1. "The Sympathizer" by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A chilly and breathtakingly honest spy novel complete with an intricate political play and moving romance, "The Sympathizer" doesn’t shy away from using humor as a method of storytelling. The plot revolves around a young biracial man who is French and Vietnamese, as he returns to Vietnam as a double agent posing as a captain of an army, while secretively working as a North Vietnamese spy.
Why you should read it: It’s engrossing, comedic and authentic. Stories involving the Vietnam War have taken priority in showing the American point of view and this is an exception that shows an important perspective.
2. "Beloved" by Toni Morrison
If you haven’t read this book, read it. If you have read it, read it again. The emotional, psychological and physical deterioration as a result of slavery has never been so beautifully written than in Morrison’s masterpiece about Sethe, a runaway slave, and the guilt that consumes her from killing her baby girl. Morrison’s masterful non-linear storytelling takes the read back in time on an emotional journey that show first hand how damaging slavery was to the characters and the millions whose stories aren’t being told today.
Why you should read it: "Beloved" is a classic and largely ambiguous so each time you read it, you'll find a new and possibly even deeper meaning.
3. "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Saenz’s truest gift is his effortless ability to create characters that’ll stay with you even long after you finish reading his book. Aristotle “Ari” and Dante’s relationship starts from meeting at a community pool and grows as they engage in a journey to understand poetry, art, their shared Mexican-American heritage and their underlying romantic feelings toward one another. This story of two boys blossoms as their love does.
Why you should read it: People of color who are also a part of the LGBTQ+ community are so rarely represented and portraying those kinds of characters is important because it reaches out to an underrepresented minority.
4. "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini
A heartbreaking and heartwarming tale of redemption and political conflict, "The Kite Runner" protagonist, Amir, is forever changed by his experiences and unusual friendship with his father’s servant’s son, Hassan. As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Amir flees Kabul and is forced to reconsider his past actions, while deciding to go back to Kabul to pay his dues to his most faithful friend.
Why you should read it: A beautiful story wrapped up in self-fulfilling character development and poetic justice will make you unable to put this book down.
5. "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
This collection of nine stories, ranging in subjects from tragic loss to sex and femininity, are loosely tied by the similar experience of many Indian-Americans. Lahiri’s eloquent language and stylistic structure are crafted to isolate our attention to people’s feelings and motives, while also paying homage to the conflict that often arises between their traditional culture and their “New World” culture. It’s a must read for modern literature.
Why you should read it: The Indian-American experience is rarely shown in mainstream media and this collection of nine stories contributes to paying respect to a culture. Lahiri's prose reads like poetry and the depth of her characters will make you realize exactly why she was an awarded a Pulitzer.
6. "Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los Tiempos de cólera)" by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
This novel is a love story, but it is not by any means a story about love and the themes that carry meaning from the first few pages to the last chapter go beyond Florentino Ariza’s dedicated quest for Fermina Daza’s once requited love. Reflections on aging, femininity and the use of cholera as a motif for the love that ravages Florentina are wrapped up fluidly in Gabriel Márquez’s diction and rhythm.
Why you should read it: Because of quotes like this one:
It was as if they had leapt over the arduous cavalry of conjugal life and gone straight to the heart of love. They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion.
7. "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Figures like Malcolm X and Rosa Parks are often credited with being the pioneers of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, but Malcolm X often gets tucked away as a controversial figure, given only one sentence in the U.S. History textbook. White Americans of the 60s often preferred King’s nonviolence to X’s “by any means necessary," which they often misinterpreted as mindless violence. X’s philosophy is a result of his own experiences, like the murders of many of his family members by white supremacist groups and his tenure in prison.
Why you should read it: Understanding Malcolm X is understanding a huge chunk of history, and understanding how and why organizations like the Black Panther Party exist and how racially motivated police brutality has a large presence even in modern day.
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