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Contemporary Literature of the Immigrant Experience in the United States: Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography of Recommended Literature

Adichie, C. N. (2013). Americanah. New York, NY: Anchor.

This novel appears in the Sub-Saharan Africa page of our LibGuide. This winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction tells the story of a love thwarted by separation and distance. It follows Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, and her boyfriend, Obinze, as they escape their country's military dictatorship by going to the United States and London, respectively. Ifemelu must navigate racism and what it means to be black in America, as she tries to make a life for herself far from her homeland and Obinze. The novel deals with themes of racism, the meaning of home, and the effects of diaspora on family and relationships.

Alvar, M. (2016). In the Country: Stories. New York, NY: Vintage.

This collection of short stories appears in the South/Southeast Asia page of our LibGuide. It was the recipient of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and a 2015 Nautilus Book Award Winner, as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle/John Leonard Prize for Best Debut. The stories portray the complex lives of members of the Philippine diaspora living in the Middle East and the United States as they try to gain economic stability. Alvar explores themes of loss, displacement, and the meaning of home.

Alyan, H. (2017). Salt Houses. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

This novel appears in the Middle East/North Africa page of our LibGuide. This winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Arab American Book Award follows the displacement of the Palestinian Yacoub family across continents and generations. In this novel, Hala Alyan explores the intergenerational trauma that results from losing one's homeland and living through conflict and family separation.

Gay, R. (2018). Ayiti. New York, NY: Grove Press.

This collection of short stories appears in the Latin America/Caribbean page of our LibGuide. Ayiti is the first book by bestselling author Roxane Gay, who has won the PEN Center USA Freedom to Write Award and Lambda Literary Awards' Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature. These stories paint a vivid portrait of Haiti and members of the Haitian diaspora. Gay explores the lasting trauma of escaping the poverty and violence of one's homeland but yearning for it all the same, along with those who remain.

Grande, R. (2006). Across a Hundred Mountains. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

This novel appears in the Latin America/Caribbean page of our LibGuide. This winner of the American Book Award tells the story of Juana, a 14-year-old Mexican girl whose life has been marred by tragedy. Forced to attempt a solo journey to the United States to find her father, she faces hardship but also forges an unexpected friendship with another young woman separated from her own family. The novel shows the dire situations that force people to uproot their lives and face danger in an attempt to secure a life for themselves.

Gyasi, Y. (2016). Homegoing. New York, NY: Vintage.

This novel appears in the Sub-Saharan Africa page of our LibGuide. This winner of the PEN/ Hemingway Award and the National Book Critic Circle's John Leonard Award tells the story of two Ghanaian half-sisters and their descendants, from the 18th century to the present day. One sister marries an Englishman and her descendants settle in Ghana; the other sister is sold into slavery, and through her descendants we see Southern plantations, the American Civil War, and the Harlem Renaissance. The novel explores the lasting trauma of forced immigration to the United States through slavery and family separation.

Henríquez, C. (2014). The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel. New York, NY: Knopf.

This novel appears in the Latin America/Caribbean page of our LibGuide. This finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction tells the story of two immigrant families, one Mexican and one Panamanian, whose lives become intertwined after they become neighbors in Delaware, where they have immigrated. Although the two families at first find comfort in their similar struggles, things quickly become complicated and end in tragedy. The novel paints a portrait of the many hardships immigrants to the United States face, including economic difficulties and bigotry.

Jarrar, R. (2009). A Map of Home. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

This novel appears in the Middle East/North Africa page of our LibGuide. This winner of the Hopwood Award and the Arab American Book Award tells the coming-of-age tale of Nidali, the daughter of Egyptian-Greek and Palestinian parents. Born in Boston but raised in Kuwait, Nidali and her family's life is uprooted as the Gulf War forces them to flee to Egypt and then Texas. There, she must navigate conflict with her parents as well as a new culture and new customs. The novel explores themes of identity and the concept of home.

Khadivi, L. (2017). A Good Country. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

This novel appears in the Middle East/North Africa page of our LibGuide. Written by Laleh Khadivi, who received several awards for her debut novel, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in 2016, A Good Country paints a convincing portrait of how an ordinary teenager becomes radicalized. It follows the transformation of an affluent Southern California teenager, the son of Iranian immigrants, from a straight-A student, to a fun-loving stoner, and then to a follower of radical Islam. Khadivi explores the conflict between fitting in and being truly accepted, between one's country of birth and the country of one's heritage. The novel encompasses themes of identity, alienation, and the effects of being of Middle Eastern descent in post-9/11 America.

Kim, S. (2003). The Interpreter. New York, NY: Picador.

This novel appears in the East Asia page of our LibGuide. This winner of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Prize tells the story of a young Korean-American court interpreter in New York City who discovers that the homicide of her immigrant parents was the result of more than a random robbery. The novel explores themes of identity and the feeling of being caught between two cultures.

Ko, L. (2017). The Leavers. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

This novel appears in the East Asia page of our LibGuide. This finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction tells the story of Deming Guo, a boy growing up in New York City whose mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, suddenly disappears one day. Eventually Deming is adopted by a white couple and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. He slowly adapts to his new, comfortable life upstate, but is persistently troubled by the loss of his Chinese family and culture. Told from the perspective of both Deming/Daniel and his mother, Polly, in New York and China, the novel follows both as they struggle with the changes forced upon them, their separation, and the prospect of reuniting. The Leavers deftly explores themes of immigration, assimilation, and the meaning of one's own culture. It explores the effects of the United States' immigration and deportation policies on families and how these effects shape people's lives.

Lahiri, J. (2004). The Namesake. New York, NY: Mariner Books.

This novel appears in the South/Southeast Asia page of our LibGuide. In The Namesake, Pulitzer Prize–winner Jhumpa Lahiri masterfully tells the multigenerational story of the Bengali-American Ganguli family. It portrays the struggle of Gogol Ganguli's immigrant parents to assimilate and feel at home in a new country with a vastly different culture. It also follows Gogol as he grows up in America and tries to find a balance between immersing himself in American culture and feeling comfortable with his Bengali roots.

Mengestu, D. (2007). The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

This novel appears in the Sub-Saharan Africa page of our LibGuide. This winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and The Guardian First Book Award tells the story of an Ethiopian immigrant struggling to find where he fits in after having fled the Ethiopian Revolution 17 years prior. Sepha, who runs a failing grocery store in Washington, D.C., is completely isolated aside from his two fellow immigrant friends, who spend their time bitterly reminiscing about their past and their lost homeland. The novel is told through both the past and the present and includes themes of isolation, identity, belonging, and the trauma that comes from forced separation from one's homeland.

Nguyen, V. T. (2017). The Refugees. New York, NY: Grove.

This collection of short stories appears in the South/Southeast Asia page of our LibGuide. Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, it won the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Honor Award. These stories follow Vietnamese refugees as they try to adapt to the United States while dealing with alienation, loss, and trauma. Some stories also portray the American influence on people who remain in Vietnam or return to it.

Zhang, J. (2017). Sour Heart: Stories. New York, NY: LENNY.

This collection of short stories appears in the East Asia page of our LibGuide. This winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction portrays the immigrant experience through the voices of the daughters of Chinese immigrants. In Jenny Zhang's distinctive style of blunt, sometimes coarse, humorous language mixed with heavy and poignant moments, these stories range from China to the United States, from the 1960s Cultural Revolution to New York City apartments and schools. The stories in Sour Heart touch on many aspects of the immigrant experience, including poverty, language barriers, and racism.