These poignant novels remind us to consider all aspects of the immigrant’s story.
1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
“Set against London’ s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.”
2. The Bones of a Season by Paul Breen
“Fergus Sharkey has come from Ireland to London and settled in the historic surroundings of Greenwich, fabled home and birthplace of time. There the Irish immigrant falls in love with a northern English rose named Katy Prunty and soon begins to follow the fortunes of the local football team, Charlton Athletic.
“To affirm the love of his team, Fergus decides to get a tattoo of the club badge, but this causes friction between Fergus and Katy and sets in motion the gradual decaying of their romance during the course of the football season. When Katy leaves for the coast, Fergus becomes embroiled in a relationship with the tattoo artist Dyana, whose young friend, a grime musician, has recently been gunned down in the street in broad daylight.
“Set against the backdrop of Charlton Athletic’s football fortunes, and a crime network that lurks on the horizon, Fergus begins to uncover the answers to the musician’s murder as well as the layers of his decaying romance.”
3. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
“A book you won’t be able to put down. A Bangladeshi immigrant in London is torn between the kind, tedious older husband with whom she has an arranged marriage (and children) and the fiery political activist she lusts after. A novel that’s multi-continental, richly detailed and elegantly crafted.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Sisterland
4. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
“If immigrants are outsiders then this is a true outsider’s novel. It features the story of an immigrant from the west African nation of Ghana to the south east London suburb of Peckham. It’s not the stuff of fairytales and was a book that resided in the slush pile for a long time before it was picked up by its publishers Bloomsbury. Basically it tells the story of an 11 year old African boy caught up in gang violence and captures a sense of London that rarely features in West End shows and royal palaces. This is not for the faint hearted but then the faint hearted don’t always make the most devoted readers!”—Paul Breen, author of The Bones of a Season
5. Zebra Crossing by Meg Vandermerwe
“Ghost. Ape. Living dead. Young Chipo has been called many names, but to her mother — Zimbabwe ’s most loyal Manchester United supporter — she had always just been Chipo, meaning gift. On the eve of the World Cup, Chipo and her brother flee to Cape Town hoping for a better life and to share in the excitement of the greatest sporting event ever to take place in Africa. But the Mother City’s infamous Long Street is a dangerous place for an illegal immigrant and albino. Soon Chipo is caught up in a get-rich-quick scheme organized by her brother and the terrifying Dr Ongani. Exploiting gamblers’ superstitions about albinism, they plan to make money and get out before rumors of looming xenophobic attacks become reality. But their scheming has devastating consequences.”
6. Americanah by Chimamanda Nogozie Adichi
“Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.”