Gratitude is part of my daily routine, but on Thanksgiving and this year, on a Thanksgiving that coincides with Hanukkah, I’m especially grateful for my family history. Several generations back, my ancestors left lives and livelihoods behind for a better deal in America. I’m grateful for that, because between the cossacks’ pogroms and Hitler, who knows if I’d even be around to write these words?
Perhaps that’s why I find immigrant stories so compelling. Here are a few of my favorites.
Cutting For Stone
This debut novel by doctor/author Abraham Verghese is so well done. The story moves from a struggling medical mission in Ethiopia to New York’s outer boroughs, where Marion, the son of an English doctor (who abandons him and his brother) and an Indian nun (who dies in childbirth) attends medical school and tries to understand his mysterious upbringing and his place in the world.
William Styron’s classic is a different take on the immigrant experience: an outsider’s view, where his protagonist is looking at the aftermath of one woman’s concentration camp experience. Horrific and beautiful.
The Revised Kama Sutra
Written by Richard Crasta, this funny coming-of-age novel about a young Indian man of little means but much hope and fantasy comes to America only to find…well, I’ll leave that up to you. This is my favorite book of Crasta’s, which has been called “The Indian Portnoy’s Complaint.”
I adore this book by Jeffrey Eugenides and I’ve read it about five times. It just gets better and I keep finding new things to love. The protagonist, Cal, is the product of two “fish out of water” experiences here – his family’s volatile escape from an isolated Greek village to America, and the character’s own gender identity.
This lovely, lovely story is about a young couple from Calcutta trying to reconcile their move to America and their own lives, dealing with culture clash and generational conflict. Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautiful prose makes it that much more compelling.
Do you have a favorite immigrant tale?