Two great books on migration and identity

Since I created a Goodreads account, I have been reading more often lately (because of all the peer pressure?). I hope to recommend two excellent books on race, migration and the search of identity.

1. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. It describes the conflicts and confusion masked under the superficial harmony within an inter-racial family. It is about the delicate balance between “blending in” versus “standing out” for minorities; the universality of this topic extends the core ideas of the story beyond the particular context in the book. The language is simple and crisp.

2. Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent. Compared with Celeste Ng’s book, this book is more of a documentary with recounted family history woven in. Through long-term friendships with the migrant girls from rural China to Dongguan, one the biggest migrant destinations in China in the 1990s, the author describes the life choices of these “factory girls”, how they adapted (or failed to adapt) to the city and how the city changed them in fundamental ways.

It is especially interesting to see how the author relates herself, a first-generation Chinese American, to the migrant girls.

Perhaps my strongest link to the girls was one they never knew: I, too, had left home. After graduating from college in America, I moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Altogether I lived abroad for fifteen years, going home to see my family once every couple of years as the migrants did. For a long time I resisted the pull of China. In college, I avoided Chinese American organizations and took only one Chinese-language class; I majored in American history and literature and wrote my undergraduate thesis on Larry McMurtry’s novels of the american West. In Prague, I reported on Czech politics and society for an expatriate newspaper. One winter day in 1992, a Chinese couple dragging their suitcases along the slushy sidewalk asked me for directions in Mandarin. I waited a long moment before answering, resentfully, in their language — as if they were forcing me back into a world I had already left behind.


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