9 Must-Read Books on Refugee and Migrant Stories

By 09/08/2023February 29th, 2024Stories, Tips

Books can be powerful tools to help us understand the world, other people and ourselves. Immigrant and refugee stories offer a glimpse into the lives, struggles, and triumphs of people who are compelled to leave their homes in search of safety, opportunity or a brighter future. Each story invites us to explore different cultures, traditions, and perspectives.   

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Stories are at the heart of our work at IMIX. Here are some of the IMIX team’s handpicked book recommendations, all centered around the themes of refugees and migration. We hope you find these selections as moving and enlightening as we did. 

1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Embark on a captivating journey with Girl, Woman, Other as it delves into the lives of twelve different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Bernardine Evaristo masterfully crafts a narrative that not only captures the essence of their experiences but also weaves a unique and enlightening tapestry of modern British life. 

Katherine’s pick: ‘I absolutely loved Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, not least because much of it is set around my neighbourhood in South London. Evaristo interweaves the stories and histories of 12 protagonists who are all connected to each other in some way. It taught me about the experience of being a black woman in Britain today and I found delving into these diverse stories moving as well as ground-shifting. Evaristo’s style is fresh, original and hugely engaging. This is a rich, evocative and captivating novel which drew me into these women’s lives in a way I won’t forget for a long time.’  

2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Americanah chronicles Ifemelu’s migration from Nigeria’s oppressive military regime to the United States. As a student in a new land, she confronts the stark reality of racism and discrimination for the first time. When her former teenage love offers to help her, Ifemelu finds herself embroiled in a perilous and undocumented life in London. 

Katie’s pick: ‘This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is a compelling and beautifully written love story describing the intricacies of the African diasporic experience in the USA and England. I don’t give books five star ratings lightly… but this one definitely earned that accolade.’    

3. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana follows the journey of Ana, a young woman from the Dominican Republic, whose life takes an unexpected turn when Juan Ruiz proposes, offering her a chance to move to New York City. Despite the age difference and lack of love between them, Ana’s marriage to Juan promises a future for her family. Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, Ana must navigate cultural shifts, personal desires, and the complexities of a new life in an unfamiliar country. As she navigates her way through challenges and opportunities, Ana’s story captures the essence of sacrifice, resilience, and the pursuit of dreams.  

Aiyanna’s pick: ‘This is a book that has stayed with me since I first read it a few years ago. It offers a poignant exploration of the female immigrant experience and beautifully captures both the challenges and the timeless coming-of-age journey of a young woman discovering her own voice in a new world.’  

4. East West Street by Phillipe Sands

In East West Street, international human rights lawyer Philippe Sands unearths both the origins of international law and the harrowing gaps in his family’s history. As he delves into the past, Sands reveals the extraordinary story of two Nuremberg prosecutors who realise the man they are prosecuting may have been responsible for the murder of their entire families in Nazi-occupied Poland.  

Esther’s pick: ‘This is a personal and political exploration of the origins of human rights laws on genocide and crimes against humanity. Part memoir of a family history of Jewish refugee journeys, part exposition of how the human rights laws that protect us today came to be.’ 

5. The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby

From an award-winning BBC journalist, The Optician of Lampedusa brings to life the testimony of a man and his friends who unexpectedly find themselves on a rescue mission off a Sicilian Island. This is a timeless story about human fellowship and the awakening of courage and conscience. 

Emily’s pick: ‘Having heard the tragic news of more lives lost off the coast of Lampedusa recently, this book came to mind. It tells the story of a group of friends who unexpectedly find themselves on a rescue mission in the Mediterranean. It happened in summer 2015 and it is far from uplifting to know how little has changed for the better since then, but it is a beautiful book that shines a light on the humanity behind the headlines.’ 

6. The Return by Hisham Matar

The Return is a haunting exploration of exile and searching for what was lost. Matar was nineteen when his father was kidnapped and taken to prison in Libya. Two decades later, the fall of Gaddafi allowed him to finally return to his homeland. In this moving memoir, Matar takes the reader on an illuminating journey, both physical and psychological; a journey to find his father and rediscover his country. 

Julia’s pick: ‘This book was given to me by a friend, who read it on returning to her homeland for the first time after becoming a refugee. As well as being beautifully written, it’s something of a historical artifact, as it was written during that brief time after the Arab Spring when anything seemed to be possible. The depth at which it speaks to the exile’s experience was underlined when I lent it to another friend, who told me he didn’t need to finish it as it described his own life.’ 

7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017, Exit West is an extraordinary story of desire and hope, travelling from the Middle East to London and beyond. When civil war erupts in the city that Nadia and Saeed call home, they join people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world. Hamid borrows from the tradition of magical realism to imagine a world where borders can be subverted. 

Julia’s pick: ‘Mohsin Hamid is a really innovative writer and this shows in the way he approaches the subject of refugees and migration. The city Nadia and Saeed live in is never named so you end up illustrating it with your own memories and imagination. 

8.  A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Twenty-three-year-old Zhuang (or Z as she calls herself) embarks on a year in London to study English. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers is a hilarious, moving and totally original account of a young woman’s arrival in the UK, as she explores love, language and identity.  

Julia’s pick: Xiaolu Guo uses an outsider’s perspective to send up British pretensions and habits in a way that is just hysterical, while somehow also telling the poignant story of a young woman finding herself. It’s a witty and clever book that is also very accessible and easy to read last thing at night.’ 

9. The Bay by Julia Rampen

The team’s most anticipated read of the year comes from our own Media Director and 2022 NorthBound Book Award winner, Julia. In an old town on Morecambe Bay, Arthur, a retired and widowed man, feels invisible and out of place. When his path crosses with Suling, a young woman hoping for a better life, they form an unlikely bond. Combining warmth and suspense and recalling a true incident, The Bay tells a tender story about loneliness, confronting prejudice, and the comfort of friendship, however unlikely-as well as exposing one of the most pressing social ills of our age.   

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