Hi, friend! In honor of AAPI month, I am sharing some of my favorite books by Asian authors. Every book on this list was a five-star read for me! Of course, this is not an exhaustive list—there are many books by Asian authors I have yet to read and want to read. If you have a favorite book by an Asian author you don’t see on this list, please share with me! I would love to add it to my TBR list. 🥰
DEAR AMERICA: NOTES OF AN UNDOCUMENTED CITIZEN by Jose Antonio Vargas
While I vaguely knew Jose Antonio Vargas as an undocumented journalist who “came out” online, I didn’t know much else about him or had read any of this work. In his memoir Dear America, Jose shares his experience of living as an (undocumented) immigrant in the US. While his story is personal, the sense of feeling lost and not belonging and the pressure to hide and lie to pass as a citizen is shared by many, if not all, immigrants. It also highlights the outdated immigration system in America (for example, there is no line to get in for many people). I highly suggest this book regardless of where you stand on in regards to immigration.
EXHALATION: STORIES by Ted Chiang
Exhalation is a collection of thought-provoking short stories. Ted Chiang’s stories really challenged to think and reflect about the concept of time, free will, memory, technology, alternative universe, and more. FYI A couple of the stories are quite lengthy as Chiang makes his points. At the end of the book is a section where Chiang shares his expiration for the short stories included in this book, which I found very fascinating!
KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
I kind of think of this book as part-novel and part-facts. Cho Nam-Joo uses Kim Jiyoung’s character to portray the life of a typical Korean woman (which is relatable for many women across the world to varying degrees). Additionally, she references scholarly articles and statistics throughout the book to really highlight that Jiyoung’s experiences are shared by the majority of Korean women. Seeing the sexism Jiyoung faces throughout her life, beginning at a young age from almost everyone, including her own rather, is frustrating and at times depressing. If you are looking to better understand the Korean society and/or how sexism and misogyny manifest in a world that may be different from yours, I definitely recommend this book.
KNOW MY NAME by Chanel Miller
If you don’t know already, Chanel Miller is “Emily Doe” from the Brock Turner Case. In this memoir which I can only describe as powerful, Chanel Miller reclaims her identity as she narrates her story. She shares her trauma and struggles as she is blamed for ruining Brock Turner’s future and her life is put on hold throughout the trial. It was heartbreaking and frustrating to see how difficult it is for survivors to be trusted and to get help that they need. An incredible read. I listed to the audiobook and enjoyed hearing more of her personality via audio.
THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
I have a soft spot for immigrant stories, especially if they tell the story of an immigrant mother. We often think of our (immigrant) parents as selfless and hardworking but never consider what their lives were like before they moved to a new country, before they became parents. In The Last Story of Mina Lee, Margot finds her mother Mina dead in the Koreatown apartment she grew up in. As she grapples with her mother’s death, she discovers Mina’s past she knew nothing about. I love reading about young Mina—the sad history of her family in Korea, the hope she had for life in America, and falling in love. Told by both Margot in the present and Mina from the past, The Last Story of Mina Lee does a beautiful job describing the immigrant mother-American daughter relationship that may be at times strained due to language and cultural barriers but is full of love for each other at all times.
MINOR FEELINGS by Cathy Park Hong
Since I read Minor Feelings last year, I have been recommending this book to everyone nonstop. In her collection of essays, Cathy Park Hong discusses races as she shares her personal stories. As a Korean woman living in the US, I have never felt more seen or understood in the way Minor Feelings made me feel. While Park Hong’s lived experiences are specific to being an East Asian woman, this book would validate experience of most non-white people in the context of racism, whether you’ve felt paranoid about experiencing racism or if you’ve had white people gaslight and/or deny your experiences.
PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee
A multigenerational saga, Pachinko (title based off of an arcade game/gambling machine) chronicles four generations of Korea immigrants living in Japan. The story begins in early 1990s Korea when Sunja, the daughter of a modest boardinghouse gets pregnant with a child of a wealthy, older stranger who is already married. A minister who was staying at the boardinghouse offers to marry her, and they move to Japan together. Through Sunja’s family, you see the different ways in which life turned out to be for Koreans living in Japan at the time. It gives you a glimpse into a very unique community and period of time. If you enjoy reading multigenerational narratives or immigrant stories, I hope you pick up Pachinko soon!
A PLACE FOR US by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Place For Us is about an Indian-American Muslin family with three children. The book begins at a wedding of Hadia, the eldest daughter where the family is reunited with Amar, the youngest child after years of disconnect. Going back in time, you follow the family as each member tells a part of their past—as they care for each other; as they drift apart; as they figure out how to be American and Muslim. I distinctively remember admiring how the author eloquently writes about the subtle ways in which family can hurt each other with the best intentions for the other in mind. I read this book a couple of years ago before I started writing these book reviews so my spiel is a bit shorter, but I still recall how this boo made me feel, and that’s something!
PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM by Shin Kyung-sook
In Please Look After Mom, Mom goes missing at a subway station when Mom and Dad come up to Seoul to visit their adult children, and her family cannot find her anywhere. The chapters are told by a different family member, beginning with the older daughter and ending with Mo herself. As the family looks fr mom, they each reflect on their memories with Mom, which reveal a part of Mom’s story as well as their own regrets in their relationships with Mom–how they took her for granted and made Mom feel alone, forgotten, and lost (figuratively and then literally). I cried so many times reading this book. I felt for Mom in this book because I could see my own mom and my grandmothers in her. This book tells the story of so many mothers who did the best they could do for their families in circumstances given to them. While this book feels distinctly Korean to me, I think there are elements about motherhood that translate across cultures and languages so I hope you give this a go!
YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE I’VE TOLD: THE STORIES BEHIND ABORTION by Dr. Meera Shah
As the title suggests, this book tells stories of abortion. Dr. Meera Shah prefaces the book by explaining how there isn’t a typical abortion story, which speaks true to the diverse narratives that follow. Each chapter is centered around one person who has had an abortion or has a close one who did. Some chapters have a secondary narrative who faced a similar challenge, perhaps during a different time period or in a different place. Dr. Shah brings in her perspective as a medical provider who primarily practices in New York but has been a fly-in doctor for more conservative/abortion-restricting states. She also provides information about medical procedures, relevant legislations and historical context. I really appreciated how inclusive Dr. Shah was throughout the book, from correctly using people’s pronouns to telling stories of trans people, to emphasizing the importance of abortion as health care for all rather than women’s health.
Bonus: DISABILITY VISIBILITY edited by Alice Wong
So I am listing Disability Visibility as a bonus book because this book has multiple contributors/writers, not all of whom are Asian, but I will take any opportunity to give this book a plug so here it goes!
I first learned about Disability Visibility when the editor of this anthology and disability rights activist Alice Wong came on the Fall Books 2020 episode of Call Your Girlfriend Podcast last year. Disability Visibility is a collection of essays by contemporary disabled writers. Ranging from blog posts to eulogies, these are stories of disabled people in the prison system, disabled BIPOC, people with invisible disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, going thorough motherhood as a disabled person, and more. It was eye-opening to read about the varied experiences but also to see differing opinions and stances within disability community.
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