Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Immigrant City by David Bezmozgis is a book that is both unassuming and quietly powerful. It’s a collection of short stories, each with their own independent characters who are dealing with different situations, but are connected by the experience of immigration. The main character in each story is an immigrant in some form, and the book deals with the often-subtle ways that personal and collective history can affect the present day.
Most of the stories focus on the ordinary, such as buying a used car door, or taking your child to a doctor. It’s the stuff of everyday life, and Bezmozgis then uses these small instances to examine deeper questions of identity and self.
By the end of most stories in the book, the revelation isn’t what the main character had starting out thinking about. An example is the story Roman’s Song, which at first appears to be about a car sale and business dealings, but instead becomes about a father missing his son. Ultimately, the stories suggest that what really matters in many situations isn’t the thing we set out looking for.
The book includes seven short stories, and at just over 200 pages, it’s a fairly quick read.
The writing is simple, but deceptively so. Just like the content of each story, the reader doesn’t always realize they’re dealing with complicated emotions until they’re already fully entrenched in them. It’s only later that it’s clear something significant has happened. In this way, the book is brilliant at subtly pulling the reader in and holding attention.
In a way, the stories that make up Immigrant City are very quiet. At first they don’t seem like anything spectacular, but that is precisely the revelation; that there are massive emotions often motivated by identity in even the smallest of actions. Immigrant City offers small glimpses into different people’s lives in order to understand the effect of personal history, how it sometimes dictates what we do and how we see things. It is both beautiful and illuminating.
Immigrant City is published by HarperCollins.