Non Fiction November: Calling On Health and Migration Experts
It’s week 3 in NonFictionNovember and the theme is expertise. Officially the topic, as set by our host Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction, is “Be The Expert/Ask The Expert/ Become The Expert”.
You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
I think of the “ask the expert” prompt as a bit like that “phone a friend” lifeline that contestants in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? get to play when their own knowledge is non existent or a bit shaky.
I’m going to play my lifeline by asking fellow bloggers for help with recommendations on two topics.
The migrant experience
One of the most interesting non fiction books I’ve read this year is In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park. It traces the experiences of a young girl who risks her life to escape with her mother from the totalitarian regime of North Korea. Instead of finding freedom in China, they end up as victims of human trafficking. Their ultimate journey to freedom in South Korea presents its own challenges but they make it.
While there are some flaws in the narrative, I found it fascinating to learn about the forces that compelled this young girl to undertake a life-threatening journey and then the difficulties faced in trying to adjust to a new life. It’s a book that has started me thinking about the experience of other migrants.
I appreciate it’s a broad topic. It could encompass people who flee their home country for economic reasons or because they believe their ethnicity or political opinions put their lives in peril.
I’m looking for your help to get me started. Do you have any suggestions of relevant books? They could be personal accounts of the migrants themselves or the people that try to support them such as aid workers.
The Health Crisis
Don ‘t panic, this is going to be a Covid-free post!
Instead I’m going back in time to an earlier pandemic.
Between February 1918 and April 1920 about a third of the world’s population succumbed to influenza in a pandemic that came to be known as Spanish flu. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, causing the deaths of at least 17million people (some estimates put it as high as 50million.)
My knowledge on this topic is skimpy. I’ve read several novels where it’s been mentioned but I probably know more about the Black Death (also known as The Plague) than I do about this more recent crisis.
I’m curious to know how and where it began (contrary to common belief it didn’t originate in Spain); how governments and scientists responded and how it affected ordinary lives.
Anyone have some suggestions of good books on this topic? I don’t want any turgid academic volumes, just good readable accounts. Maybe diaries or memoirs too.
Over to you all now to come up with some suggestions.
31 thoughts on “Non Fiction November: Calling On Health and Migration Experts”
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright is about 13 plagues throughout history, including the Spanish flu (she does explain current theories about where it originated). It was a funny (yes, funny), insightful book that I can’t recommend enough, even if it isn’t only about the topic you’re interested in.
As for the migrant experience, the first thing that comes to mind is Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire. It’s not entirely about his migrant experience though; it’s mostly about his childhood in Cuba. My father-in-law is Cuban and still talks about how much this book reflects his own experiences. There is a follow-up that’s probably more related to what you’re looking for: Learning to Die in Miami. I haven’t read that one yet though.
The Jennifer Wright book could be good – any author who manages to get some humour from such a bleak subject is surely worth discovering!
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This year I have read the following books on the 1918 pandemic:
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It (1999) by Gina Kolata
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (2004) by John M. Barry
Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold
I wrote short comments on each of them at my blog, Bitter Tea and Mystery, on November 5, 2020. I was unable to put a link in my comments.
Thanks for these recommendations Tracy. Sorry to hear you couldn’t leave a link but I managed to find your blog so can now follow you via Feedly. The Kolata is on my wishlist, I couldn’t get it in the regular state library so will have to wait until the university library can find me a copy.
My blog is Blogger and I use another ID to log into WordPress, so sometimes I have problems with links in comments at WordPress blogs. Sometimes not. Just one of those things. I liked all of the three books I read on the 1918 pandemic; they were my husband’s books. I learned a lot, not just about the disease and the response, but about that time in the history in the US.
I have similar problems when I try to leave comments on a Blogger site. Seems like there are some compatability issues
There is a book called Nujeen about a girl with cerebral palsy who needs to flee Syria. It is very good.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2874621-outcasts-united Is about a soccer team made up of refugee kids.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34466934-the-newcomers Is about a class in Colorado made up of refugee kids.
That soccer team book is an unusual angle on the topic. Thanks for the suggestion Heather
On the migrant experience, I am getting a lot out of The Good Immigrant UK and there is a US version, too. Right on topic for that area!
I hadn’t heard of that book Liz but the variety of voices that are featured is appealing. One I shall put on my wishlist for a certain event that will happen in a month’s time (I’m so tired of hearing it being mentioned every five minutes that I’m refusing to give it a name)
I’ve not yet been up to any pandemic inspired reading, but Shay of shayshortt.com recommend both Pale Rider and The Great Influenza as fascinating looks at the 1919 flu pandemic.
I’d definitely like to read more on the immigrant experience. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂
Interesting topic the migrant experience. I haven’t read any on this topic this year, but I’m reading through the comments and discovering new reads.
I can recommend The Happiest Refuge by Ahn Do, an Australian comedian/tv host who was a baby when his parents boarded an overcrowded, barely seaworthy boat fleeing Vietnam for Australia. It won a ton of awards, is regularly reprinted, and I enjoyed it very much, though it may be a little light for you.
I haven’t read Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History by Catharine Arnold but it’s been recommended to me by a few people.
I’ve read two books, quite different from each other, that tell the stories of Somali immigrants that relocate in Northern Europe. The first is the autobiography, Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She flees to the Netherlands after a disastrous arranged marriage. She gradually let’s go of strictly held Muslim beliefs and eventually becomes a member of parliament in her adopted country. The other is Two Sisters, A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad. This tells the story of a Somalian family that, fleeing war and violence in Somalia, immigrate to Norway. The father is crushed when his daughters become radicalized in a country where he’d thought they’d be safe and sneak away to Syria.
The story behind Infidel is intriguing – what an achievement.
The book about the Somalian family who settle in Norway has me wondering if this is the same family I read about a couple of years ago where the father travels to Syria to try to find the daughters.
Yes. That’s the book. Written by Åsne Seierstad who also wrote the Bookseller of Kabul. I highly recommend Hirsi Ali’s book. She writes well and her story is fascinating.
Three non-fictions of refugee experience that I’ve read/reviewed –
Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid, Giuseppe Catozella. The story of desperately poor Somali runner (young woman) Samia Yusuf Omar who went missing attempting to escape to Europe.
No Friend but the Mountains, Behrouz Boochani, who was held for six years up until recently in Australian concentration camps;
Confessions of a People Smuggler, Dawood Amiri, who was stranded for years (and still, probably) in Indonesia and who made two attempts to cross by boat to Australia.
I see I’ve also reviewed Mirjam Pressler’s story of the Anne Frank family, Treasures from the Attic. Still relevant!
These all sound fascinating, particularly because the Australian angle isn’t something we hear much of here.
I’m afraid I can’t point to a specific non-fiction narrative about recent migration: the only book that immediately springs to mind is children’s fiction, Jon Walter’s Close to the Wind which is non-specific about nationalities involved but doesn’t lack punch: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-close
Thanks for that, I shall keep it on my radar….
In order to Live reminds me so much of The Girl With Seven Names….she, too, escaped from N Korea….have you read it? Not the most beautifully written but her story is compelling! I think you might enjoy The Choice by Edith Eger, too. Her memoir explores living with ptsd after her rescue from a concentration camp and adjusting to life in the US and her fear of revealing herself to her own children and close friends. One other book is Family in Six Tones…..Vietnamese refugee experiences from a mother’s and daughter’s perspective.
For the 2018 pandemic I have nothing except one histfic…As Bright As Heaven.
Good recommendations Carol – I’ve just ordered two of the non fiction suggestions. Family in Six Tones is available only in hardback at present so I will keep an eye out in case it gets issued in paperback.
Happy reading Karen! 🙌
Many small towns in Nova Scotia, as in many places in the world, sponsored Syrian refugees. Eventually, most of these left those towns for either the city of Halifax or, often, places further afield in Canada, where large Syrian communities existed. The Hadhad family stayed in Antigonish. Theirs is a success story and may not be about the part of the migrant experience you want to dig into. Nonetheless, I offer the link to their new book: https://gooselane.com/products/peace-by-chocolate
Hi Debbie, this does sound interesting – I’m glad that there are some positive stories out there because I have a feeling most of them will not be tales of success. So it will be a good counterpoint. Unfortunately it’s not available in the UK at the moment – I’ve dropped a note to the publisher to ask if they have any plans….
Sorry. A bit too quick off the mark. Not non-fiction.
Ah well, I’m sure it will still give valuable insight given the author’s experience
I may have mentioned The Beekeeper of Allepo before. It certainly fits this subject. Written by a woman who has worked with refugees and based loosely on a true story it offers genuine insight into the migrant experience.
I have that one on my shelves. …