29 Inspiring Books About Immigration The New York Public Library Thinks You Should Read

No week is the wrong week to dive into good books by or about migrants and immigrants. During a time of heightened scrutiny and inflammatory rhetoric directed at immigrants in the United States, these stories have never been more valuable. 

This may be the exact right week to read an migration or immigration narrative, though: It’s New York City’s annual Immigrant Heritage Week, and to celebrate, the New York Public Library’s Elizabeth Waters posted a fantastic list of NYC-based immigration books, both fiction and non-fiction, worth checking out. (The NYPL is also throwing a number of free events in honor of the week, for New York readers.)

It’s easy for some to see immigrants as threatening outsiders who are encroaching on their resources, jobs and space. But a closer look at the experiences of people who have immigrated or migrated to the United States often shows a more nuanced, humane viewpoint. Immigrants’ novels and memoirs can remind us that they’re simply flesh-and-blood people, who have often overcome great obstacles to earn a living, to improve their new communities and to become American. 

Check out the NYPL’s recommendations below ― click on the titles to check out the books from the NYPL ― and head to their blog for more on the selected books.

Nonfiction

1. The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America by Tom Buk-Swienty; translated from the Danish by Annette Buk-Swienty

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2. The Rise of Abraham Cahan by Seth Lipsky

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3. 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

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4. Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

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5. When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

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6. The Factory of Facts by Luc Sante

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7.Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

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8. Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story by Wyclef Jean

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9. Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina by Raquel Cepeda

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10. Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

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11. Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir by Elizabeth Nunez

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12. Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League by Dan-El Padilla Peralta

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13. Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

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Fiction

14. Maggie, A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane

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15. Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska

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16. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth

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17. Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato

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18. Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

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19. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

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20. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

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21. Typical American by Gish Jen

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22. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

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23. Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee

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24. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

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25. The Russian Debutante’s Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

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26Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Tóibín

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27. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

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28. Open City by Teju Cole

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29. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

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