7 Novels About Multicultural Families
Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of "The Shape of Family," on the melding and clashing of cultures
Much of the inspiration for my novels comes from the idea of culture and how it impacts families. Perhaps this is because my own family history is deeply rooted in migration: my father moved during the Partition following India’s independence, my mother’s family migrated from India to Africa to set up an exporting business. After they married, my parents lived in the Middle East, Europe, and Canada, and I moved to the U.S.
All of these various cultures have imprinted me as an individual and our family dynamics. Culture is both an enriching and complicating dynamic.
The stories I write explore the melding and clashing of cultures through adoption, immigration, bicultural marriage, and generational divides. My new novel, The Shape of Family, traces how a close-knit family finds their way back together after a tragic event, because of and despite their cultural differences. It is this complexity of culture in families that I’m drawn to in the books I most love. Here are a few of my favorites stories about multicultural families.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters born in Ghana in the 18th century live out different fates: one sold into slavery in America, the other in comfort afforded by colonial power back home. As the novel travels through several successive generations of each woman, we see the indelible power of place and culture on individual lives.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
Spellbinding from the first page, this novel travels back and forth in both time and place, portraying an Indian family that has migrated to America and the trauma that haunts them all. The main character’s profession as a photographer introduces interesting themes of perspective and artistry, as she tries to unravel the family’s history and mystery.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The title character of this story is a young Nigerian girl who flees Africa under desperate circumstances for England, re-entering the lives of a married couple she knows. It illustrates the uncertain fate of refugees, the consequences of unchecked greed and power, and the best efforts of flawed humans to rise above their weaknesses.
The Storm by Arif Anwar
This novel has one of the most elegant structures I’ve ever read. The 1970 Bangladeshi cyclone—in which a half-million people perished overnight—drives the narrative of five interwoven stories of love, parenting, war, colonialism, and religious conflict. Both natural and man-made disasters are at play, and the story truly swept me away, while being rooted in a regional history few of us know enough about.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The perfect suspenseful story wrapped in a family drama. The Lees are a Chinese American family living in the American Midwest in the 1970s. The core of story is the mysterious disappearance of daughter Lydia, but what really kept me turning pages was the nuanced depiction of family dynamics imbued with cultural complications.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I savored every page of this brilliant epic novel, which spans three continents and the lifetimes of twin brothers born of a secret union between an Indian Catholic nun and a brash British surgeon. It delves into so many fascinating ideas: the legacy of parents upon their children, the nature of forbidden love, the connection between siblings and twins and innovative advances in medicine, just to name a few.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Young lovers in Nigeria are separated when one travels to America to pursue her academic career. Their respective migration paths, experiences, and the political backdrop of their home country present challenges for their futures and their relationship.