Immigration: Fiction Books to Read

I realize there are precious few words left to say about immigration to the United States of America. Don’t worry, this is not a political treatise.

As is usually the case, I have found myself referring back to books that resonated with me on this issue. Over the last several years, many excellent books have been written featuring immigration as one of the main characters. These books serve to either give us solace in the realization that we are not alone in our experience or they give us access to a perspective we may not have considered, much less experienced. While I would not go as far as to say that you can “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” simply by reading a story, I will say that the understanding gained through seeing the world through another person’s story is invaluable.

These are stories of fiction, but that does not dampen their impact. May you enjoy them as much as I have.

A Timely Ode to Dracula

(Don’t worry, this one is not for the kids! This is the beginning of a new type of post titled “Child Free Reading” because I want to talk about the books I am reading too. It is great to virtually bond over what our children and students are reading, but how much better to extend that to our favorites. Plus, this book was just too good, I had to talk about it.)

“Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring!”  – Count Dracula

The book club I am a part of decided to read Dracula by Bram Stoker for our October read, mostly because they are awesome like that. My expectations were quite low due to the fact that I, quite honestly, thought I knew all there was to know about Dracula and the centuries of vampire lore that have followed in his wake. Sparkly vampires aside, I am a very big fan of the genre.

I was beyond excited with what I discovered within the pages of this fantastic book. My curmudgeonly approach and skeptical attitude could not have been more misplaced. From the first page to the last I was wildly surprised by the telling of the story. Bram Stoker masterfully delivered beyond expectation, a difficult accomplishment in an era of over-exposure.

Since reading it through, Dracula has become an instant favorite of mine. There are a great many things that I thoroughly enjoy about the book. I will save the long list for an actual conversation, here are the highlights.

  • The letter/diary format of the writing created a suspenseful quality that I did not think possible, particularly for those of us reading it after so many re-tellings and variations. It was fascinating eavesdropping on each person as they come to an understanding of their circumstances at different paces and through different means. The letters and diary entries evoked a deeply personal experience while reading.
  • I reveled in every moment reading about and getting to know the original vampire and his hunter. As I mentioned, I did not think I could be surprised by the details of this book, particularly with the descriptions of  Dracula and Dr. Van Helsing (!) but I could not have been more wrong. Both of these characters were written superbly. I had many “fan girl” squeals over moments of discovery as I read the original telling of Van Helsing. Arguably, none of the spinoffs from this original do these two characters justice.
  • While there are the anticipated doses of machoism for a book of its time, I was shocked by the strong, smart, kind, thoroughly capable character of Mina. The story turns not on the male characters as expected, but on the female character embodied by Mina Harker. She has easily become one of my favorite literary female protagonists.
  • Despite thinking that I knew the story already, I did not. The end is excellent, suspenseful, and satisfying; actually this could be said of the book as a whole. Chapter after chapter I was surprised by my involvement in the story. I got goosebumps, audibly gasped, looked over my shoulder, reread brilliant sentences, and generally poured over the story details.

To say that I liked the book is a significant understatement, this was one of the most enjoyable, engaging fiction books I have read in awhile. Oddly enough, one of my favorite features of my copy was found outside the actual story. At the back of the Barnes & Noble Classics version is a “Comments & Questions” section that gives a quote from Bram Stoker’s wife, Charlotte, taken from a letter she wrote to him about Dracula:

My dear, it is splendid, a thousand miles beyond anything you have written before, and I feel certain will place you very high in the writers of the day…No book since Mrs. Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ or indeed any other at all has come near yours in originality, or terror – Poe is nowhere.

Brilliant!