Migration in Literature

There are hundreds of captivating migration stories from all over the world. Naturally, deciding to leave one’s home and motherland, with the intent of never coming back, is a major decision. What are the reasons to make such a step? What was the journey like? How did they start a new life once arrived at destination? Were there many set-backs of was it a big improvement?

Many more questions arise when you think of all these groups of people, travelling far and wide for a better future.  And so, many stories were written to describe their experiences.

We have chosen a small selection of books to introduce, and hopefully inspire, you to the literary world of migration.

Book Number One
Title: Brooklyn
Author: Colm Tóibín

Many stories have been told of emigration to Northern America from Europe. One of those is Colm Tóibín’s novel; Brooklyn.
An Irish girl, named Eilis Lacey, travels to New York by herself, in search of employment and a better future. She finds herself in a boarding house for girls and working at a large department store. But life isn’t easy; she’s caught between ties with family back home and starting a new life with her boyfriend in America.

Tóibín grew up in the south east of Ireland and that is what gave him the inspiration to write about the main character that comes from there as well. He uses many memories of his childhood to create a setting for his novel, such as his hometown Enniscorthy, the main street, the old gentleman’s club, old families, and town dances.
The novel was adapted in film in 2015, with the leading role played by Saoirse Ronan. You can view the trailer here.

Book Number Two
Title: The Arrival
Author: Shaun Tan

The Arrival is a wordless graphic novel with wonderful illustrations. The graphics capture the feeling of wonder, displacement, perseverance, and belonging of an immigrant in a new land. Anyone who has travelled and lived in foreign places will be able to identify him/herself with the images, and others will gain a good understanding of what it must be like.
Tan got the inspiration for this book from his home town in Perth, Western Australia – a very isolated place where he experienced life as a minority, being of Chinese descent.

Book Number Three
Title: The Good Immigrant
Author: Nikesh Shukla

The Good Immigrant is an interesting novel on contemporary migration stories and issues. It brings together 21 voices of ethnic minorities, emerging in Britain today. This collections of essays  discusses reasons why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be different or an ‘other’ in a country that apparently does not want to really accept them. It also discusses how and why society deems certain people as bad immigrants, and others as good because of certain acts or behaviours.

Book Number Four
Title: The New Odyssey: the Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis
Author: Patrick Kingsley

In the New Odyssey, Guardian’s migration correspondent Patrick Kingsley reports in depth on the refugee crisis which Europe is facing today. In 2015, he travelled through 17 countries, meeting hundreds of refugees and seeking to understand why they keep coming, and how they are doing it.
Next to the refugees, his story is also about the people smugglers, the coastguards, the volunteers, the hoteliers, the border guards, and the politicians- who are all involved in facing this wave of migration.

Book Number Five
Title: Caithness to Patagonia: Distant Lands and Close Relatives
Author: Ian Leith

Caithness to Patagonia is a rather unknown story but most extraordinary. From the town of Caithness in Scotland, quite a number of men and women migrated to the area of Patagonia in Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th century. This novel tells the story of these pioneers and their experiences in Patagonia and its development as one of the world’s greatest sheep farming areas. It starts with a story of John Hamilton, the son of a tailor from Wick, who became one of the most enterprising sheep farmers there. It continues with stories of determination, deaths and tragedies, but also of success and present day descendants.


Do you have any good recommendations for books about migration? Please, share!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s