What Is a Multicultural Novel?

IMG_4759When I find the courage to peek at my Amazon rankings, I consistently see my highest ranking in the category of “multicultural” novels. I was surprised I had written a multicultural novel. I thought I’d written a crime novel. There’s an interracial romance; maybe that makes the book multicultural. And maybe also because it is set in Detroit, a city with a black majority population. Then there’s my white main character, who writes from a first person pov.

My book’s been out about a month and it’s taken me this much time to think about the multicultural label and what it means. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter? My first concern was if I had been accidentally slotted into a category where I did not belong and had no right to be in. I did a search for adult multicultural novels and was relieved to see I’d read and adored most of them: Life of Pi, Poisonwood Bible, The Namesake, The Kite Runner, Like Water For Chocolate. This was not academic research, just a quick look at Goodreads. Barbara Kingsolver is the only white author in my short list. Other authors are Indian-American, Spanish-Canadian, Mexican, Afghan-American.

Next I came across an essay-ish letter from a famous Detroit novelist. I’d read and adored his book, too. Middlesex is also set in Detroit, but in another era, when there were many first generation immigrants settling in Detroit, and the family in Middlesex is still steeped in Greek tradition, which is how the novel ALMOST became multicultural. The author is very happy that he did not allow that to happen as he believes that to call a novel “multicultural” is to subtly denigrate it.


Here’s what I think. Amazon will have her labels and it has nothing to do with authors or books. In all the books I mentioned, two cultures mash up against each other, make accommodations or not. That is happening in Detroit and it is happening all over the USA. I see it every night on television when white police officers shoot black men and boys, over and over, night after night. I see it in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I see it when CK takes a knee and some people don’t get that it is not about disrespect for the flag or our military. With the disarray our country is in, I didn’t know how I could write a novel set in Detroit with a white woman protagonist and simply ignore race.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how to include race. For a minute I thought I might be able to ignore it because I didn’t have a clue how to do it. But I write realism, or something close to it, and I had my heart set on writing a crime novel set in Detroit featuring Lily White. I didn’t know she’d meet a black cop. I didn’t know they’d click. But it makes sense. Half the cops in Detroit are black. Once I had those two locked in as the main characters, I found my way. And whatever anyone wants to call it is okay with me.