6 book recommendations from Laila Lalami
Novelist Laila Lalami is the author of The Moor's Account and The Other Americans, a 2019 National Book Award finalist. In her new book, Conditional Citizens, she uses her experiences as a Moroccan immigrant to explore the boundaries of Americanness.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (2010).
This is a rigorous and persuasive examination of how mass incarceration in the United States functions as a system of racial hierarchy and control and was designed to thwart the progress made by the civil rights movement. It is a must-read.
Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds by Gregory Rodriguez (2007).
I have learned so much from this wonderful book and have recommended it to dozens of people over the years. It tells the story of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from the Spanish conquest to the present moment, and does so in gripping and convincing detail.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013).
I read this book a long time ago, but it has stayed with me. It is a searing and tender tribute to five black men Ward grew up with in a rural town on Mississippi's Gulf Coast. All died in the short span of five years — lost to suicide or drugs or accident. Unforgettable.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (2018).
Heart Berries is another great memoir. This very slender book manages to do a lot: tell the story of Mailhot's upbringing on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia; experiment with voice, narrative structure, and language; and offer a meditation on family and relationships.
Out of Place by Edward Said (1999).
I owe a great debt to Edward Said, whose cultural and political criticism left a deep mark on me, so I was naturally drawn to this memoir, which he began writing after being diagnosed with the leukemia that took his life in 2003. Said writes here about the stifling attention of his parents, his upbringing in Palestine, Egypt, and Lebanon; and the pain of being an outsider.
The Displaced edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2018).
The Displaced is an excellent anthology of essays by refugee writers from all over the world, who recount the experience of having to leave the country of their birth and settle in a new one. There is trauma in dislocation, but also love and hope and growth.
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