6. The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui. What an intense and beautifully executed memoir told over generations, borders and time. At its heart, this book is about Thi Bui’s journey of becoming a mom, seeking to heal herself through understanding her history and then ultimately, charting a new path forward for her own family.
What I loved most about this book is that it's a graphic novel. Thi took us through important parts of Vietnam and American history with words and images; history that I had very little knowledge of. She rebuilt entire towns, sketched the landscape and presented her own story as she saw it. If you are a member of an immigrant tribe who America has historically seen as expendable and wholly unwanted, you know how important it is to write your own story on your own terms. The very act of drawing into existence her reality, to me, is transgressive and adds a level of truthfulness that my imagination could never render.
7. Dominicana, Angie Cruz. Damn, what a story. Before moving back to Brooklyn, Ryan and I lived in Inwood. It’s a community I love and other than living in the heart of little Colon on Franklin Ave, it is where I felt most comfortable and at times, not so much.
Colorism is real in every community. Anti-Black sentiment is real in Inwood. Like so many Afro-Latinx communities, the energy around race, color, gender and sensuality is so charged. This feels particularly true in the Afro-Dominican culture or how I experienced it during the four years we were on Isham Street. It is for this reason I committed myself to understanding the root of colorism and Anti-Black sentiment in the Dominican culture. My first stop, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. My second, “Dominicana.”
This book, told from the perspective of a teenage girl whose family’s future rest on her tiny, not fully formed shoulders, picked up where I stopped with Diaz. This is a complicated story of poverty, the decisions families must make to climb the social mobility ladder, the borders we must cross both internally and externally to have a fighting chance, the abuse womxn suffer and the possibilities and hope each generation brings. Suffice it to say, immigrant womxn fucking resist and persist. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “immigrants get the job done."
This book was also the first one where I received a handwritten letter from the author. "Angie, I'm sorry it took me so long to write this note. However, I want to say...thank you. I see you and thank you for seeing me. You did good with this one. I hope you continue writing 'cause you definitely have something to say. I will continue reading your words; I have so much more to learn." Cuidate, kqd.
8. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. There’s an entire podcast about why I love this book. Listen here.
9. Celestial Bodies, Jokha Alharthi. My first winner of the Man Booker International Award. My second translated book which I struggled with. The first being “Convenience Store Woman.” I approached this book with high expectations and trepidation. I wanted so much and feared it all at once - not fair and in hindsight, a recipe for disaster.
At our recent book club meeting, I shared that I wasn’t convinced this book would make my list. Said to be chronicling the lives of three sister at a pivotal time in Oman history, this book is expansive and plays with time, storytelling structure and voice in an interesting and unfamiliar way. Ultimately, the story felt unfinished and I wasn’t comfortable with that.