The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometimes it takes me a while to get to literature, relying as I do upon my heavily used library card, and so I was thrilled to finally get to the top of the reservation queue and pick up The Good Immigrant. It’s a book I’ve heard a lot about and sometimes, I think, these books have a complex pre-read to overcome. Suffice to say The Good Immgirant exceeded those, challenged those, and lived up to much that I wanted from it. It is one to be added to library lists, furiously so.
The Good Immigrant a collection of 21 essays from black, Asian and minority ethinic writers who explore the perspective of otherness within the UK today. The voices here are personal, tight, nuanced things and many of the essays are near-visceral experiences. Edited by Nikesh Shukla, who provides both an essay and foreword, this is a potent collection of work.
As somebody who specialises in children’s and young adult literature, I was particularly interested in Darren Chetty’s essay. Chetty, a primary school teacher, writes about how he was told by one of his pupils of colour that stories have to be about white people. It’s such a simple, horrific moment and Chetty has a great skill in his essay in recounting both it and his reaction. One of the things I value as a researcher and emphasise is the need to maintain the awareness of the child at the heart of children’s literature; we work in the heights of academia but moments such as that which Chetty discusses are the grassroots of the subject. They need to be both addressed and acknowledged. I do not work for a culture of erasure, nor for a cultural monolith, and I suspect I will be recommending Chetty’s essay to many.
As ever in a collection of essays, there are some which hit and some which don’t. Much of The Good Immigrant is fiercely on point, beautifully written and deeply disturbing. Several of the essays were intense, searing and vital experiences. This a big, vital read.
(And also, on a design note, that cover is rather wonderful).