Visit the United States: 15 books to discover and understand America

The holidays are on the horizon and maybe you want to travel to the United States this summer? To do this, you can jump on a plane and travel the country, but you can also open a book that transports you to California, Alabama, Georgia, the banks of the Mississippi or New York.

What better than a book to find yourself in the heart of America, this complex, fascinating and confusing country? Of course, the idea is not to give you a list of tourist guides on the United States, but to offer you recent works that immediately impregnate you with its history, its customs or its atmosphere. Focus on 15 books which, each in their own way, recount the America of yesterday, today and its inhabitants (non-exhaustive list!).

Visiting America through Literature american

– “Bloody Miami” –Tom Wolfe (2013)
Story :
a fresco of life in Miami where Cubans reign supreme. The entire social spectrum is represented: Nestor, a twenty-six-year-old Cuban policeman exiled from his community for having saved an illegal immigrant from Havana, Magdalena, his 24-year-old girlfriend using her charms to join the privileged classes, a Russian “oligarch” too generous to be honest, a Haitian professor ready to do anything to make his mulatto children pass for white, the editor of the Miami Herald… Nine characters meet in the sensual and violent atmosphere.
Comment :
Tom Wolfe crunches Miami, this bubbling city so special because it is dominated by an emigrant population.

Underground Railroad » – Colson Whitehead (2016)
Story : Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia in the 1850s, tries at the risk of her life to reach the free states of the North. From South Carolina to Indiana via Tennessee, Cora will be tracked down by a ruthless slave hunter who forces her to constantly flee. But she will do anything to escape the horrors of servitude and win her freedom. This novel also highlights the famous clandestine network intended for runaway slaves (Underground Railroad) to enable them to reach abolitionist states.
Comment : a masterpiece according to critics. Pulitzer Prize in 2017.

The song of the ghosts » –Jesmyn Ward (2017)
Story : Joseph (known as Jojo) is 13 years old, he is the son of Michael (a white) and Léonie (a black). He lives in his maternal grandparents’ house in a small town in Mississippi. Jojo often takes on the role of parent for her little sister Kayla, as her mother Leonie isn’t really around. He admires his grandfather, who is his father figure while his father is in prison, and wishes to be like him. Comment : a road trip through the south that tells the story of today’s black or mixed America, plagued by racism, injustice and misery, but also unconditional love, tenderness and strength drawn from roots . National Book Award in 2017.

Here is no longer here » –Tommy Orange (2018)
Story : in Oakland, in the bay of San Francisco, the Indians do not live on a reservation but in a universe shaped by the streets and by poverty, where everyone bears the traces of a painful history. Yet all members of this community want to celebrate the beauty of a culture that America almost swallowed up.
Comment : this novel deals with the situation of the “urban” Indians of America encompassing at the same time the whole history of this people almost destroyed by colonization. Named “best novel of the year 2018” by the American press.

Long Island » – Christopher Bollen (2018)
Story : at the tip of Long Island, Orient an idyllic little town is fiercely protected by local invaders from wealthy New Yorkers and mostly artists. One day, paradise becomes a nightmare: the body of a resident is discovered in the bay and a family is decimated by a fire. Psychosis seizes the inhabitants. All eyes then turn to the only “foreigner” Mills, a young vagrant who has recently arrived and taken in by Paul, an architect in his fifties…
Comment :
Between class rivalries and a disenchanted mirrored vision of Manhattan, the book is as much a thriller as it is a sharp study of society.

Fall mechanics » – Seth Greenland (2019)
Story : is a financial empire built in New York by a Jewish family from Central Europe enough to protect the descendants from the hassles of life? Apparently not, because Jay Gladstone, heir to this fortune is beset by the same annoyances: demanding wife, unbearable offspring, family obligations, social constraints. But Jay is nevertheless the master of the world until a dramatic event comes to trigger the mechanism of his fall.
Comment : a novel about the pitfalls of our time and its dangerous excesses.

– “ An American wedding » – Tayari Jones (2019)
Story : Celestial and Roy just got married. She is at the dawn of a promising artistic career, he is about to launch his business. They are young, beautiful and embody the American dream… except that they are black, in a southern state that gives few gifts to people like them. One morning, Roy is accused of rape. Celestial knows he is innocent, but justice hastens to condemn him. The years pass, and the young woman holds her role of model wife until the day when this dress becomes too heavy to wear.
Comment : a portrait of the black middle class in the southern United States, described as “shattering” by Barack Obama!

The rebellious » – Judith Perrignon (2019)
Story : the life of Mohamed Ali in the form of a great crossing on American roads. The author sets out to meet witnesses to his story: a retired sports journalist from the New York Times, an Imam from Indianapolis, old Captain Sam who took him to the mosque in Miami at a very young age, childhood friends stayed in Louisville.
Comment : a trip through American time and space.

american-dirt » – Jeanine Cummins (2020)
Story : in Acapulco, Lydia is a bookseller and leads a peaceful life with her journalist husband, Sebastian. But this one is about to reveal the identity of the main leader of the drug cartel. She then discovers that it is Javier, an erudite client with whom she has befriended. She flees to the United States with Luca, her eight-year-old son, in order to escape Javier’s men.
Comment : a story about Mexican immigration that sparked heated controversy in the United States when it was released. A book chosen by the Oprah Winfrey book club!

The day Kennedy didn’t die » –Roger Jon Ellory (2020)
Story : if John F. Kennedy had not died on November 22, 1963? That day, the presidential motorcade crosses Dallas well, Jackie is still pretty in her pink suit, they are waving to the crowd when suddenly… nothing! John F. Kennedy will not die and will run for a second term. The president seems to have escaped his fate. But for how long ? On the other hand, shortly after, Mitch Newman, a journalist based in Washington, learns of the suicide of his ex-fiancée in unexplained circumstances. He then goes to investigate and discovers that Jean was investigating the Kennedy family.
Comment : an alternative history that mixes fiction and reality. A novel halfway between thriller, political analysis and biography.

where the happy people lived » –Joyce Maynard (2021)
Story : in the early 1970s, Eleanor and Cam meet at a craft show. Quickly, they settle together in Eleanor’s farm in New Hampshire where they start a family. This family happiness is shattered the day a terrible accident occurs.
Comment : the reader follows this family over several decades, linking the evolutions of its characters to those of American society: sexual liberation, abortion, emancipation of women until the emergence of the MeToo movement. In the background, a reflection on parenthood, the sense of duty, and self-sacrifice.

The one who watches » – Louise Erdrich (2022)
Story : North Dakota in 1953, Thomas Wazhashk is a night watchman in a clockwork stone factory located not far from the Turtle Mountain reserve. He learns that a new bill supposed to “emancipate” the Indians is about to be presented to the United States Congress, and understands that the rights of his people could once again be violated. He is then determined to fight against it, because he knows that this text is in fact a threat to him and his family.
Comment : a story based on the life of the novelist’s maternal grandfather. 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The privilege factory » – Christina McDowell (2022)
Story : the savage murder of one of Washington’s most prominent families sows trouble in this small city community bent on its privileges. Closely affected by the violence, parents and children question (or not) their place in a greedy and immoral American society, where the key word is discretion.
Comment : the author takes her reader where she herself grew up: in the high, very high society of Washington and paints a vitriolic portrait of the American elite.

Men are afraid of the light » –Douglas Kennedy (2022)
Story : a quiet sunny afternoon, a seemingly anonymous building and suddenly a bomb explosion. The devastated building housed one of the few clinics practicing abortion. One victim is to be deplored, and among the witnesses, Brendan, an Uber driver in his fifties. This discreet and uneventful man will suddenly find himself at the heart of a conflict of great violence between religious fundamentalists, unscrupulous businessmen and feminists who are determined to defend their cause.
Comment : a novel halfway between thriller and social chronicle of an America in crisis.

Marilyn, shadow and light » –Norman Rosten (2022)
Story : August 1962 – August 2022. The 60th anniversary of the disappearance of Marilyn Monroe is an opportunity to discover (or rediscover) Norman Rosten’s book published in 1974. Poet, novelist, screenwriter, he was (with his wife Hedda) l one of Marilyn’s relatives during the last seven years of her life. Met by chance one rainy day in Brooklyn on the arm of photographer Sam Shaw, he had welcomed her into his home to escape the storm. Not wearing makeup or doing her hair, he hadn’t recognized her right away. Their whole relationship will thus be placed under the sign of the natural.
Comment : according to some literary critics, probably the most tender portrait that exists on Marilyn Monroe.


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