4x4th Estate: Diaspora

• Feb 5, 2013 • Tags: , ,

4 books about moving on and looking back, recommended to you by us at 4th Estate.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

small island

The ‘small island’ here is Jamaica, left behind by immigrants in Andrea Levy’s novel about the Windrush generation – but it could just as easily apply to Britain. It’s all a question of perspective, something that Levy masters in a tale that describes the challenges of leaning to belong – and to accept. Her portrayal of the first Caribbean immigrants to 1940s London switches with ease and flair between different points of view, from the newcomers – snobbish Hortense and her husband Gilbert – to the British couple who provide them with their first home in England. Avoiding the pitfalls of either polemic or easy judgements, Small Island addresses questions of immigration, ignorance and multiculturalism with an impressive eye for historical detail, bringing this critical period in recent British history vividly to life.

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw 


Tash Aw sets his eye on the sprawling metropolis of modern Shanghai, as Phoebe, Gary, Yinghui, Justin and Walter are set adrift in this fierce, ballooning city. He counterpoints their adventures with the old life they have left behind in Malaysia, weaving an original picture of the migrations that are shaping our world. Tapping into the psyche of the burgeoning city, he asks what is left behind in our relentless push onwards, as past and present scrape and catch against each other. Forging connections between displaced lives, Five Star Billionaire is at once an intimate study of the immigrant experience and a searing examination of the way we live now.

 A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo


‘This country to me, this a new world. I not having past in this country. No memory being builded here so far, no sadness or happiness so far, only information, hundreds and thousands of information, which confuse me everyday.’

Z – that is what she calls herself because no westerners can correctly pronounce Zhuang Xiao Qiao  – moves to London to learn English and try to make something of herself. Struggling to adapt in such a foreign city she meets a middle-aged bisexual vegan with severe commitment issues, and a confused but enlightening romance ensues. The fascinating thing about this novel is the way the first person narrative grows in coherence as Z’s English improves. It helps to create a tender and heart-warming story of east meets west, and a young woman fighting to belong to a world distant from anything she has ever known before.

 This is the Way by Gavin Corbett


Anthony is a traveller but has grown up away from his people, the feuding families of the Sonaghans and the Gillaroos. On the run in Dublin he meets Judith, who invites him to tell his stories. Then his Uncle Arthur shows up, with troubled tales of his own. As the story of the families’ enmity emerges – in the myth of their beginnings as fish – Corbett fashions an exploration of belonging that reaches back into myth and legend. This is the Way is a novel about the belonging of a tribe, family and an individual both in history and in the modern age.

Many thanks to Claire Strickett and Michael Appleton for their contributions to this post.

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