"Love," Yo enunciates, letting the full force of the word loose in her mouth. She is determined to get over this allergy. She will build immunity to the offending words. She braces herself for a double dose: "Love, love," she says the words quickly. Her face is one itchy valentine. "Amor." Even in Spanish, the word makes a rash erupt on the backs of her hands.
Inside her ribs, her heart is an empty nest.
I've been on a binge of immigrant stories. Not memoirs of displacement, but beautiful fiction inspired and influenced by real-life events and experiences. Some of my favorite novels (and films) are stories that illuminate cultural divides. Perhaps I feel an empathy for those who live jarred between past and present, or maybe it's the sense of alienation I understand — after all, even if we never leave our own country, we're all strangers in a strange land at some point in our lives. Through the eyes of others we can see ourselves, and through our stories we gain a deeper knowledge of one another.
A few of my favorite stranger-in-a-strange land tales:
Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
"A deeply moving story of the men and women who risk everything to cross the Mexican border . . . Succeeds in stealing the front page news and bringing it home to the great American tradition of the social novel."
Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal
With great humor and wit, Satyal tells the story of a pre-teen Indian boy with grandiose aspirations.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Oscar, a first generation Dominican-American teen, "a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd."
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A heartbreaking yet joyful tale about a young girl growing up in a Latino neighborhood of Chicago.
Stubborn Twig by Lauren Kessler
Not a novel, but a true story recounting three generations of Japanese Americans. History is painful and cruel as Kessler shines a light on one family forever changed by the WWII internment camps that forced over 100,000 people into mandatory relocation.
What have I missed? I'd love to hear your suggestions!