Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Interviews, Recommendations, and More

8 Books on Immigration, Refuge and Diaspora

A recommended reading list by the author of the new book Crooked Teeth

Book Cover Crooked Teeth

With every book I write, I am asked the eternal question: Is this a reflection of your own real life? 

The answer, always, is that I do not actually know.

As a fiction writer, I’m obsessed with what’s real over what’s truthful. I try not to replicate the true events of my life, but rather imitate them in an attempt to offer you a truthful representation of my experience. One that can then be stretched to cover the experiences of those who are like me.

As a memoirist, though, I am not offered the same shield. Truth and reality, two entities that rarely match in my fiction, had to be mirror images of one another in my nonfiction.

In this list of books, I am collecting eight books that helped me find that balance, reach those stories, and learn what it means to be both realistic and truthful.


Book Cover The Displaced

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

With a list of contributors including many favourites (namely Dina Nayeri of The Ungrateful Refugee—as well as Canadian names such as David Bezmozgis and Joseph Kertes), this collection of essays feels like a choir I’d like to preach to. The nuanced, unmatched, and slightly overwhelming narrative truly brings to the front some of the most beautiful refugee stories, while cementing the truth that there is no single refugee story.


Book Cover the Paper Boat

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story, by Thao Lam

It’s important to me, as also a children's author, to showcase the beautiful work fellow authors of immigration background are offering to kids of all ages. In this picture book, a wordless journey is shown of one family’s escape from Vietnam. This book is special, with its play on magic realism, connecting the journey to an ant colony. I was enhanced to have my hands on this book: it feels like a masterpiece.


Book Cover Angry Queer Somali Boy

Angry Queer Somali Boy, by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali

I do not take this book lightly. It’s important, heavy, filled with reflections and healing power. The book brings up the balance between the surrender to your circumstance, or making your own journey in life. One that breaks away from the trauma of childhood, and brings together the joys of found communities. Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali should be proud of this coming-of-age memoir.


Book Cover Reutrn

Return: Why We Go Back to Where We Come From, by Kamal Al-Solaylee

Kamal Al-Solaylee is a mentor to many of us queer authors of colour. His writing speaks directly to my soul, and navigates questions that I am not elevated enough yet to ask myself. In Return, his writing sings, while his investigative journalist background takes a strong hold. There is research in this book, true. There are interviews. There are also deeply personal, intensely meaningful situations that not only speak to his experience, but somehow speak to all of ours.


Book Cover Like a Love STory

Like a Love Story, by Abdi Nazemian

This YA novel about falling in love in New York City during the AIDS pandemic is tender, lovely, sweet, gritty and uplifting. I read Abdi Nazemian’s novel as a school assignment back in my MFA days, and fell in love with it. The immigrant story, married to the queer story, married to the generational story, with a hint of queer community-building. It all fit with my soul so well. This book remains one of my most beloved.


Book Cover Her First Palestinian

Her First Palestinian, by Saeed Teebi

Short story collections are looked down upon for some unholy reason. It’s so hard to break through the publishing veil when you write in the short form. Yet here is Saeed Teebi forcing each reader to turn the page with his lyrical, emotional, and deeply resonating narratives. Read this to understand the isolation of being of Palestinian origin, and the political conflict overshadowing your everyday life, and the intricate details of the inner lives of immigrants whose homeland is stolen.


Book Cover Monster Child

Monster Child, by Rahela Nayebzadah

How do you distinguish between the demons living within, and the demonic world you live within? A family of immigrants from Afghanistan find themselves troubled with these questions after immigrating to Canada. The truth is: this book is painful. It’s difficult, yet enticing. It’s deeply felt, and challenging. I would recommend this book for those willing to walk through the valley of death searching for enlightenment, those who are willing to offer care to the characters they read.


Book Cover Halel Sex

Halal Sex, by Sheima Benembarek

This is a nonfiction book, right? Well, kinda. It’s also a personal narrative book, with great empathises on the meaningful meander in Muslim women’s inner sexual lives. The stories told with great care by Sheima Benembarek, who leaves judgement at the door and instead welcomes in agency and self-determination as the only saviours. The book is truly enlightening, but overall, it’s also quite good. It’s a joyful read that’s exciting and warm.


Book Cover Crooked Teeth

Learn more about Crooked Teeth: 

A queer Syrian refugee reckons with a life spent out of place.

“Writing this memoir is a betrayal.” So begins this electrifying personal account from Danny Ramadan, a celebrated novelist who has long enjoyed the shield his fiction provides. Now, to tell the story of his life, he must revisit dark corners of his past he’d rather forget and unearth memories of a city he can no longer return to.

Starting with his family’s humble beginnings in Damascus, he takes readers on an epic, border-crossing journey: to the city’s underground network of queer safe homes; to a clandestine party at a secluded villa in Cairo; through Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East, a reckless hoax that threatens the safety of Syria’s LGBTQ+ community, and a traumatic six-week imprisonment; to beaches and sunsets with friends in Beirut; to an arrival in Vancouver that’s not as smooth as it promised to be; and ultimately to a life of hard-won comfort and love.

What emerges is a powerful refutation of the oversimplified refugee narrative—a book that holds space for joy alongside sorrow, for nuance and complicated ambivalences. Written with fearless intimacy, Crooked Teeth is a singular achievement in which a master storyteller learns that his greatest story is his own.

Comments here

comments powered by Disqus

More from the Blog