Stories Away from Home

In 2017, my reading goal was to explore new parts of the world through books.

In Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing a black family’s complicated history with race and familial struggle intensifies when they travel to the local penitentiary to pick up the children’s white father. The prison’s ugly history with slavery is slowly revealed throughout the book as ghosts from the past remind the characters of the harsh realities of their lives and deaths. Set in Mississippi, the world that Ward creates is thick with humidity and the weight of the past.

In Demick’s Nothing to Envy, she tells us stories from people who have escaped from North Korea. She paints a bleak picture of living through famine in the mid-1990’s, and how that has affected life for them. The resilience of the interviewees is apparent as they describe the ways in which they and their families fought off starvation. Demick helps us see a world which we have been shielded from.

Exit West begins in an unidentified Middle Eastern country, in which it has become increasingly difficult to live. We meet a young couple who barely know each other, but stick together to survive. In this world, the couple can use magical doors to transport them to new places, allowing us to see the refugee experience from a unique perspective. Hamid brings us to new places, and shows the effects of being a refugee on the couple’s relationship.

Backman’s novella probably has the most unique setting- inside the protagonist’s head. The protagonist, a man with dementia, fears losing his lucidity and his memories. In his mind, he talks with his grandson and shares his memories. The love that he has for his family, and their love for him, make a tragic story one filled with love and understanding.


Sing, Unburied, Sing

This intimate family drama explores the effects that racial strife, slavery and death have had on one Mississippi. The family is haunted by ghosts of their pasts that serve as reminders of the horrors of the world. Her characters are complex and empathetic throughout this story.

Nothing to Envy

This piece of non-fiction reads more like an epic story, detailing the lives of North Korean expatriates. Demick uses firsthand accounts to show the resilience and creativity of a people facing starvation and harsh oppression. Their stories show how strong people can be in the face of adversity, while educating us all on a place shrouded in mystery.

Exit West

Hamid tells us the story of a young couple who band together and flee their warring home country. Magical doors with the ability to bring them to new lands allow us to experience the refugee experience in different ways.