What to Read Now: Migration Narratives
Whether seeking upward mobility, pursuing adventure, or escaping war, the characters in these migration narratives unsettle myths and demonstrate how geographic shifts impact everything from identity to daily life.
My Father’s Wives (2008)
José Eduardo Agualusa
tr. Daniel Hahn
A brilliant tapestry of a tale, weaving fictions, hopes, facts, and dreams together in the quest to unravel a migratory musician father. I love the language trips of this book—as it hurtles through South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola—as much as its geographic shifts.
Vesna Maric’s narrative of Bosnian migration to provincial Britain is wonderful for its celebration of the little joys and amusements beneath the blanket media projection of despair. I admire her courage in providing so little news-based context in an immensely readable memoir.
Season of Migration to the North (1969)
tr. Denys Johnson-Davies
I love this book’s sense of fun, its wonder at the joys and challenges of migration, as well as the fact that it unsettles many dominant contemporary conceptions of Islamic life (see WLT, Summer 1970, 530).
The Lonely Londoners (1956)
Sam Selvon’s book on the Caribbean coming to “lime” in London is my blueprint migration narrative and the first I ever felt compelled to read; I wanted to know what made my father laugh so hard, and it’s where I learned all about spades. (If my daughter wanted to hear me laugh the way my father did then, I would probably have to be reading Junot Díaz’s Drown.)
Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (2008)
The story of a family’s migration from New Zealand to a former cow shed (with associated smells) in Botswana, Robyn Scott’s debut is great at showing how geographic shifts impact everything, from who it is socially acceptable to dance with to how you feel about your own skin.
Editorial Note: Parkes's poem "Our love is here to stay," was recently shortlisted in WLT's 350th Issue Readers' Choice Poll featuring the best pieces from the past ten years of WLT. The poem appeared in the March 2011 issue of WLT.