In 2019, immigration novels are especially timely

NEW YORK — Not long before Election Day, 2016, Samira Ahmed completed the first draft of her novel, “Internment,” a dystopian narrative about the rounding up of Muslim-Americans.

As the news came in that Donald Trump had been elected, Ahmed received a text from a friend who had read the manuscript and feared Ahmed had written a work of prophecy.

“She said, ‘I hope you’re not Cassandra,’” Ahmed told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.

Novels about immigrants, like immigration itself, are a long and central part of American culture. In 2019, books conceived before Trump’s rise arrive with a special timeliness as the president, who has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and advocated for a Muslim travel ban, shut down the federal government over his insistence on funding for a wall along the country’s southern border. He has often pushed back on accusations that he is xenophobic and anti-immigrant, and defended his actions by saying that controlling immigration was important for national security.

In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted shortly before the shutdown, 49 percent mentioned immigration as one of the top five problems they hoped the government addresses in 2019. Only 27 percent mentioned immigration in December 2017.

“While current headlines give readers timely coverage of immigration, fiction offers deeper and more complex explorations of the issue,” says Laila Lalami, whose novel “The Other Americans” comes out March 26.

New fiction is set everywhere from Virginia to California and confronts the American Dream narrative of assimilation and upward mobility. Other works include Valeria Luiselli’s “Lost Children Archive,” which tells of young immigrants separated from their families, and Nicole Dennis-Benn’s “Patsy,” about a Jamaican woman’s discovery that the U.S. is nothing like what she had imagined.

“I think there’s been a real blossoming in novels about immigration,” says Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley, who cites such works as Jean Kwok’s “Searching for Sylvie Lee,” about a family of Chinese immigrants. “Publishers have really been making an effort to bring in a wider range of voices.”


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