A Book about Your Heritage or Culture: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

March 5, 2021 | Despina

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I was just an infant when I arrived in Canada. My first home language was Greek, eventually learning English during school. My parents and I practiced our Greek heritage through community events, and I went to Greek classes after school and Saturdays. By university I was living two cultures, two heritages. I participated in the Greek Parades on the Danforth, and I attended hockey games at the Maple Leaf Gardens. I went to concerts featuring Greek singers at the Danforth Music Hall, and I really liked Gowan, Luba and other Canadian singers when they performed at Ontario Place. When the Canadian Olympic team enters the stadium during the Parade of Nations I get emotional. When my plane lands in Greece I have a strange feeling that I am going back to something, and I suppose I am. 

What my family and I also enjoyed about Canada in those early years were the different cultures in the city and in the country in general. Years ago we used to happily attend the Toronto Caravan events, and we were amazed with the different types of dance troupes we saw on stage. My parents put aside their prejudices and homogeneous experiences from their village and embraced living in a multicultural society. 

Caravans are now in the past, and new multicultural events are taking place, through street festivals, parades, cable and internet and my favourite, literature.

When I visited Greece after a 15-year absence in 2013, I became reacquainted with the culture of my birth, in addition to my still many immediate family members there. The land and the sea though mesmerized me more... I also became interested in fiction set there, and I have found some amazing material. There are just too many books to list. Here are the more recent ones I have read. 

An Aegean April

An Aegean April by Jeffrey Siger

Cartes Postales

Cartes Postales From Greece by Victoria Hislop

The House by the River

The House by the River by Lena Manta

When the Cyprus Whispers

When the Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon 


Canadian authors have written about their immigrant experiences and their heritage successfully these past few years. We have had the fortune of meeting some of them during author readings. Here are just a few.


Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah

The Boat People

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Kicking the Sky
Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa


Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee


Recommendations from TPL Staff

Here are some of our staff picks for "a book about your heritage or culture". 

The Chinese in Toronto

The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan

This is the first title that I'd like to recommend. This book traces the humble beginnings of the Chinese in Toronto in the 1880s to the present. Their stories and contributions are told through newspaper clippings, archival photos, and narratives from old-timers and newcomers. This book offers a thorough look into the Chinese Canadian Community. As a history buff, this is one book that must be read!

Escape to Gold Mountain

Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America by David H.T. Wong

I recommend this book, too. This graphic novel tells the uneasy story of how the Chinese came to North America over the course of 100+ years. I was engrossed in the fictional, but representative, Wong family and their journey in North America.

– Elsa, Senior Services Specialist


The Bastard Of Istanbul

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak 

This is a story about the women in two families – one Turkish, one Armenian – linked together in an intricate way. Full of contradictions, the characters pull us deep into Istanbul's romantic and anguishing past.

The Home that was Our Country

The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria by Alia Malek

This book is a fascinating and tragic tale of a country's descent into chaos. At the start of the Arab Spring, Alia Malek returns to her grandmother's apartment building in the heart of Damascus. She tells the story of the many lives that crossed and how the fates of her neighbors reflect the fate of her country.

– Lucas Emirzian, Librarian


On the Outside Looking Indian

On The Outside Looking Indian by Rupinder Gill

This book is about what life was like growing up in Canada in the 1980s for immigrant South Asian families. Rupinder describes how many children of immigrants were raised by the rules of one culture, and also saw those living a distinctly different way. Rupinder uses humour to describe her bucket list to pursue the adolescent experiences that she missed out during her growing years. This book resonated with me as I shared many of her experiences, struggling to fit in as a kid in the '70s and '80s. When I had my daughter, I made sure that I shared some of those experiences that I missed out in my childhood years.

– Pia, Branch Head


Irish Pantry

There's a part to this book, Irish Pantry: Traditional Breads, Preserves, and Goodies to Feed the Ones You Love by Noel McNeil that says no matter how tough times are or how many people there are to feed, the well-stocked pantry can produce the perfect gift with these recipes. That you can tell an Irish person respects you if you are offered a cookie and this is just manners. I think that captured the essence of the culture the most for me of any description I have ever read. Highly recommend the shortbread from this book.

– Jennifer McB, Library Assistant


American Dirt

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is a novel about the incredible hardships a Mexican mother and her young son face trying to escape the ruthless cartel and their journey across the country to get to safety in the United States. From what I've learned, I think this story is a pretty accurate depiction of the migrant life and its many dangers. Reading this book made me nostalgic for my mother's country and my family there, and it also opened my eyes to the nightmare that is cartel violence.

– Lisa M., Library Assistant


When the Air Became Important

My Great Grandparents, before they came to Canada in the early 1900s, were skilled weavers. I found this book last year, When the Air Became Important: A Social History of the New England and Lancashire Textile Industries by Janet Greenlees and it looks at the textile workers and their lives. Health wasn't really considered necessary by the bosses of these factories as there seemed to be an endless surplus of workers. I enjoyed reading about the type of life my great grandparents might have lived. I have no way of knowing if they came to Canada due to health reasons. A fabulous read for those who are a fan of British history. 

– Katherine G., Library Assistant 


 Deep River

Deep River by Karl Marlantes has several appeal factors for me as a one-time student of labour history. I have an interest in labour activism in the twentieth-century, in particular Finnish labour activism in North America. The reader gets that in spades with young Aino Koski and her connection to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (Nickname: "Wobblies"). The flight of the Koski family from Tsarist-controlled Finland in the early twentieth-century to the United States offers a parallel to my own family's arrival to Canada from post-World War 2 Finland. My father was the only family member who spoke English. Aino Koski's brothers Ilmari and Matti faced dangerous working conditions in the logging industry in Washington State. My grandfather, my father, and my uncles spent time working in a sawmill in Timmins, Ontario in the early 1950s.

– John P., Branch Head


Recommendations from Facebook

These are just some of the books that the members of our Reading Challenge Facebook discussion group are reading and recommending! You can read the entire thread, even without a Facebook account.



What are you reading or recommending for "a book about your heritage or culture"? Share below in the comments! Or join in at an upcoming Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion.