Every human being looks for the opportunity to connect with another human being. It’s how we foster a sense of belonging. Though our physical appearance may differ from the person next to us, the feelings we experience are all relatable. Every culture, in its own unique way, understands the power of love, the exhilaration of joy and the magnitude of pain.
Even though this truth has held steadfast through time, disconnection in the form of hate, war, misunderstanding and conflict is what constantly permeates the Internet and the airwaves. This year’s current political climate and the fight against terrorism make us feel as though we’re disconnected from those around us when in truth, we’re all just looking for common ground. So what do we do to foster connection when it seems so far out of our reach? Mario Vargas Lloso, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, once stated:
“Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us.”
Books can provide the bridge. The titles listed below can bring cultures together through the exploration of trials the individuals in the books face. Even though these experiences may seem foreign, the emotions they evoke are all quite familiar.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (Nigeria)
This novel, set in Nigeria, follows the lives of Kambili and her family. The book explores religious hypocrisy and the effects of a broken family on the psyche of a young girl. Kambili combats all the coming of age lessons any young girl faces—learning her place within her family, finding her voice, the realization that things are not always what they seem. Through the book, Kambili and her family come to terms with their past and their futures through companionship and life’s lessons—something we can all relate to.
Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao (Vietnam)
It’s one thing to be a teenage girl growing up in America. The yearning for social acceptance and craving to find oneself are overwhelming. Add onto these common struggles the added complication of immigrant parents, and the internal conflict faced by every teenager becomes a little more complex. Mai immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her mother Thanh to escape the war. Mai’s mother holds steadfast to Vietnamese culture and traditions while Mai tries to navigate a “normal” American life without losing a sense of her Vietnamese culture.
When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi (Afghanistan)
Mahmoud and Fereiba are a typical middle-class family. They have two children, Saleem and Samira and a third on the way. Fereiba and Mahmoud love each other, and they live a life most families can identify with, that is, until the Taliban comes. In the wake of wide-spread refugee crises, When the Moon is Low gives an inside look into how being forced from one’s home effects the family. Follow Fereiba and her family through the fear and danger of fleeing a country torn by war, and watch as the bond of family shines through.
Literature has long acted as a bridge between worlds – we can learn about cultures and peoples we wouldn’t normally know about, and we’re able to make the connection between others and ourselves. Though the stories might be different, the emotions are the same.
Each of these books gives perspective into the way people around the world live, but they also include trials and emotions, regardless of location, with which anyone can identify. Give yourself the opportunity to experience something new through reading. You might find you can cultivate a sense of connection in the most unexpected of places.