest “establishment” families of New York City and became one of the nation’s most prominent radical activists in the early 1900s. The unlikely marriage of Rose Pastor and Graham Stokes made many national headlines -- and attracted attention from federal agents. Hochschild brings this odd couple to life in all their ups and downs, introduces us to their circle of famous fellow activists, and illuminates their fights for social justice, struggles that remain relevant to this day.


Who am I?

Seth Rosenfeld is an independent investigative journalist and author of the New York Times best-seller Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. As a staff reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, he specialized in using public records and won national honors including the George Polk Award. Subversives, based on thousands of pages of FBI records released to him as a result of several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, won the PEN Center USA’s Literary Award for Research Nonfiction Prize, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award, and other honors.


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Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

By Seth Rosenfeld,

Book cover of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

What is my book about?

In the mid-1960s, the FBI was secretly involved with three charismatic figures: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal university president Clark Kerr. Subversives traces these converging narratives in a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters, and secret detention lists, all centered on the Free Speech Movement at the University of California’s Berkeley campus.

Subversives provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.

Rites of Passage

By William Golding,

Book cover of Rites of Passage

Lord of the Flies – at sea. Golding won the Booker Prize in 1980 for this novel about a tragedy that unfolds aboard a ship sailing to Australia in the early nineteenth century. Edmund Talbot narrates the tale in lively, entertaining letters to his godfather and benefactor, an English lord. 

Talbot is a thoroughly unpleasant character – an entitled, self-serving snob, whose pursuit of a woman, portrayed as a jolly jape, would earn him an assault charge today. 

The first part describes Talbot’s impressions of his fellow passengers, including the laughable Reverend Colley; his coming to terms with the stench and discomforts of ship life; his commitment to learning nautical terms – the ‘tarry language’ of the sailors. The second half veers off into such a surprising tangent that it is hard to describe without giving the game away. Through Colley’s diaries, we understand more clearly what has been going…


Who am I?

I am a historical fiction writer living in a landlocked village in the Chilterns, UK. I became obsessed with long sea voyages while researching my debut novel, On Wilder Seas, which is inspired by the true story of Maria, the only woman aboard the Golden Hind during Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage in 1577-1580. I immersed myself in the literature of the sea, in early modern sailors’ accounts of their terrifying voyages, in their wills and diaries, in maps and sea-logs. A ship is the perfect setting for a novel: the confined space, the impossibility of escape, the ever-present danger – and the hostile, unforgiving sea is the ultimate antagonist.


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On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind

By Nikki Marmery,

Book cover of On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind

What is my book about?

Inspired by a true story, this is the tale of one woman's uncharted voyage to freedom. April 1579. When two ships meet off the Pacific coast of New Spain, an enslaved woman seizes the chance to escape. But Maria has unwittingly joined Francis Drake's circumnavigation voyage as he sets sail on a secret detour into the far north. Sailing into the unknown on the Golden Hind, a lone woman among eighty men, Maria will be tested to the very limits of her endurance. It will take all her wits to survive - and courage to cut the ties that bind her to Drake to pursue her own journey. How far will Maria go to be truly free?

The Day You Begin

By Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López (illustrator),

Book cover of The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin is a lovely, lyrical reminder that we all have unique experiences and moments of not belonging, but we find connections through sharing our stories. Jacqueline Woodson’s repetitive phrase, “There will be times,” paired with the use of a 2nd person narrator, instantly draws us into the story. As a result, we feel part of the story as we think of times when we didn’t fit in or people didn’t understand our experience. So powerful!! I am a huge proponent of the power of sharing personal stories, and I often speak to groups about how sharing stories can serve as a bridge that might connect us. The Day You Begin is a glorious reflection of this truth.


Who am I?

As the Black American daughter of Jamaican immigrants born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, I love stories that depict the beauty of being multifaceted human beings. Stories steeped in broad understandings of place and home. Stories that encourage us to delight in being the people we are. I also believe our children are natural poets and storytellers. Lyrical picture books filled with rich language and sensory details encourage the thriving of such creativity. In addition to writing All the Places We Call Home, I'm the author of All the Colors We Will See, an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. 


I wrote...

All the Places We Call Home

By Patrice Gopo, Jenin Mohammed (illustrator),

Book cover of All the Places We Call Home

What is my book about?

Where do you come from? Where does your family come from? For many children, the answers to these questions can transform a conversation into a journey around the globe.

In her first picture book, author Patrice Gopo illuminates how family stories help shape children, help form their identity, and help connect them with the broader world. Her lyrical language, paired with Jenin Mohammed's richly textured artwork, creates a beautiful, stirring portrait of a child's deep ties to cultures and communities beyond where she lays her head to sleep. All the Places We Call Home is a quiet triumph that encourages an awakening to our own stories and to the stories of those around us.

Good Neighbors, Bad Times Revisited

By Mimi Schwartz,

Book cover of Good Neighbors, Bad Times Revisited: New Echoes of My Father's German Village

Mimi Schwartz’s Jewish father grew up in a German town where Jews and gentiles got along – until the Nazi era put extraordinary strains on their ability to coexist peaceably.  Schwartz explores how people who were not unusually brave managed to perform small acts of kindness and defiance. Her book offers important lessons for our time.


Who am I?

Ellen Cassedy explores the ways that people, and countries, can engage with the difficult truths of the Holocaust in order to build a better future. She researched Lithuania’s encounter with its Jewish heritage, including the Holocaust, for ten years. Her book breaks new ground by shining a spotlight on how brave people – Jews and non-Jews – are facing the past and building mutual understanding. Cassedy is the winner of numerous awards and a frequent speaker about the Holocaust, Lithuania, and Yiddish language and literature.  


I wrote...

We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

By Ellen Cassedy,

Book cover of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

What is my book about?

Can we honor our diverse heritages without perpetuating the fears and hatreds of the past? Ellen Cassedy set off into the Jewish heartland of Lithuania to study Yiddish and connect with her Jewish forebears. But then her personal journey into the old Jewish heartland expanded – into an exploration of how a land scarred by genocide is – and is not – engaging with the complex history of the Nazi and Soviet eras. Probing the terrain of memory and moral dilemmas, Cassedy shines a spotlight on fragile efforts toward mutual understanding, and offers a message of hope.

97 Orchard

By Jane Ziegelman,

Book cover of 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

The information we have about the five immigrant families who lived in the tenement block at 97 Orchard Street is scanty but I love this book because Jane Ziegelman brings to life the food world of this area of New York inhabited by waves of immigrant Germans, Irish, German and East European Jews, and Italians. We learn about the krauthobblers who in the autumn went from door to door carrying a special knife which they used to shred the hundreds of cabbages the German housewives needed to prepare the barrel of sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) which saw their families through the winter. She makes us shudder at the thought of the shabby tenement kitchens and the goose pens in the basements. We can picture the Fleischmann café, a favourite haunt of police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, who came for its soft, sweet Vienna bread; the cheap Irish eating houses offering ‘beef an’…


Who am I?

I first became interested in food when I was researching my PhD on the use of the body as an instrument of rule in British India. The British in India developed a language of food to demonstrate their power and status. I discovered that food is a rich subject for the historian as it carries a multitude of stories. I have since written five more books exploring these complex stories, always interested in connecting the broad sweep of historical processes to the more intimate level of everyday life and the connections between the food world of the past with the food world of the present.


I wrote...

The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

By Lizzie Collingham,

Book cover of The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

What is my book about?

The glamorous daughter of an African chief shares a pineapple with a slave trader… Surveyors in British Columbia eat tinned Australian rabbit… Diamond prospectors in Guyana prepare an iguana curry…

In twenty meals The Hungry Empire tells the story of how the British created a global network of commerce and trade in foodstuffs that moved people and plants from one continent to another, reshaping landscapes and culinary tastes. The Empire allowed Britain to harness the globe’s edible resources from cod fish and salt beef to spices, tea, and sugar. Lizzie Collingham takes us on a wide-ranging culinary journey, revealing how virtually every meal we eat still contains a taste of empire.

Brown Girl, Brownstones

By Paule Marshall,

Book cover of Brown Girl, Brownstones

This coming-of-age novel set in the Great Depression and World War II Brooklyn has it all: girlhood, poverty, and cultural conflict between Barbadian immigrants and black Americans. The voice of the narrator, a young first-generation immigrant girl, is captivating. Although published in 1959, it is timeless and fresh today, you’ll ask yourself, “why isn’t this story going to became a major motion picture?”.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing, speaking, blogging, and tweeting about the history of American children and their childhoods for many decades. When I went to school—a long time ago—the subject did not come up, nor did I learn much in college or graduate school. I went out and dug up the story as did many of the authors I list here. I read many novels and autobiographies featuring childhood, and I looked at family portraits in museums with new eyes. Childhood history is fascinating and it is a lot of fun. And too, it is a great subject for book groups.


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Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

By Janet Golden,

Book cover of Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America Into the Twentieth Century

What is my book about?

Babies Made Us Modern analyzes the dramatic transformations in the lives of babies during the 20th century. I take my readers through the story of how babies shaped American society and culture. Babies led their families into the modern world, helping them to become more accepting of scientific medicine, and leading adults into consumer culture as parents and others shopped for baby items. Curiosity about babies led Americans to become open to new theories about human development and to welcome government programs and advice.

Babies weren’t just pathbreakers, they also kept families rooted in traditions, from religious celebrations to cultural practices, to folk medicine. This is also a story about diversity that explains how gender, race, region, class, and community shaped life in the nursery and was, in turn, shaped by the vulnerabilities of babies.

My Ántonia

By Willa Cather,

Book cover of My Ántonia

Every discussion about the evolution of writing in ‘the West’ has to start with Willa Cather, who was the first writer from the west to be awarded a major literary award when she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, which isn’t even one of her five best novels. Cather wrote openly about alcoholism, domestic violence, and other painful topics, transforming western writing from cardboard cutout characters to real people. My Ántonia has become an American classic, not just in western literature but in all literature. My Ántonia is told from the point of view of a young farm boy who falls in love with the enchanting Ántonia, and it’s beautifully written, taking us into the emotional heart of youth and idealism in the West.


Who am I?

I have published seven books, all set in the West, including an anthology, West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, that features writers from every state west of the Mississippi. For four years now, I have been doing a podcast called Breakfast in Montana, where my partner Aaron Parrett and I discuss Montana books. I also published a book in 2016 called 56 Counties, where I traveled to every county in Montana and interviewed people about what it means to live in this state. So I have a good feel for the people of this region and for the books they love. 


I wrote...

In Open Spaces

By Russell Rowland,

Book cover of In Open Spaces

What is my book about?

In Open Spaces is the story of the Arbuckle Ranch in Southeastern Montana. Loosely based on the author’s family history, the story starts with the drowning of the oldest Arbuckle brother, George, meaning that the narrator, Blake, is forced to leave school in Belle Fourche South Dakota to work on the ranch. In a story that covers three decades, Blake and his two surviving brothers, Jack and Bob, jockey for position as to who will take over the ranch. While Jack is the oldest, he has a tendency to disappear for years at a time, even after he marries a young woman from back east. Meanwhile, youngest brother Bob ends up marrying a woman who will stop at nothing to try and bring the ranch into the hands of her husband.

The Taste of Sugar

By Marisel Vera,

Book cover of The Taste of Sugar

Through friendships with Borinqueñxs and interest in the island, I don’t consider myself wholly ignorant about Puerto Rico. Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico was claimed by the US following the Spanish American War, but once again, when I tried to learn more about that era, I ran into a brick wall. Marisel Vera recovers that history while offering all the pleasures of a traditional family saga. She brings the reader close to the daily lives and loves of a family of coffee farmers who struggle first under Spanish rule and then the system established by the US. Vera also taught me something I’d never heard of: the deceptive recruitment that carried newly impoverished but still hopeful Puerto Ricans off to Hawaii to labor in the sugar fields. 


Who am I?

Soon after 9/11, I had dinner with several American scientists worried about how new security measures would affect international collaborations and foreign-born colleagues. Since science rarely if ever comes up in discourse about the War on Terror, that set me off. I’m always drawn to whatever gets overlooked. I was born in one international city – New York – and have lived in another – Los Angeles – for over 20 years. I’ve spent time on four continents and assisted survivors of violent persecution as they seek asylum – which may explain why I feel compelled to include viewpoints from outside the US and fill in the gaps when different cultural perspectives go missing.


I wrote...

Out of Place

By Diane Lefer,

Book cover of Out of Place

What is my book about?

When a scientific research institute in the Mojave Desert falls under suspicion in the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI connects the dots. But is the Bureau identifying terrorists or unwittingly targeting the innocent? In a novel spanning cultures and continents, Out of Place explores the cost of the security state as an international cast of richly imagined characters (both human and animal) have in common an unease that may well be true of most of us: feeling – or being seen as – out of place.

Dreamers

By Yuyi Morales,

Book cover of Dreamers

A non-fiction picture book that reads like poetry, this gorgeous book describes the author’s own journey from Mexico to the U.S. with her young son. The illustrations are as poetic as the language, which infuses English with Spanish words, simple words with more challenging ones, and words of pain with those of pride, resilience, and creativity. The book explores not only the refugee’s journey, but also, and most especially, the challenges and small victories of integrating and trying to make a new life in a new land. I also love the central role that books, words, and libraries play in paving the way toward this new life. Language is power, but it is also magic.


Who am I?

The refugee story is deeply rooted in my family, as my (great-/) grandparents fled Europe for a safer life in America. I grew up listening to their stories of escape and trying to integrate in their new land. Human rights were also a focus of my graduate studies – and later in founding the Human Rights Watch Committee NL and joining the Save the Children Board of Trustees. I am a writer and poet, Board member, and former strategy consultant who always wanted to write refugee stories for children. Their stories are difficult. But children should understand that although the world is not always safe or fair, there is always hope.


I wrote...

Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children

By Hollis Kurman, Barroux (illustrator),

Book cover of Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children

What is my book about?

Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children traces the refugee child’s journey through a hopeful lens: 1 boat…helping us on our way; 2 hands…lifting us to safety; 5 wishes…giving us hope... Come with a family as they travel out of danger to a safe place and are shown all sorts of kindness along the way. This unique counting book is full of empathy and hope for all children, everywhere.

Illustrated by Barroux, Counting Kindness is published in 10 countries; endorsed by Amnesty International, nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal and DC Library Association Three Stars Book Award, and won a Northern Lights Award. 10% of author royalties will be donated to Amnesty International. A follow-up book, Counting in Green, is forthcoming in 2023.

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