Mona in the Promised Land
Seeing Gish Jen at a reading on my college campus when I was an undergrad was a life-changing experience for me. There was such warmth and laugh-out-loud humor in her writing, and she was also such an instantly engaging person who spoke so winningly about her process. This book is a master class in capturing a specific voice that feels fully realized but that also foreshadows the brilliant fiction yet to come in the author’s career.
The Moor’s Last Sigh
I’ve read almost all of Rushdie’s work, and although Midnight’s Children is, of course, a masterpiece, this is the book that surprised me the most with the scope of its storytelling, its deft incorporation of real-life political events, and a stunning portrayal of Bollywood’s dark underbelly juxtaposed with a contemporary mystery set in Spain. It also features the thrilling characterization of the wild Goan matriarch Aurora Zogoiby, as well as a queer-themed wedding escape scene that informed a key plot point of my new novel.
A Tale for the Time Being
Not to be shallow, but the sales success of this book is incredibly heartening to someone like me who writes fiction and works in book publishing. The writing is electrifying, the global sweep of the storytelling astonishing, but there is also a lot of downright, decidedly odd stuff afoot in this book that explores the limits of cultural propriety, sexuality, and the struggle for identity. It’s also hiccup-in-your-throat funny in many parts. I could re-read it every year for the rest of my life.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
There’s a reason why this book has become ubiquitous on bookshelves worldwide: There are simply few writers who have Díaz’s endless energy and ability to humanize his characters fully while stunning you with the complexity of his prose. And it has quite possibly the most bittersweet, laugh-out-loud ending lines of all time.
One of the chief aims in writing my new novel, No One Can Pronounce My Name, was to examine some of the established tropes that we associate with the “immigrant novel” or “ethnic novel” and to build upon them while subverting them in new ways that would enrich the genre. We that aim to write these kinds of books are indebted, of course, to a wide-ranging and diverse group of authors who have provided us with invaluable works of enduring power and influence, and these are just some of the formidable books that have had a profound effect on me and how I write.
I should note that there is a common tendency to focus on immigrant novels that involve America, but I’ve also tried to include a few books that are about immigration involving countries that don’t include America, as these are just as necessary and unforgettable.
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