Those of us who grew up children of diaspora know that nagging feeling of yearning for a home, or a country, that isn’t quite ours anymore. Writer Fatimah Asghar calls this “diasporic lonely feels,” an unplaceable melancholy somewhere between sadness and nostalgia.
This list speaks to the in-betweens of diasporic existence and serves as a balm to longing. The books satisfy a craving for, as scholar Jeffrey Santa Ana puts it, “that ancestral feeling” — a connection to homeland, however nebulous it may be.
“America Is Not the Heart,” by Elaine Castillo
Castillo’s first novel centers on the complex experiences of three generations of Filipino American women in Milpitas, Calif. With funny, tender prose, Castillo deftly covers the violent political strife of the Philippines, America’s hold on the islands, a queer coming-of-age story and a look at the intimate yet complex bonds between diasporic communities in the United States.
“Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
This iconic, multilingual hybrid text interrogates the experiences of “The New Mestiza”: a person of mixed ancestry who must embrace her multifaceted, and at times contradictory, sense of self. Combining feminist and Latinx theory, poetry and essay, Anzaldúa explores the myriad possibilities and pains of being mixed.
“If They Come for Us,” by Fatimah Asghar
In a mere 100 pages, the Kashmiri, Pakistani, Muslim American poet speaks to issues of race, belonging and national conflict, from the pain of the Partition to the post-9/11 treatment of Muslims in the United States. Asghar addresses the residuals of historical violence in stinging, clear prose: “not an overthere but a memory lurking / in our blood, waiting to rise.”
“Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s third novel follows Ifemelu, a tenacious young woman who leaves military-ruled Nigeria to study in the United States. The novel swings back and forth between Ifemelu’s navigation of U.S. culture and race relations in the present to her upbringing in Nigeria, where she fell in love with Obinze. Fifteen years later, the couple must decide whether they should reunite in a democratic Nigeria.
“The January Children,” by Safia Elhillo
The Sudanese American poet’s intimate collection mixes nostalgia and resistance to question the complexities of history, homemaking and nationality. Elhillo writes, “where i’m from is where i’m from & not / where i was put,” and any child of diaspora knows exactly what she means.
“The Buddha of Suburbia,” by Hanif Kureishi
The novelist, playwright and screenwriter of “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985) fame tackles the liminality of second-generation existence in 1970s suburban London with electric humor. Set to a soundtrack of Bowie and British punk, teenage Karim grapples with what it means to be both Indian and English against the backdrop of intense social change. Written in 1990 and cited as an inspiration by Zadie Smith, among others, “The Buddha of Suburbia” is a benchmark for any writer of diasporic experience.
“Palm Frond With Its Throat Cut,” by Vickie Vértiz
Rooted in the Latinx communities of southeast Los Angeles, Vértiz’s poems touch upon survival, resistance and family in the face of displacement and discrimination. With an acute attention to the everyday, Vértiz puts forth an urgent, fierce reclamation of home. Writing in English, Spanish and Nahuatl, Vértiz honors and relishes the feeling of being untranslatable. The collection swerves from funny (“Was it the churros? No, it was the tofu as meat option”) to ferocious commentary (“It was the corn that made us cry, a modified sorrow / It’s not natural, a kernel that won’t grow”) that leads the reader to a multifaceted understanding of shared history.
“Disoriental,” by Négar Djavadi
In her first novel, French Iranian screenwriter Djavadi delivers the story of Kimiâ Sadr, who flees Iran at age 10 with her mother and siblings to reunite with her father in France. Now a 20-something in Paris, Kimiâ contends with modern womanhood in the waiting room of a fertility clinic, subsumed by memories of her childhood, ancestors and Iranian history and politics. The book won the 2019 Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award.
“100 Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel García Márquez
A staple of the Latin American Boom, the beloved Colombian author’s family saga tracks many generations of the Buendía family in the fictitious Colombian town of Macondo. As Paul Elie of Vanity Fair writes, “García Márquez made the presence of the past a condition of life.” Equal parts Latin American history and magical realism, “100 Years of Solitude” is a barometer for envelope-pushing.
“Go Home!” edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Feminist Press and the Asian American Writers Workshop joined forces to create this anthology that expands the meaning of “home” within the Asian diaspora through fiction, memoir and poetry. Contributors include literary heavyweights like Alexander Chee, T Kira Madden, Sharlene Teo and Esmé Weijun Wang, with a foreword by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Rosa Boshier is a writer and artist whose work has been featured in publications such as The Offing, Necessary Fiction, the Acentos Review and Los Angeles Review of Books.