7 books about emigration based on real stories

Choose for yourself one book from a diverse range of stories that are based on the personal experiences of emigrant authors and their families
6 min
September 30, 2023

Emigration is always a significant change. Even simple things like connecting to the Internet or buying subway and bus passes can seem like a small ordeal. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is unfamiliar; everything is new. For many writers, the comprehension of their experience of emigration, the way their family and friends adapted to the new reality, happened through their books. This selection features very different stories based on emigrant authors' personal experiences or their family's stories.

1. Unorthodox. The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Deborah Feldman, 2020

It is an autobiographical novel by Deborah Feldman, who grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York. Her life was marked by a ban on reading non-religious books, using the Internet, wearing modern clothing, and receiving a secular education. She married a man she had known for only half an hour and became a mother at 19. However, Feldman decided to change her life and made her escape. Today, Deborah lives in Berlin with her son, and her novel has become an international bestseller and serves as the basis for the acclaimed Netflix television series "Unorthodox."

2. A Year in Provence

Peter Mayle, 1989

The bestseller that brought Mayle world fame. A sparklingly humorous novel about the story of one move: to buy a farmhouse in the south of France and start life over - sounds like a dream!

3. Transcendent Kingdom

Yaa Gyasi, 2022

Yaa Gyasi won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her book about the daughter of Ghanaian migrants was a New York Times bestseller. The book is not autobiographical, though the narrative has much of Yaa Gyasi's personal experience, whose parents also came to the States from Ghana. Gifty lives in the U.S. and works in science. As she searches for herself, she wonders what defines her, where to look for answers - in faith or science? How to help loved ones to get out of situations that pull them to the bottom? How not to lose yourself?

4. London: Immigrant City Hardcover

Nazneen Khan-Østrem, 2021

Nazneen Khan-Østrem was born in Nairobi and grew up in Norway and Britain. This book attempts to understand the impact immigrants who flooded London after World War II had on life in the British capital and their role in creating a modern portrait of the metropolis.

5. Funny in Farsi

Firoozeh Dumas, 2003

Dumas is the first Iranian-born American writer whose work has achieved national bestseller status. It is an autobiographical novel. It is full of humor and warmth, with many touching moments about the author's childhood in Iran and the United States. But behind the humorous tone are complex integration issues and immigrants' hybrid identities.

6. The Shoemaker's Wife

Adriana Trigiani, 2012

Adriana Trigiani's grandparents left their native Italy and searched for a better life in the United States, creating that very Little Italy in Manhattan. The stories told by them and family friends form the basis of the writer's novels. In this case, it is a love story that spans two continents, and two world wars, connecting the tranquil beauty of Italy and New York City, aspiring to become the center of the world.

7. My Family and Other Animals

Gerald Durrell, 1956

An autobiographical tale by an animal writer that will appeal to those who "don't want to read anything serious right now." In a playful tone, the author recounts the life of his family, who came to the Greek island of Corfu: funny events, eccentric characters, and the beauty of the island and wildlife.

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Yulia Bykova
Immigrant and writer
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