Immigrants offer affecting personal essays about adapting to daily life in the United States while also retaining their identities forged by foreign cultures.
In 2015, editors Shukla (The One Who Wrote Destiny, 2018, etc.) and Suleyman (Outside Looking On, 2014) published a similar book in the U.K. Suleyman has since relocated to New York City and taken charge of this current collection, the title of which plays on the toxic assumption that all immigrants should be perceived as “bad” until they demonstrate otherwise. The editors do not explain how they decided on the order of the essays, but many readers will agree that the first, Porochista Khakpour’s “How to Write Iranian-America, or the Last Essay,” qualifies as both the most inventively written and most memorable. Besides Iran, the other nations in the anthology are spread across the world, from Africa to Asia to Europe to Latin America. The contributors also explore topics around the generalized immigration experiences of both Muslims and Jews. Because some of the essays are ripped from the headlines, Donald Trump’s xenophobia and immigration-related presidential policies figure in, as well. In fact, the fear spawned by the hatred of Trump and the Republican Party is palpable throughout. In that context, “Return to Macondo,” by Puerto Rican writer Susanne Ramírez de Arellano, offers the especially poignant—and angry—perspective of a marginalized woman who “never bought the American Dream. It was a visceral reaction. This dream always had the rank smell of bullshit to me. I didn’t believe it, no matter what new toothpaste or amazing trip to the moon they were selling.” The author biographies at the back of the book will help readers find talented immigrant authors previously unknown to them; some of the more well-known contributors include Khakpour, Alexander Chee, Daniel José Elder, Teju Cole, and Nicole Dennis-Benn.
As in nearly all collections, the quality varies, but there are no weak links in this well-curated book.