These new books by writers of color shed much needed light on the darkness of Trump’s immigration ban

by Anne Branigin

As judges across the country have weighed in over the past few weeks on the legality of Trump’s immigration ban, the future of tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees now hangs in the balance of our nation’s court system. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court will hear arguments to overturn a temporary ban on the president’s order. It’s a strange time when words etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty (that most American of monuments)—“give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—are up for debate, but here we are.

To help grasp what’s going on, and what’s at stake, we’re highlighting three books published within the last month—all written by people of color—that address the history, complexity, and heart of America’s immigration battle.


Why you should read it:

The praise for Lee’s second novel, published today, has been resounding and effusive. “Pachinko is a book about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised,” writes The New York Times, “But it is so much more besides.” Lee, who is Korean American, writes an epic tale of a Korean family in Japan over seven generations, from the early 20th century to the present. Pachinko gives us a moving and detailed portrait about what it’s like to sit at the nexus of two cultures, and what it means to forge a home in a place that doesn’t always welcome you.


In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastard, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean. —Pachinko

For people like us, home doesn’t exist. —Pachinko


Why you should read it:

At a time when alternative truths are distorting our political discourse, Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra offers up a welcome tonic: a detailed, historic view that connects the rise of white nationalism, ISIS, and other fundamentalist movements. Age of Anger, out in the U.S. today, offers a clear-eyed analysis of and context for these movements. Mishra’s book dispels various myths—that ISIS’s appeal is grounded in Islam or economic despair, for example—and traces the forgotten Western roots of today’s extremist groups. (Spoiler alert: We’ve been here before.) He recently covered some of these themes in an essay for The Guardian.


This vanity, luridly exemplified today by Donald Trump’s Twitter account, often ends up nourishing in the soul a dislike of one’s own self while stoking impotent hatred of others; and it can quickly degenerate into an aggressive drive, whereby individuals feel acknowledged only by being preferred over others, and by rejoicing in their abjection. (As Gore Vidal pithily put it: ‘It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.’) —“Welcome to the Age of Anger,” The Guardian

Rich and poor alike voting for a serial liar and tax dodger have confirmed yet again that human desires operate independently of the logic of self-interest–and may even be destructive of it. —“Welcome to the Age of Anger,” The Guardian


Why you should read it:

It’s easy to reduce the lives of refugees to a single, black and white narrative, but Nguyen, himself a Vietnamese American refugee, renders a life of displacement in vivid and haunting color. The Refugees, out today, is a short story collection that follows in the footsteps of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer, and has been praised by The A.V. Club as “haunting,” and The Washington Post as “exquisite.” Loss and displacement are themes, but so is work—as Nguyen’s characters construct lives built on the sacrifices that came before.


The dead move on. But the living, we just stay here. —The Refugees

Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more. We search for them in a world besides our own, then leave them here to be found, garments shed by ghosts. —The Refugees

So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead. —The Sympathizer