Each new Orion issue is focused on a central thesis or theme. For Autumn 2023, that theme is homelessness and displacement. We ask what home looks like in the face of an uncertain climate future; what home means when its been forcibly taken; what home becomes in instances of displacement or poverty. This issue, our book recommendations center themselves on those themes, too. Read on.
Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
AFTER SPENDING his childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya before emigrating to the United States, Omar Mohamed knew that he wanted to write the story of his experience caring for his younger brother, Hassan, in a supposedly temporary living situation that stretched on for fifteen years. In collaboration with middle-grade author and illustrator Victoria Jamieson, the two created a graphic memoir buoyant with soft purple hues. The book shines as an honest, accessible depiction of a child’s experience of surviving a war only to live in its interstitial wake. Bold lines and simple shapes frame the authentic, childlike perspective that Omar maintains amid a complex situation, while his endearing voice drives the story to open a wide entry point for children and adults to grasp the reality of his position: one that many people in the world share.
W. W. Norton & Company
BEFORE THE FILM was the book, and before the book was the rising practice of what might be called capitalist orientation programs: so-called support resources from corporations to aid their employees in coping with the abject quality of life into which their job forced them in the first place. As increasing numbers of workers are forced out of their homes, employers respond by offering tips on RV living. Hearing about what one character calls “wheel estate,” journalist Jessica Bruder follows a nomadic group around the American West, specifically Linda May, an employee for Amazon’s van life–promoting CamperForce program whose favorite topic is neither money nor cars, but dirt. She observes Linda wondering “if the dirt was sandy and granular or fine and powdery,” and, later, overhears a delightful exclamation: “Damn, that’s nice dirt!” Faced with corruption and abuse far greater than can fit in most writers’ periphery, Bruder casts her eyes downward, finding strength in her subjects’ connection with the land.
“TRUONG . . . this is not what happened to you.”
In Book of the Other, gay Vietnamese refugee and immigrant Truong Tran shares his experience of being perpetually viewed as an outsider, as other. Using stark prose, essays, and poems, Tran recounts stories he’s been told not to tell. Of fleeing his home and the war in Vietnam, of his childhood attempts to fit in amid people’s explicit racism. He writes of how his mother failed her U.S. citizenship test, about his initial shame surrounding his gay identity, and eventually details a series of enraging professional slights that speak to racial bias in academia. All the while he implores readers to see him, believe him.
Book of the Other is an important read. It asks you to understand silence as a multilayered violence, to sit with your discomfort, face yourself, and truly see what is in front of you.
IN THE GUTTING tradition of Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, Wendy Pearlman deftly collects intimate observations, poetic fragments, and devastating testimonies garnered from hundreds of interviews with displaced Syrians. The entirety of the main text is told directly from the mouths of her subjects, with chapters that span the country’s authoritarianism, hopeful 2011 revolution, devastating crackdown, militarization, war, exodus, ongoing displacement, and, for some, resettlement. We meet Muslims and Christians, people of all ages, all social backgrounds. Jamal the doctor. Hadi the shop owner. Rima the writer. They share with us the joys of public protesting and the terrors of retribution. They recall bombed-out buildings, missing friends, and midnight border crossings, and also the bright butterfly in a refugee camp, the luxury of a big library in an asylum city. The result of this vast and varied cacophony is both urgent and incredibly eye-opening.
WHAT IF MIGRATION didn’t involve a life-or-death journey across national boundaries but instead anyone could walk through a door and end up in another country? Mohsin Hamid poses this question in Exit West, a magic realist novel about migration, displacement, and love. Saeed and Nadia contemplate leaving their city when militants over- throw the government and daily life becomes deadly. The couple investigate rumors of the sudden appearance of magical portals to other places. Their first door leads them to Greece, where they find safety, but they grow restless when they learn of a global network of doors—heavily guarded doors to richer countries, mostly ignored doors to poorer places. Migration from danger to security, from want to plenty, is what our species does, but to residents a migrant is too often “other.” “Take away the journey,” said Hamid in an interview, “and you have a person who was in one place, and now is in a different place, something that happens to all of us.”
—Tara Rae Miner