They left their homes behind to pursue new horizons, some pushed by political forces, some by the fear of persecution and many left looking for a better future. In this article, we present to you our list of 10 immigrant authors who once started as outsiders in foreign countries and are today literary legends.
1. Kite Runner By Khaled Hosseini
Born in Afghanistan, Hosseini moved to Paris, and ultimately to America following the Russian invasion of his native country in 1980. His 2003 novel, The Kite Runner, was on The New York Times bestseller list for over a year.
Hosseini’s first novel is an unforgettable, heartbreaking story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy heir and his servant. Kite Runner is a beautifully curated piece of work that is successful in depicting the importance of love and family. It pulls in its readers with its relatable narrative and the simplicity of its words. The novel is a depiction of what life maybe for those who are forced to flee a life they spent decades building, leaving a country that has generations of your family buried within its walls.
2. Unaccustomed Earth By Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories was her first novel to make the top of the New York Times bestseller list. The book, a compilation of eight locational stories, gained global recognition as it weaved from Cambridge to Seattle and India to Thailand. Unaccustomed Earth considers the lives of Bengali American characters and how they deal with their mixed cultural environment; it depicts the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.
3. Night Sky With Exit Wounds By Ocean Vuong
The debut collection by Vietnamese-American poet, Ocean Vuon, had me in its grasp since I first read it. The book reached the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2016; was nominated for numerous awards including the Lambda Literary Award, and was crowned the winner of both the 2016 Whiting Award and the 2017 Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award. Night Sky With Exit Wounds is a collection of poetry about war and cultural upheaval, written with language that conveys a raw sense of loss, exposes violent undertones, and grapples with love, desire, grief, conflict, and disruption. This novel is a visual depiction of an ignored reality that many migrants leave behind.
4. Homeland Elegies By Ayad Akhtar
A New York Times bestseller and Washington Post book of the Year, Homeland Elegies is outstanding; it is breathtaking; it is sheer brilliance on paper – it is a book I’ve read more times than I can count. Homeland Elegies is about a family, their ties to their homeland of Pakistan, and the new lives they make for themselves in the U.S amidst rising Islamophobia post 9/11. A novel that seamlessly blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in a world made by 9/11. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.
5. Exit West By Mohsin Hamid.
Exit West is the fourth novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid. The main themes are emigration and refugee problems. This 2017 novel that tells the story of two characters — Saeed and Nadia — who meet and fall in love as their country breaks out in a civil war. After discovering that magic doors are popping up throughout their city that could transport them to a different country, the couple decides to leave their home and forge a new life together in an unknown place.
6. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between By Hisham Matar.
When he was 12, Matar and his family went into political exile. Eight years later Matar’s father, a former diplomat and military man turned brave political dissident, was kidnapped from the streets of Cairo by the Libyan government and is believed to have been held in the regime’s most notorious prison.
Inspired by Mata’s true story this book is a profoundly moving family memoir; a brilliant and affecting portrait of a country and a people on the cusp of immense change; and a disturbing and timeless depiction of the monstrous nature of absolute power.
Hisham Matar returned to Libya in the spring of 2012, and his extraordinary memoir of that time is so much more besides, a reflection on the consolations of art, an analysis of dictatorship, and an emotionally moving work of mourning. A novel that will leave you heartbroken yet asking for more. Reading this book is bitter-sweet yet freeing somehow.
7 Americanah By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a book that manages to do both. It is ostensibly a love story, the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England. But it’s not just that, Americanah is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.
8 War Trash By Ha Jin.
War Trash is a novel by Ha Jin, the Chinese author who migrated to the United States.
It takes the form of a memoir written by the fictional character Yu Yuan, a man who eventually becomes a soldier in the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and who is sent to Korea to fight on the Communist side in the Korean War. The majority of the “memoir” is devoted to describing this experience, especially after Yu Yuan is captured by United nations forces and imprisoned as a POW.
Ha jin’s penmanship is impeccable in his description of the obstacles that his character overcomes and ultimately leaves you with an unforgettable experience.
9 Imperial Life Inside The Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone. By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief, Rajiv Chandrasekaran narrates an almost unbelievable tale of a bubble within the war zone. Cut off from wartime realities, the task of reconstructing a devastated nation must compete with the distractions of Halliburton-run, Little America – bars stocked with a cold beer and hot women, a movie theatre, and an all-you-could-eat buffet. Most Iraqis were barred from entering the Emerald City for fear they would blow it up.
Working with hundreds of interviews and internal documents taken from those living within the city, Chandrasekaran tells the story of the people and ideas that inhabited the Green Zone during the occupation. The book is testament to Eisenhower’s warning against the evils of the Industrial Military Complex
10 Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World By Liaquat Ahamed
Liaquat Ahamed was born in Kenya, where his grandfather had emigrated to Kenya from Gujarat by way of Zanzibar in the late 19th century. He was educated at Rugby School in England, at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Harvard University.
Ahamed went on to work for the World Bank in Washington D.C., where he headed the bank’s investment division. His novel is a nonfiction book that talks of the events leading up to and culminating in the Great Depression as told through the personal histories of the heads of the Central Banks of the world’s four major economies at the time: Benjamin Strong Jr. of the New York Federal Reserve, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, Émile Moreau of the Banque de France, and Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank.
While different from the rest of the entries in this list, Ahamed’s is just as important in the lessons it teaches us, especially with one of the biggest financial threats looming over the world as the pandemic rages on into a new year.