American stories are ones of triumphs, of boundary-pushing, of great victories that come at the hand of enlightenment or even sacrifice. It’s what makes American literature so singular on the global stage. Pulling the discussions of diversity into those stories can bring even more into the ring. And flesh out stories that resonate with American identity. And what it truly means to be an American.
For the following five authors and their world-changing texts, the word American Identity has many different meanings. Which causes their tales to include many different voices. And to give the name American a different ring than any of you’ve read before. So sit back, relax and dive into something a little out of the mainstream – you won’t be disappointed.
American Identity – 5 Alternate Books
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Diaz is something of a literary darling, and it’s much to do because of his bestseller The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Beginning in New Jersey, Dominican American Oscar Wao is obsessed with comics and science fiction. Spending most of his time with his books and worrying about the family curse. After graduating high school and attending Rutgers, he’s mired in a deep depression about love and his family past. That eventually moves him to relocate to the Dominican Republic. There he falls in love, and that’s when the true trouble begins.
With frequent notes on Trujillo’s regime, Spanglish, and plenty of commentary about the life of Dominicans in America, this story is charming. Yet totally visceral in its reality, which is why it’s an American classic.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
Comic book nerds seem to be something of a trend here, and Alexie’s hero Junior is no exception. Born with “water on the brain,” the main character suffers from seizures, poor eyesight and speech impediments. And is small for his age. The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian chronicles his life on the Spokane Reservation in Washington before and after he decides to go to an all-white high school of the rest.
Supplemented with comical drawings that are often the story punchlines and plenty of the kind of sexual references, language and adult themes that this seems like a well-timed young adult-adult crossover (and banned from several high school curriculums). It’s a deep look at the ingrained stereotypes that exist in America. And how the American Dream can be so much bigger than what we imagine.
Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony, first published in 1977, began unlike many stories before it. With different renditions, poetry, side stories, and narrators, Ceremony is a new take on what it means to be the first novel.
Follow Tayo, a troubled, half-Laguna, half-white man, who returns from World War II with more than just a couple of scars and the loss of his cousin Rocky. Prone to drinking, Tayo’s recuperation at a VA hospital in Los Angeles eventually leads him back to his hometown, at Laguna Pablo, where traditional spiritual healing is the only way anyone knows how to bring him back from the brink.
Immersed in incredibly detailed story-telling, a style that is rooted in the oral traditions of the Pueblo people. And focusing on the beauty of words, Ceremony is a pillar of great storytelling for an entire generation. And those yet to come.
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Beloved may be her most famous piece (winning a Pulitzer will do that to an author), but Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is a rare first story that intertwines elements of race, incest, and child molestation all into a daring tale of life for a black girl in the Midwest following the Great Depression.
Starting with Pecola, a little girl who develops an inferiority complex from having dark eyes and dark skin, it travels through the life of Claudia MacTeer as well, both as a child and an adult, overlaying multiple perspectives to round out the tale of a black family in a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon and Protestant community. It’ll make you cry, grieve and wonder. Most of all, how important it really is for us to delve deeper than skin deep.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian-born Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a well-known writer of diversity, often musing on the topics of race and feminism in her text, and Americanah, the tale of a Nigerian-born student traveling to the US for university and work, is no different.
Americanah follows two Nigerians, Ifemelu, and Obinze, as their country falls apart under military dictatorship. As Ifemelu leaves the country to study in America, Obinze isn’t granted a visa. He decides to go to London instead, forcing him to lead an undocumented life there. Embroiled with the subject of race and what it means to build identity, this tale of two lovers shows how chance and decisions can make life very different for even the closest of friends.
Whether it’s a hero looking for his place in the world or a heroine who’s finally found it, the words of these authors lend their own take on American identity, leaving their readers enriched, informed and utterly enthralled by the story webs spun by these talented and revelatory writers.
About the Author
Cassie is a digital nomad who splits her time between writing for Culture Coverage and Secure Thoughts. And reading her way through the stacks at Barnes and Noble. Whether it’s written or watchable, great storytelling is her weakness. And she’s out to share the written (and spoken) word with the world.
Thank you, Cassie, for 5 Alternative Books about American Identity.