8 Quotes About Endings, Happy or Otherwise

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Endings are built into our love of reading: every book has one, and it’s the author’s choice whether to leave us exhilarated, devastated, or grasping at something that remains (perhaps forever) out of reach.

Sad as it can be to finish, there’s also an undeniable feeling of accomplishment – and perhaps the desire to share experience with others who’ve made the same journey. There’s this too: technically, the ending is just the point when you can start the book all over again, this time riding side-by-side with the author, knowing every detail that was a mystery to you before.

The following authors had these words to share on the subject of last words. As long as we’re still reading them, has anything really come to an end?

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, 1951
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, 1861
“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 1955
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.”

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, 1938
“Every moment was a precious thing, having in it the essence of finality.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming, 2018
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

Karen Tei Yamashita, Tropic of Orange, 1997
“Just cuz you get to the end doesn’t mean you know what happened.”

Stephen King, End of Watch, 2016
“You play the game to the end. That’s how it works; play to the end.”

Paul Auster, In the Country of Last Things, 1987
“The closer you come to the end, the more there is to say.”

‘JUSTICE’ Is Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Word Of The Year


Photo by WilliamCho on Pixabay

The dictionary publisher says the word justice is used in phrases such as racial justice, social justice and obstruction of justice — which has its own, popular entry.

December 17, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR


Our 25 Favorite Closing Lines in Literature

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“There is no such thing as a happy ending. I never met a single one to equal to ‘Once upon a time.’ Endings are heartless. Ending is just another word for goodbye.” — Stephen King

That quote begins the final volume of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It’s a cynical take on a story’s final moments, but there’s no denying the ring of truth. Endings are, in the simplest terms, a goodbye. They are a farewell to characters and stories and the journeys we take with them. Even at their best, they are inevitably a melancholy, bittersweet thing. The good ones, though? Those stick with us. They can reminders and summations. They can enigmatic or thought-provoking. But they are always a goodbye. And if you’re going to say goodbye, why not say it well? Here are some of our favorites.

The cover of the book The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”



The cover of the book Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”



The cover of the book The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilise me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”



The cover of the book In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood
Truman Capote
“Then starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”



The cover of the book Oh What a Paradise It SeemsOh What a Paradise It Seems
John Cheever
“But that is another tale, and as I said in the beginning, this is just a story meant to be read in bed in an old house on a rainy night.”



The cover of the book 19841984
George Orwell
“He loved Big Brother.”




The cover of the book The CorrectionsThe Corrections
Jonathan Franzen
“She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.”



The cover of the book Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden
“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”



The cover of the book Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya SisterhoodDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Rebecca Wells
“For Siddalee Walker, the need to understand has passed, at least for the moment. All that was left was love and wonder.”



The cover of the book A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”



The cover of the book The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera
“Up out of the lampshade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.”



The cover of the book Brokeback MountainBrokeback Mountain
Annie Proulx
“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”



The cover of the book Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment
Pevear & Volokhonsky Translation
Fyodor Dostoevsky Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
“But that is the beginning of a new story — the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”


The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K. Rowling
“All was well.”




The cover of the book Little WomenLittle Women
Louisa May Alcott
“Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this.”



The cover of the book The Book ThiefThe Book Thief
Markus Zusak
“A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans.”




The cover of the book FrankensteinFrankenstein
Mary Shelley
“He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”



The cover of the book RebeccaRebecca
Daphne du Maurier; Introduction by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
“And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”




The cover of the book The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
“Are there any questions?”




The cover of the book Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
“I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”



Raymond Chandler
”I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.”




The cover of the book Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies
William Golding
“He turned away to give them time to pull themselves together; and waited, allowing his eyes to rest on the trim cruiser in the distance.”



The cover of the book Bridget Jones's DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary
Helen Fielding
“An excellent year’s progress.”




The cover of the book Man and WifeMan and Wife
Tony Parsons
“And so we stayed out in the garden of the old house until we couldn’t see to kick a ball, laughing in the gathering twilight, my mother and son, my wife and our daughter, making the most of the good weather and all the days that were left, our little game watched only by next door’s cat, and every star in the heavens.”


The cover of the book The StandThe Stand
Stephen King
“And it always, at the end, came round to same place again.”





I’ve never been much for reading resolutions. I read voraciously, always have, and I never wanted to turn something I do for fun into an obligation. But I do love spreadsheets, and this year I’ve been tracking my reading systematically for…honestly for the first time, thanks to the siren call of Rioter Rachel’s glorious spreadsheet. It’s allowed me to get a much better picture of what I read and how much, which has in turn made me want to up my game.

So here’s a few things I’m going to be aiming to work on in 2019:

1. Read more diversely. I knew I wasn’t focusing on this as much as I’d like myself to, but it’s pretty bad. Honestly, I’m ashamed to share this number with you guys, but if I don’t hold myself accountable than I’m failing before I’ve begun. I’ve read 120 books so far this year, and only 26 of them had POC authors and/or artists—a paltry 14%. I want to bring that percentage up to 33% next year at the bare minimum, and publishing being the glaringly white tundra that it is, that’s not going to happen unless I’m conscious of my choices. Step it up, Future Jess.

2. Read more in general. I’m not sure I’ve ever read more than 120 books in a year before, but I’m nothing if not competitive, especially with myself. I think I can do better. I’ve upped my contact lens prescription and I’m ready to go!

3. Get into cozy mysteries. I read all the Agatha Christie there is last year and I’m searching for something to fill that gap. I just want respectably tweedy people being gently nonplussed by corpses on the cricket green or whatever, is that so much to ask?

4. Read more indie comics. I’m a superhero gal, but that’s not all there is to the medium—not to mention the world outside capes and tights is much more diverse in just about every way. Time to step out of my four-color comfort zone!

5. Read more classics. Yeah, this is kind of counterintuitive with some of my earlier resolutions, but dangit, I enjoy some Charles Dickens now and again, and they’re always available on kindle from the library! I’ll make it work.

6. Talk about what I’ve read more. Sure, I write for Book Riot and I gab about books with friends over brunch, but I still don’t feel like I shout about the books I love enough. I haven’t decided whether I want to take it to Twitter, Instagram, Litsy, or somewhere else, but somewhere there’s a captive audience who wants to hear me gush about the latest niche New York history book I’ve devoured. (Um, right?)

7. Get my TBR down to a manageable level. *eyes the number of times I’ve written “read more” in this post already* Yeah, good luck with that, Future Jess!

Readers, do you have reading resolutions for 2019? What are they? Do you have any recommendations for mine? Send ‘em our way!

By , December 

13 Ways of Coping with a Book Hangover

Have you ever finished a book that was so good, you couldn’t move on to another? If so, you’ve likely experienced a book hangover. A common affliction among avid readers, book hangovers can be emotionally distressing to say the least. Symptoms can vary between spontaneous fits of sobbing to repeatedly shouting the word “why.” But don’t worry: There are ways to recover.

We asked our followers on Facebook and Twitter for their best coping strategies and listed some of the most popular comments. Which ones have you tried?

1. “When the grief is overwhelming, I just turn back to the beginning and read it all over again,” says Sanna.

2. “I try to switch genres or pick up a light read. If all else fails, I marathon a T.V. series and let the book hunger build up again,” says Rebecca.

3. “Writing a review, telling my friends about it, or journaling can help process what made it so impactful. What’s at the center of that emotional core, and how can I apply it to my life?” says Melissa.

4. “I actually take a break from reading. I won’t pick up another book for a few days,” says Jessica.

5. “Pick up a book of short stories, poetry, or essays so it’s less of a commitment before finding the next great novel,” says Jen.

6. “This might sound really bad, but in order to move on from a book I’m having a hard time letting go, I read a few bad reviews. It helps to put things in perspective,” says Leslie.

7. “Read some fan fiction,” says Charlotte.

8. “I like to reread my favorite parts and if there’s a good movie adaptation or a modern retelling, I go for it.” says Erin.

9. “I listen to bookish podcasts,” says Yanira.

10.“As I get down to the last five chapters or so, I start the next book hunt,” says Maureen.

11. “I immediately look for something else written by the author,” says Edwin.

12. “Sometimes I’m not ready to give a new book a try, so I reread a well-loved one,” says Carol.

13. “I go and get a real hangover,” says Steve.


By Marie, June 24, 2018, first appearing on Goodreads Blog

9 Books About the Contemporary Immigrant Experience in America

“No one gets to choose when or where to be born, but what happens after that is what you can imagine.” — Abdi Nor Iftin

The term “immigrant” did not come into being until the late eighteenth century, when it was coined to describe the situation in the new nation of America, where people were leaving their homelands to come to the American continent. In recent times, the terms “migrant,” “immigrant,” and “refugee” are no longer used as terms that imply respect for those brave enough to leave one land in order to find something else in another. Almost as soon as he became president, President Trump declared that immigrants from certain countries were not going to be allowed into the country. He has denounced entire countries and religions, as if each person in a country were represented by the actions of their governments. In just the last few months, we have seen immigration policies at the Mexican border that seem unimaginable; American border guards forcefully separate parents from children as a means of “discouraging” those whose desperation has led them to try to cross the border without proper paperwork. The cruelty of such a move is hard to fathom, and reports indicate that bereaved parents are committing suicide or falling into deep depression as a consequence.

My own parents brought me to America when I was a toddler. My parents came to this country when my father was twenty-four and my mother was just twenty — ages that startle me — because my father had decided that there were no opportunities for him in his homeland. From the moment they landed, like all immigrants who hold jobs, my parents paid into the Social Security system, paid their taxes, volunteered in their communities — my father coached boys who eventually played for the U.S. Olympic and World Cup soccer teams — and were good neighbors. While some may hold them up as “model” immigrants, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants act in these ways. While the president may point to the tragic cases where an immigrant has committed a heinous crime, those crimes are the exception.

Immigration is not easy. My parents’ struggles to adjust went on for years. There were not television shows about being a recent immigrant, and no literature existed that would have helped them to feel less alone. And yet, they didn’t return to where they had come from. They stayed here, raised their children here, learned to celebrate American holidays, and made American friends. For them, the overall experience of immigrating was an increase of joy in their lives, exactly what the immigrant wants: a chance to change their circumstances so that joy is possible.

The attitude of many Americans is that immigrants have to do all the work. They are the ones that have to learn our language, our customs, our culture, our political system. Despite the fact that, (with the exception of Native Americans, who were here first, and enslaved peoples from Africa brought here against their will), every other American is descended from someone who came to America looking for something. And yet, many Americans want to shut the door to anyone else who wants a chance to live here. And they don’t seem all that interested in the stories that immigrants can tell them not only about the lands whence they came, but also their perceptions of America.

Literature is a place where immigrants, and the children of immigrants, can tell their stories. Some of these stories reveal the horrors of war-torn lands left behind. Others chronicle the experiences of those who live in America and who work to reconcile the cultures they grew up in with their adopted cultures. No two immigrant stories are the same, even if they reflect common experiences. The books below offer stories that originate with people who decided to come to America. Their stories are poignant, exciting, adventurous, pious, and reveal to the reader vital truths about the human experience. Each book that chronicles the story of immigration adds to the American story.

The cover of the book A Place for UsA Place for Us
Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rafiq and Layla came from India to America, where they raised their three children. Their Muslim faith made up the roots that supported the children’s healthy growth. Layla raised Hadia, Huda, and Amal with a love that none of the children ever doubted. While the children know that Rafiq loves them, too, he tries to provide them with a paternal discipline that will allow them to grow up strong in their faith and good in their hearts.

As the novel opens, Hadia is getting married, finally, after rejecting for years the marriage offers her parents presented to her. Sister Huda has refused to marry until Hadia marries, and Amal, who has been estranged from his family for three years, shows up at the ceremony in response to Hadia’s invitation. As the night progresses, however, a lifetime’s worth of family secrets emerge, and by the end of the night, hearts will be damaged.

Fatima Farheen Mirza has written a tale of an American family where attachments among its members are tested by internal and external pressures. She captures, in gorgeous prose, the ways in which parents come to terms with the inevitable aging of children, and children struggle to interpret gestures that parents intend in love, but which injure growing hearts. Mirza writes from multiple perspectives within the family, giving readers knowledge that family members hide from one another.

It’s been a long time since a novel has inspired tears in me. But I found A Place for Us to be one of the most moving novels that I have read in a long time.


The cover of the book Citizen IllegalCitizen Illegal
José Olivarez
José Olivarez burst onto the poetry scene in Chicago with his participation in “Louder Than a Bomb,” the poetry festival for Chicago’s students. His poems range in mood — funny, angry, contemplative — as he details his life as the son of Mexican immigrants. The collection is a celebration of Chicano culture, and an exploration of the experience of occupying Mexican spaces, American spaces, and the spaces in which they merge.

His recurring poem “Mexican Heaven” offers various scenarios in which St. Peter greets the recently dead; the scenarios imagined by Olivarez made me laugh out loud. He offers odes to cheese fries and Scottie Pippen, and a poem about Vaporub that caused its mentholated scent to fill my nose. In “Mexican American Disambiguation,” readers get a lesson in nomenclature, the multiple ways that immigrants can identify themselves depending on who is calling their names. And readers are also introduced to the ways that his father tried to keep his son on the straight and narrow.

Olivarez offers a variety of instances in which he feels “seen” and “unseen.” In poems about family trips to the mall, he writes of the terror of being transparent when you’re trying to hide your identity. In Citizen Illegal, the title itself points to the double consciousness of the immigrant, which can both double a person or cleave them in half. His poems offer readers multiple ways to experience these feelings.


The cover of the book The Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when she and her sister, Claire, set off to escape the terror of seeing neighbors killing neighbors during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Over the course of the genocide, 800,000 Rwandans died, after months of radio broadcasts and other activities urged the elimination of their fellow citizens. For six years, she and Claire occupied various refugee camps throughout the African continent with no knowledge of what had happened to their parents.

At age twelve, the two Wamariya sisters were granted asylum. Clemantine went to live with an American family who tried to provide her with a space to heal and to grow. But Clemantine became aware that others’ perceptions of her were clouded by the events in Rwanda, such that they could only see her as broken and in constant need of assistance. She rejected the attempts to label her as a victim, and details the steps she took to reclaim her sense of her whole self.

She also provides views on words such as “genocide,” which she sees as a sterile word that cannot convey anything about what it signifies. She also writes of her encounter with Holocaust survivor and human rights campaigner Elie Wiesel, which led to an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show, and the enormous changes in her life after that fateful appearance.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads breaks down the distance between American perceptions of the events in Rwanda and Americans themselves. She offers a view of the world that is at once hopeful and wise. And she writes of her relationship with her parents and what was lost when she was forced to leave her house and neighborhood.


The cover of the book The DisplacedThe Displaced
Viet Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Sympathizer. In this collection of essays and stories by immigrants and refugees, he treats readers to a multiplicity of perspectives and amazing writing about the experience of needing to leave one’s home. Among the contributors are Aleksander Hemon, Ariel Dorfman, and Porochista Khakpour.

Khakpour riffs on William Carlos Williams’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” to offer “Thirteen Ways of Being an Immigrant.” In her essay, she writes of being a small girl who desperately wants a “Cabbage Patch Kid.” She knows that Cabbage Patch Kids are out of reach for her poor Iranian immigrant family, until she receives a lesson in Americanness about what kinds of Cabbage Patch dolls are worth less than others. Hemon writes about what it is like to be from a “refugee nation,” and notes that nearly one-quarter of Bosnians have fled their homes. Each of those Bosnians have their own individual story, one that overlaps with other stories in places, but which remain unique in their totality. Hemon feels compelled to try to tell as many of these stories as he can.

Ariel Dorfman left his native Chile during a time when American interference led to the killing of many Chilean intellectuals. In his essay, “How Succulent Food Defeated Trump’s Wall Before It Has Been Built,” he details a trip to his local grocery store, where foods from nearly every country in Central and South America occupy space on the shelves. And it’s not just food that identifies itself on cans or bags listing a foreign country where it was created. Dorfman also talks about the foods such as potatoes, pineapples, and bananas that were originally “found” in South America by conquistadors, but which are as much a part of the American diet as the taco bowl Trump crassly used to celebrate Mexican culture.

Each story told by an immigrant helps to fill up the empathy chasm the Trump administration takes advantage of in order to separate children from their parents without mass protests. The more Americans realize that immigrant stories are American stories, the less the hate-mongers will be able to get away with. Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to support the work of the International Rescue Committee.


The cover of the book America Is Not the HeartAmerica Is Not the Heart
Elaine Castillo
The Philippines is a land of many languages, all of which make an appearance in Castillo’s marvelous family novel. In addition to both Spanish and English, Ilocano, Tagalog, and Pangasinan are also spoken in the Philippines. Multiple languages mean that there are multiple ways to have communication issues, especially when that communication is among family members or between lovers.

When Hero arrives from the Philippines to stay with her uncle and his wife in San Francisco, she leaves behind a history that she would prefer not to talk about. Roni, her young cousin, pesters Hero to tell her why her hands are ruined. What happened to her hands? And what happened to Hero? Her uncle doesn’t ask her those types of questions, but his American-born daughter has a different attitude toward what is appropriate for people to share with one another.

As Hero begins working at a restaurant, her world expands to take in a cast of characters who show her how to live as an immigrant. Soon, however, she learns the ways of love, and unexpected passion complicates Hero’s life further. Castillo depicts these changes in Hero’s life in close detail, bringing the reader into the life of a woman who has always pushed people away.


The cover of the book The Far Away BrothersThe Far Away Brothers
Lauren Markham
As stories continue to pour in about the heartbreaking situation at the Mexican-American border, where young children — as young as infants — are ripped out of their parents’ arms and sent to detention centers, it behooves all Americans to learn more. Last year, Signature reviewed Valeria Luiselli’s book about her experiences translating for unaccompanied minors in immigration courts. Now, Lauren Markham brings readers the individual stories of identical twins Ernesto and Raul. The Flores twins arrive in America after arriving from El Salvador, which they have left because the streets have become deadly for young men and young women. The boys have an older brother who agrees to care for them.

Markham presents readers with the details of El Salvador life, where gang violence and lawlessness have taken over the streets. The government has lost control, and Markham shows how U.S. involvement in El Salvador’s internal affairs in the 1980s has not helped in the establishment of a stable, effective government. The gang, MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles but then set up in El Salvador after its members were deported there, “selects” young people for membership. If those young people refuse, they are murdered.

The brothers arrive in the United States thousands of dollars in debt after paying a coyote to take them north. They get jobs with their temporary residency permits, and send much of it as they can home so that their parents may pay off the debt. Markham provides a close-up view of the brothers’ attempts to settle in the U.S., and what happens when they go to Immigration Court to see whether their petitions for asylum have been granted.

At a time when Attorney General Jeff Sessions declares that the draconian, inhumane policies toward immigrants will continue at the border; when Immigration Courts are overwhelmed by the large numbers of young people fleeing broken countries; and when the president stirs up his followers by lying about immigrants’ participation in criminal activities, Americans have a duty to learn the facts about the immigration process. Immigrants find themselves used as fodder rather than treated like human beings. Markham’s book provides readers with human faces to associate with the word “immigrant,” and gives readers knowledge in an age of disinformation.


The cover of the book The Incredible True Story of Blondy BarutiThe Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti
Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden
Blondy Baruti’s story of coming to America is the stuff of movies, which is where he ended up after leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Baruti has appeared in films like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and the story of how he arrived in America is remarkable. Baruti was born in Kinshasa, the nation’s capital. At two years-old, Baruti was felled by a virus that nearly killed him. His survival was considered a “miracle” by his family and by hospital physicians, who had not expected him to live.

Those familiar with DRC history know that for much of the 1990s and into the new millennium, the country was riven by a brutal civil war that claimed upwards of seven million lives. When Baruti was nine, the war came to his town. He and his mother and sister went into hiding, walking into the wilderness and following the Congo River. For months, they walked, covering hundreds of miles in their effort to reach a safe place.

How Baruti made the transition from child in the wilderness to Hollywood actor is a tale told with a great deal of enthusiasm. His is a happy story, and Baruti’s love for his adopted homeland comes through in his prose. For readers looking for a classic American story about overcoming adversity and achieving dreams, Baruti’s story of survival and success is a winner.


The cover of the book Half GodsHalf Gods
Akil Kumarasamy
Akil Kumarasamy chronicles the lives of three generations of a Sri Lankan family who come to America to escape civil war. The stories are not told within a novel, but rather, in linked short stories, which allows Kumarasamy to present snapshots of members of the family as they move through a variety of places. In “Shade,” a grandson rides with his Tamil grandfather in his truck as they drive to the seaside. The grandfather has lost a lung, but continues to smoke. The grandson tries to envision Sri Lanka, but his grandfather bats aside his questions, and frustration leads to a rebellious act.

Among other family members is an actor who reflects on the roles that he’s offered in films while out on a blind date with a woman his sister-in-law has fixed him up with. Mohinder, Dilraj, and Nalini conduct a ménage a trois until tragedy interrupts their happiness. And as Nalini’s mother lays dying in Colombo, she reflects on the violence she has witnessed, and thinks of what will become of the family members who have no choices.

These and other stories capture moments of great beauty in the family members’ lives. The fragmented nature of their story, symbolized by the multiple short stories, allows readers to appreciate the ways that dislocation from one’s native land can break up reality. It’s a kaleidoscopic view in which the picture changes depending on from whose perspective the story is told.


The cover of the book Call Me AmericanCall Me American
Abdi Nor Iftin
“No one gets to choose when or where to be born, but what happens after that is what you can imagine.” Abdi Nor Iftin says this in the epilogue of his book, a piece of wisdom he offers to the rest of us. Born in Somalia, he finds a new way to talk about the American Dream, the myth that anyone, anywhere, despite the circumstances of their birth, can make of themselves whatever they can imagine. Isn’t that what what those who argue for the “bootstraps” version of personal development are saying? So why would any American who believes this then want to deny immigrants the chance to pursue their own version of the dream?

Somalia has been a site of chaos for decades. It is contested territory, where various terrorist factions battle for supremacy. Young men born in Somalia are subject to the same pressures to “join” these groups as those born in El Salvador who are told they must join gangs like MS-13. Boys are approached from very young ages and are threatened if they do not join. Abdi Nor Iftin resisted, and when civil war broke out, he continued to attend school. His travails in the streets, his protection of his family members, and the constant presence of danger is eloquently conveyed to the reader.

He escaped to Kenya, continued his education — including learning English — and applied to come to the United States. Those who believe that the U.S. does little to stem the flow of immigrants will be surprised by his account of the multiple levels of criminal checks, background checks, and various forms of paperwork that piled up as this one young Somali man waited to hear.

His story is one of hope. But his hope is combined with doing everything “right” that America asks people to do if they want to come to the United States. Few communities in America have been willing to take in Somali immigrants, especially those who may require some transitional help as they become acclimated. To read Abdi Nor Iftin is to gain tremendous respect for someone so dedicated and driven, but it’s also a huge reminder that not everyone is endowed with his sense that if he stuck it out, good things would happen. And the truth is, even with all the good intentions and hope in the world, it still doesn’t happen for the vast majority of people who apply to come to the United States.