10 Books By or About Refugees and Immigrants

By Emily Pullen, Manager, Reader Services and Engagement
September 15, 2020

In recognition of Welcoming Week, which  encourages inclusiveness for people from all kinds of backgrounds, the NYPL readers advisory team wanted to share some of our favorite books by and about refugees and immigrants. Our selections include fiction and a graphic novel as well as nonfiction essays and reported journalism.

Exit West

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Unrest and violence in their city shapes Nadia and Saeed's young love from the beginning and eventually forces them to flee the life they knew, take a leap of faith, and pass through a mysterious network of doors. 

She Weeps Each Time You're Born

She Weeps Each Time You're Born by Quan Barry

A young girl is born during a full moon during the height of the Vietnam War. Her unique ability to hear the voices of the dead guides her as she makes her way through refugee camps, floating communities, rubber plantations, and eventually a boat to a faraway land. 

Under the Udala Trees

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

During the Nigerian Civil War, two girls from different ethnic groups fall in love in a refugee camp. They must make the agonizing choice between living safely or living openly, and they can't do both. 

Preparation for the Next Life

Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish

An undocumented Chinese immigrant and a down-on-his-luck Iraq war veteran fight to survive in the underbelly fringe of New York City, where the American Dream turns against them. 

When Stars Are Scattered

When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

In this graphic novel for kids, Omar and his nonverbal brother fled Somalia and  grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp. They are each other's only family, so when Omar gets the opportunity to go away to school, he must make a difficult decision. 

 Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

The Displaced edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

A collection of original essays by prominent refugee writers on what it means to be forced to leave home and find refuge elsewhere. 

Between Everything and Nothing

Between Everything and Nothing by Joe Meno 

Two men fled the unjust, homophobic political system in Ghana, only to be wrapped up in the chaos of America's current immigration policy. Their asylum pleas were denied and they were held in private detention facilities, which led them to ultimately attempt to cross another border into Canada. 

The Undocumented Americans

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

"An absolutely one-of-a-kind exploration of the lives of undocumented American citizens, injecting humanity, complexity, and nuance into portraits of people who are too often made faceless by our politics and our prejudices." —Aidan Flax-Clark, NYPL Public Programs

Cast Away

Cast Away: True Stories of Survival from Europe's Refugee Crisis by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

"Veteran reporter McDonald-Gibson traces the stories of five refugees trying to escape civil unrest and enter the European Union. Syria, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Libya are included in her broad sweep. By zooming in close on details of the individuals’ stories, McDonald-Gibson paves the way for readers to zoom out; seeing the plight of thousands upon thousands of refugees through the eyes of just a few makes the issue personal, devastating, and impossible to ignore." — Gwen Glazer, NYPL Reader Services

The Best We Could Do

The Best We Could Doby Thi Bui

A graphic memoir about a family who looks longingly to their past in Vietnam, while striving for a better life. The sacrifices, the agonizing loss, and the sparks of joy that hold a family together and shape a child's outlook forever. 

For more recommendations check out Courage, Strength, & Determination: E-Books to Honor World Refugee Day.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!