Across the world right now, questions of freedom, citizenship, and human rights are reverberating. Race and racism are now central to many of these conversations, found in everyday instances of lived experience and embedded in societies and institutions as a whole.
This month, we’ve compiled recommendations that speak to the experience of racism and the insider-outsider paradigm. We have chosen fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry that talk of immigration and race in many of its forms.
We find these books illuminating, at times heartbreaking and hopeful. We hope you like them too.
Superior tells the disturbing story of how science has been persistently tainted by racial prejudice. The politics of race science is horrifying and sad. Angela Saini, a science journalist, (who previously wrote Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story) writes this meticulously researched and very timely book, when people are again beginning to use bogus race science to justify their prejudices.
Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman ever to win the Booker Prize, though she won only half and had to share it with Margaret Atwood. This novel is vast and busy, stylistically rich, telling us about 12 interconnected black British womxn characters of different ages, social class, sexuality and gender. Their stories cover a range of very different experiences: happy and content, ecstatic, reflective and comfortable, and sad, struggling and difficult. These portraits of different lives were joyous and celebratory for us.
This is the sort of book to shock any reader out of any complacency or ignorance around issues of race. Beloved is inspired by the true life story of Margaret Garner, who escaped slavery in 1856 by running away from a plantation in Kentucky. Toni Morrison has written an incredibly powerful story that gives the reader an intimate view of the many evils of slavery and the scars it leaves. Sethe, the protagonist, kills her child to protect her from future slavery, in rage, frustration and love. The writing conjures images that will stay with you -- the many moods of the ghost of the baby she lost, simply known as Beloved on her tombstone, haunting her house.
Trevor Noah's utterly gripping memoir about coming of age in late-apartheid South Africa is as eye-opening as it is inspiring. Structured as a series of linked essays, the narrative is full of Noah's trademark humour and unflinching in how it recounts the harsh realities of growing up in a deeply racist environment filled with everyday violence and crushing poverty. Right from the first essay (in which Noah is thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping) to the last (in which he elaborates on his mother's abusive relationship with her second husband), the book is energetic and offers insights on race and class, family and community. It is smart, funny and deeply engaging.
Following the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, Joginder Paul migrated to Ambala as a refugee. On marrying his wife Krishna, he moved again to her home in pre-independent Kenya. Land Lust collects thirteen fictionalized stories by Paul, translated from Urdu, written about his time in colonial Kenya. These stories interrogate questions around race, privilege, freedom, and class and their intersections between the British, the Indian, and the African. Paul draws from his own experience and with empathy and nuance juxtaposes the experiences of Indians in Kenya with the experience of the Africans with which they coexist. This book is brought to us in English by a host of renowned translators, and edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar and Vandana R Singh.
Cities across India face a crisis in being unable to fill jobs in many areas of the economy that have grown to depend on workers from different parts of the country. The stories of the lives of these workers - some of whom have made these cities their home for many years - are filled with anecdotes of racist othering that has come to embody their collective psyche. Nandita Haksar explores the lives of some of these individuals who make their move away from homes in northeast India in search of better prospects in urban Indian sprawls. What are their dreams? Are they only shattered dreams, or do they find ways to navigate and overcome this distressing reality? Why is the exodus not over despite their individual and collective experience?
In many of her books, Amy Tan writes clearly and evocatively about the Chinese immigrant experience. The Kitchen God’s Wife tells the story of a second-generation Chinese-American woman, Pearl, and her mother, Winnie, who decides to tell Pearl about the story of her life in China, a life of happiness and hardships that Pearl knows nothing about. Tan beautifully traces the history of a family, exploring the lives of Chinese Americans in California, as well as the realities of migrating from China in the early twentieth century. The Kitchen God’s Wife is a delicate look at race, family, and the bonds that tie generations together.
In this moving collection, Chawla spins poems out of people’s stories. From: Immigrant Diaries is a collection that explores the experiences of immigrants in an alien country. In these poems, the poet addresses the ideas of difference and belonging, and the idea of “home”. From a Peruvian housekeeper, to a lesbian desi, to a young Mexican who sends his paychecks to his mother back home, Chawla paints a picture of the wide experience of immigrant lives, through a diverse cast of characters.