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The Good Immigrant Edited by Nikesh Shukla – An Angry and Relevant Book

7th February, 2017

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

The Good Immigrant is a collection of 21 essays by persons belonging to black, Asian and ethnic minority communities of UK. It has an angry tone throughout, sprinkled with humour and sarcasm and is overall a fascinating read. Long review short – Please pick a copy.


To sum up the book, would not do justice to all the essays. So here is the Goodreads blurb that gives an idea about the book –

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?


In his editorial note, Nikesh Shukla quotes Musa Okwona in his essay The Ungrateful country

“…Society deems us bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants.

Nikesh Shukla adds – “And we are so tired of that burden.”

What caught my attention and made me curious about the book was this quote doing its rounds on Twitter,

Chai means tea. Chai tea means tea tea. The number if times you see this on a menu makes you wonder why people can’t be bothered to do their research. Like naan bread too. Bread bread.”

I was sold. It was as if someone was speaking my mind about chai tea, the often used incorrect term. (Well, so is ‘chai latte’, ‘chai tea latte’ and the like. Latte is a coffee drink made with steamed milk. So what you mean when you say ‘chai latte’ is ‘tea coffee milk’ or something along those lines. PS : Latte in Italy will get you a glass of milk).

I found it very interesting to read about experiences of Indians who are greeted with ‘Namaste’ by some white people. (In case you are wondering why this is a matter of concern, we say ‘hello’ in India. Namaste is used occasionally, but not when you meet a stranger on the road. We know and understand ‘hello’. On a normal random day it is ‘hello’.) The book has several examples of misuse of words and culture mainly rising from ignorance and xenophobia.

There are so many passages that I underlined in the book. If you read these essays, please sit down with a pencil; read them and think about them.

  • In A Guide to Being Black, Varaidzo speaks about children of a mixed descent – “a mix of races is to be raceless”. It is thought provoking when the essay mentions that hairstyles that are meant to keep Afro hair neat and healthy are considered wacky and not accepted in professional settings.
  • In My Name is My Name by Chimeme Suleyman who mentions incidents where she is met with statements as “ How can a child who speaks like you have a dad that speaks with that ridiculous accent?” and she makes the conclusion “Standardisation is the backbone of the Empire, after all.”
  • Beyond Good Immigrant, asks why Chinese are called the ‘model minority’ in America.
  • The title of Darren Chetty’s essay, You Can’t Say That! Stories Have to Be About White People speaks for itself. There is a touching incident about Verna Wilkins, publisher at Tamarind Books, whose son comes home with a self portrait which he had painted bright pink because the teacher distributed only that colour.
  • Kieran Yates angrily points out  that “French accents are sexy, intelligent, Americans cool and culturally appropriated; Indians are comedic” in his essay.”
  • Riz Ahmed puts down how different and annoying the visa formalites for immigrants are in Airports and Conditions.
  • Shade is one of the angriest essays in the collection, evident from the below quote –

You give them your CV and hope to get offered extra work, non speaking parts of the prostitute, drug dealer or dead girl. You get a part as an extra in a prison riot scene, it pays the rent that month. “

The essays bring to life the depth of discrimination that exist because of a difference in a pigment in one’s skin – something that a human being has no control over. Some essays are personal and heart felt while some are of a more general nature. All of them are angry, fuming and spit truth on your face in a way that makes you uncomfortable. I loved how honest the voice is, in each of the essays. If you have lived in another country for a part of your life, you can relate to the book. I sure could relate with so many essays though not at such harsh levels. It is funny that I have come across such incidents in my own country while staying in a state different from my native state and not when growing up outside India. This is not just funny, but a harsh reality that struck me even more after reading he essays. Such discriminations are present even at grassroots within one’s own country (among educated folks, mind you); so how much greater would it be for the immigrants who have made their home in another country?

Shukla admits that most of the contributors knew each other. So the essays are mainly from personalities in media/entertainment and the immigrants in other fields and their experiences are not included. This was the only flaw I found in the collection, that the book is titled ‘The Good Immigrant’ but many fields where immigrants have contributed are ignored. But twenty one essays is the right size for the book –it was not too long and not too short, so perhaps this restriction is a reason for the same.

Final Verdict :

If you are not a white person, you should read this book. If you are a white person, you should read this book. Enough said! Highly recommended.

The Good Immigrant is published by Unbound, a crowd funding publisher. You can check more of their projects or pitch your idea or support a book through their website.

Title : The Good Immigrant
Edited by : Nikesh Shukla
Publisher : Unbound
Published : 2016
Language : English
Pages : 256
Rating : 4/5

Disclaimer : Much thanks to Unbound  for an e-copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

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The Good Immigrant
This Post Has 34 Comments
  1. Ooh, thanks for reviewing this book. I’m definitely going to read it at some point within the next few weeks because as an immigrant myself, I can most likely relate to the experiences (not to mention instances of microagression) told. Curious though, since you mentioned the tone of the book as ‘angry’ — how was this manifested?

  2. I love your review and hope to read this soon!

    Also, not to be picky, but I’d hate for your point to be derailed by a simple mistake in the beginning. “Latte” in the American dictionary does say that it is an espresso drink make with milk but it is derived from the Italian word “latte” whick is just milk. I went to Italy a few years ago and ordered a latte, the woman who worked there looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and when I repeated it, just poured me a glass of milk. I laughed at that point, realizing my error. I am Cuban and grew up in a large Cuban community in Miami where I often had “cafe con leche” but hadn’t made the connection with this and “cafe latte” as the correct way to order what we would call just a “latte” in it’s country of origin.

    Feel free to delete the comment once you’ve decided whether or not you wish to amend that. Again, great review and I can’t wait to read that book! Each story sounds incredibly interesting.

    1. Thanks for pointing it out Heather. I went by the popular definition of latte in dictionary and Wiki. I have included the links pf reference and added how latte=milk in Italy.

      I hope you will pick the book soon. It is a wonderful read. 🙂

  3. Great review, Resh! I am convinced that this is a must-read for me – and for everyone. I believe I’ll gift a copy to my Mom, too. I also find it funny how some people say “chai tea” and “naan bread,” especially now that I am more intimately familiar with Indian culture and language. Redundant, much?

    The stereotypes of immigrants in media really bother me, and they certainly contribute to the feelings of ill will that some in the American population have toward immigrants, or toward anyone different from them. Books like this should be required reading in school!

    1. I agree Katie. As we read more, we gain more truths about real life. There is a lot of wrong info spread in the wprld which contributes towards hate. Ultimately this is useful only for politicians. What we should learn is to live and let live,

  4. Great review there. I’m definitely adding it to my TBR.
    It’s this part of the blurb that sold me on it because it captures how I feel sometimes when I return to my country: “How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London?”

  5. I have not found a negative review of this book! It is definitely on my 2017 TBR, so I should get a copy of it soon. You’re right that everyone should read this book; we all stand to learn from the experiences laid out in the essays.

    Thank you for the wonderful review, Resh.

    1. Thank you Naz. Yes, I love how honest the voices in the collection are. Especially since the various incidents that they talk about are rooted in personal experiences. I think you will enjoy reading these for sure.

  6. I made a note of it. 🙂 (my TBR list is growing too fast).
    Now, I’m not sure anger is the correct answer. (Answer to human stupidity that is)
    I always have a somewhat different perspective: after all, I am a “white” Sindhi, born in Karachi) and I was the little white boy or white young man in Africa. I now live in Mexico where people are “brown”. Some look at me in the street. 🙂 So, yeah, there are differences. So? Who cares?
    A (white) Brit friend of mine was born in South Africa. His family went “back” (“Home”?) to England when he was twelve or fourteen.
    The little Brits made fun of his “Sudafrican” accent first. Until they realized he played better Rugby and decided they’d rather play ball with him. 🙂
    Complicated? Yes. (And you made the point of your own experience in India) Are there solutions? Yes.
    But I do not believe anger is the right one. Laughing it off is probably better. 😉
    Take care my friend.
    “I bow to the divine in you”.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences and that of your friend’s. And wow, you have lived in many places. That’s great. travelling always expands the human mind and makes one more tolerant and compassionate towards others.

      1. Hi Susan. Thanks for the reply. I was wondering why hadn’t seen it in my WP. That is weird, I seem to be “losing” some replies. Must be WP bug. have you ever experienced that?

  7. Wonderful review, Resh Susan! I have been really into reading essay collections lately– and this is incredibly topical. I find essays-memoirs are more engaging and moving to me for some reason. Perhaps the idea of a thesis? Who knows. I think it’s interesting that this book was written by UK communities, but address the global worries around issues of skin pigmentation. I’ll have to pick up a copy.

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