By Amy Blay, Rhys Wright, Shan Heyworth and Rosie Green
LGBTQIA+ books focusing on the experiences of migrant and diaspora communities offer important insight into often overlooked experiences of queerness across national and cultural boundaries. Here are some book recommendations to help you see queerness and migration from different perspectives.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Tiến, a young second-generation Vietnamese-American, is fluent in English. His mother Helen, who left her family to escape post-war Vietnam prior to Tiến’s birth, is not. To help bring down the language barrier between them, Tiến reads retellings of classic fairytales aloud to his mother.
Revealed through these tales of magic and love are their own internal obstacles: Helen is struggling to assimilate to the new culture surrounding her and is still processing the grief from leaving her ill, ageing mother behind. Meanwhile, Tiến can’t find the right Vietnamese words to tell his parents he’s gay. Many Asian and Middle Eastern languages lack the vocabulary to accurately describe queer identities, and The Magic Fish works to shine a light on this issue. Through sharing stories that have been passed down the generations, Tiến and Helen find their feelings are easier to express, and together both become closer to reaching the understanding and connection they deeply desire.
In every stroke of his debut graphic novel’s breathtaking artwork, Nguyen’s personal connection to the story is evident. By taking inspiration from his own upbringing, he created a truly touching narrative exploring identity, immigration, communication and how storytelling can empower us.
The Magic Fish is accessible to all ages, and handles its complex themes with care. It’s a heartwarming insight into an immigrant family trying their best to connect with and love one another.
I Will Greet the Sun Again by Khashayar J. Khabushani
A debut novel written with all the skill of an established novelist, I Will Greet the Sun Again is a deeply affecting story about the lives of an Iranian-American family.
K is the youngest of three brothers born and raised in Los Angeles to Iranian parents. Growing up in a poor apartment complex, K, Shawn and Justin learn to survive life with an abusive father. But when their father moves them to his home city of Isfahan, they’re forced to acclimatise to an unfamiliar life in Iran. When they do finally return to their mother in Los Angeles, they’re each changed in different ways.
Being queer and an ethnic minority in America during the 90s and early 00s, K’s coming-of-age is marked by uncertainty – attraction to his best friend, post-9/11 racism, and being in the middle of two cultures – and his experience of figuring out who he is and his place in the world makes for powerful reading.
Khabushani animates K's childhood with rich cultural specificity, leaving many Persian words untranslated. This is one of the many ways he brings the book’s places and characters to life. I Will Greet the Sun Again is a story that embraces hybrid identities and provides a window into the lives of a family making a life for themselves across national borders.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang
K-Ming Chang’s debut novel Bestiary traces three generations of women – known simply as Grandmother, Mother and Daughter – through the family’s journey from Taiwan to the United States. The novel primarily follows Daughter, who begins to grow a tiger tail after Mother tells her the legend of a tiger spirit who inhabited a woman’s body. Daughter’s supernatural growing pains echo her experience growing up and exploring her queerness and attraction to Ben, a girl at her school from Ningxia.
Bestiary revolves around the unfolding of family secrets through fantastic tales and old letters which Daughter and Ben translate into English, losing some of their meaning in the process. There are various instances of migration within the story, with Mother and Grandmother migrating to America, the family moving from Arkansas to California, and Daughter’s father moving to China. Bestiary explores the racism experienced by Asian immigrants in the West, as well as the dynamics between “the mainland,” China and “the island,” Taiwan.
Chang blurs the boundaries between animal and human, and dismantles heteronormative and gendered structures and expectations. Bestiary tells a complex and layered history of queerness and womanhood through mothers and daughters connected by deep cultural and fantastical ties. The novel is both captivating and at many points repulsive, and its unabashed and engaging description of the most unsavoury parts of human experience such as death and defecation makes it all the more compelling.
If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So
If You Still Recognise Me follows protagonist Elsie on her search to reunite two old lovers separated by society, time and an ocean (a story that will mirror her own in ways she never anticipated).
While her quest underpins the plot, the story itself is about Elsie’s own journey of self-discovery. The arrival of her Po Po from Hong Kong after her grandfather’s death prompts Elsie to think more about her heritage and to broach new topics with her family, such as the rift between her parents and grandparents, and her own sexuality. Meanwhile, the arrival of Joan – her childhood best friend whose family returned to Hong Kong – brings back buried hurt and love as their connection is revived and rebuilt into something different. Their shared experience of being migrants from Hong Kong as well as sapphic women gives Elsie the space to explore her past and herself in new ways.
A heartwarming YA story with a diverse set of characters and a sweet slow-burn romance, informed by Cynthia So’s own experiences, this is a gorgeous read and a great insight into the intersectionality of queer and migrant identities and experiences.