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AAPI month is May 2023 and what better way can we celebrate it if not with a reading list of wonderful books? From identity politics to family drama and romantic love, these books discuss a wide range of topics and tap into all the ways we live and care for one another. Take your pick and happy reading!
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Written in the form of a letter from a son to his mother, this book delves deeper into trauma and loss. He takes us on a journey through his family history while exploring race. The son knows that the chances of his mother reading this letter are slim. This book is more about him processing a past that may not have belonged to him but has impacted him regardless. He struggles with language and its many inhibitions and through his writing, he wants to find a way around them.
The Comeback by Lily Chu
Ariadne Hu is a big planner and has most of her life figured out or that’s what she is convinced about. Things change when she meets Choi Jihoon and starts having feelings for him. Ariadne has a glamorous job and a really enviable life but does any of that make her happy? What does she even want from her life and how does she separate her own expectations for the future from the social pressures she has been under? Chu’s novel is a lovely take on our sense of self and how love can facilitate a journey of self-discovery.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou
Ingrid Yang is desperate to get done with her PhD. But after years of toiling, all she has is her lack of regard for the subject she is researching. Her boyfriend doesn’t make things easy for her either but she is yet to fully comprehend that. She is quite lost in her life and just like any other person in their late twenties, she is confused about which path to take. This is when she comes across a note that changes her whole life, not just academically but also on a political level. Will Ingrid ever find solid ground again and the courage to start anew?
Sugar, Spice, And Can’t Play Nice by Annika Sharma
Payal and Ayaan agree to get engaged more for the sake of business reasons and less for the sake of love. A meddlesome grandmother and the expectations of their individual families don’t make things easy for them. Forever bound by the dynamics of dysfunctional families, it’s very hard for them to know what they actually want. No matter how and why their marriage is being arranged, will Payal and Ayaan ultimately find a deep sense of comfort and unwavering support in each other? Will they find the love they have always deserved but never had?
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Willis Wu doesn’t have agency over his life. Society thinks of him as a generic Asian man and no matter how hard he tries, he can barely debunk the stereotypes that have started to dominate his life. Full of sarcasm and wit, this book not just challenges society’s views about Asians but also changes our perspective about how we think of plot and structure in fiction. Shedding light on important themes like cultural assimilation, immigration, and microaggressions, this insightful read leaves its readers with much to ponder.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Once Sunja gets pregnant, she realises that her lover will never marry her. Instead, he will treat her as his mistress. She marries someone else instead and his offer seems more honourable. Her decision to leave home with her husband sets in motion a series of events that alters the trajectories of three generations to come. The multi-generational narrative sheds light not just on familial trauma being passed down from parents to kids but also on the political landscape and anxieties people feel in foreign lands.
The Paper Daughters Of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore
A gang living in San Francisco, in the late nineteenth century, dehumanises Chinese women and sells them into slavery. They are called “paper daughters” and they are brought to America only to be forced into prostitution. Mei Lien is one such girl who thinks she is getting married in America instead of being sold to a life of despair and objectification. When reality hits her she has no respite from the cruelties of the world. Is Donaldina Cameron going to be her saviour? How will Donaldina manage to bring Mei Lien out of darkness?
Activities Of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen
Alice is the caretaker of her ageing stepfather who is suffering from dementia. Taking care of him makes her often question the essence of life and how we can evaluate whether it has been lived well or not. She is fascinated by the performance artist, Tehching Hsieh, and what role time plays in his art. In her off hours from her day job, she works on a personal project based on his life. The boundaries between life and art get blurred, making her ponder grief, loss, and the ongoingness of her existence.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
Full of heart, this anthology sheds light on the lives of Cambodian Americans who still carry the trauma of the Khmer Rouge. How do they choose to live their lives as children of refugees? Where do they find acceptance, if at all? Does loving and living come with a price for them? This book is a compassionate and insightful account of Queer and immigrant communities. Written with a lot of tenderness and care, it makes us reevaluate what we hold dear and how we grieve for a past we might not have experienced directly.
Land Of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
A compelling read based on the lives, legacies, and government of Chinese people, this collection of short stories combines the individual past with the collective present. From professional gamers to political activists, the readers are given a thorough account of how people try their best to live when resources are limited. This book, full of insights, is written with a lot of tenderness and makes us think about how differently people live yet go through the same set of emotions.
Need more? Check out these thrillers from authors of East Asian descent >>
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