The Leavers tells the interleaved stories of a Chinese-American boy who is apparently abandoned by this mother, then adopted by a white couple, and of his mother, who was brutally deported in a raid of the beauty salon where she worked, undocumented.
Parts of the story are wonderful, capturing everyday moments in the boy’s life as he struggles in school, devours junk food with his cousin, or spies on his adoptive parents, and showing his distress as he is brutally yanked from one world to another. But some parts, especially dialog, seem lifted from a cheap self-help book — and the overall logic of the story is somewhat flawed. If you can get past the stilted bits, it’s an interesting look at both adoption and immigration.
Refuge stars an Iranian family who is split up by exile to the US, leaving the daughter-narrator to alternatively miss and bemoan her father, whom she only sees very occasionally when he can get a visa to meet her and her brother in various cities around the world. The complicated relationship of the addict-father with the rest of the family is the best part of the book. Alas, it is surrounded by many meandering stories about the daughter’s geographical moves, her marital issues, and the refugees she is helping on the side, none of which seems to get anywhere.
The Other One Percent: Indians in America presents a detailed analysis of people of Indian origin who either immigrated to the US or who are the descendants of immigrants — and who constitute just 1% of the population, doubling its percentage in the past 20 years thanks to a massive influx linked to hiring of skilled engineers in the high-tech industry. The authors highlight the striking differences in education, origin, and socio-economic level between the older and newer immigrants and especially investigates the remarkable number of entrepreneurs among the more recent immigrants. Fascinating, whether you live in one of the clusters of Indian immigration (like Silicon Valley) or not.
The dreamers in Behold The Dreamers are two undocumented immigrants from Cameroon trying to make it in New York City. They soon find themselves working for a rich trader’s family and they can see their American Dream within reach. But the 2008 recession is looming, which will deprive the trader of his lucrative job and expose his personal troubles while the immigration courts grind towards expulsion. The complicated relationship between the rich employers and their poor employees is captured perfectly, with the employers utterly unaware of the financial hardships of their chauffeur and housekeeper, and blithely assuming a relationship of equals while the employees carefully weigh each interaction to keep the jobs they desperately need. And there are no stock characters here: each can display kindness as well as hate, and has deep secrets.
The Wangs Vs. The World attempts to be a madcap road trip of a freshly bankrupted family from its no-longer home in Los Angeles to upstate New York, where the older daughter lives in a house that may be the only asset that escaped repossession. The five members of the family are appropriately different to generate all kinds of adventures, but I found it very difficult to find the tediously spoiled younger daughter, the romantically confused, hipster older daughter, the financially ambitious stepmother, the stereotypical entrepreneur-father, or even the sweet, sentimental son.
Let Me Explain You starts with a Greek immigrant’s strange email to his family that he will be dead in ten days — which is judged to be a prank until he disappears. The story moves between him, his three daughters, his ex-wife, his mistress, and his business partner (lots of women, most not talking to each other!), as well as between the US and Greece, skillfully unspooling from today to his childhood. It’s a family saga, albeit packaged in a deft series of flashbacks and with many unexpected twists.
It took me a very long time to get into the story, so if you decide to read it you will need to push past the apparently aimless first half…