Back in 2015, inspired by Celeste Ng’s excellent article on the subject, I made a pledge to read more Asian American women writers. It’s something I started doing, then didn’t quite follow up on as much as I would have liked on my blog. Which is a shame, since I’ve read a lot of really good books by Asian writers that I’d love to tell my readers about, but didn’t quite have the time to blog about all of them.
So I decided to make a summary post of some good books I read in 2016 who are by writers of Asian descent. If you are looking to diversify your reading list, or even if you’re just looking for your next read, perhaps one of the titles below may catch your eye.
1. The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang
A family comedy about an immigrant Chinese family in America who lost their fortune, this one actually fell flat for me. With so many separate storylines that never quite gelled, I thought this would have made a better sitcom than book. I recommend Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series instead.
2. Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Told in Singlish by party girl Jazzy who aims to land a rich ang moh (Western expat) husband and have Gucci children with him, Sarong Party Girls is an utterly engaging story with a dark undertone.
3. After Dark by Haruki Murakami
A beautiful novel with a beautiful cover (designed by John Gall) about encounters in Tokyo between midnight and dawn, After Dark is classic Murakami, full of magical realism in mundane of details.
4. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
A girl whose mother gave her up to an orphanage in Mumbai is adopted by a childless couple in San Francisco. As she becomes more curious about her heritage, her adoptive mother struggles to deal, while back in India, her birth mother longs to reconnect.
5. The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
After his estranged daughter and her Caucasian husband die in a car accident, middle aged copywriter Sripathi Rao travels from India to Canada to take over guardianship of his seven year old granddaughter.
1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A compelling family saga about a Korean family in 20th century Japan, Pachinko is a wonderful doorstop of a book to lose yourself in.
2. A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman
A young servant girl aspires to a better life and a mother of three escapes with her children from an abusive relationship. Their stories touch on class and prejudice in Sri Lanka and end up intersecting in tragic ways.
3. The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
A repatriated Japanese schoolgirl (sent back from Canada after the war) helps her classmate find an older sister who went missing in a red light district. This beautiful, moving tale about love, family and hope was inspired by letters Japanese people wrote to American General Douglas MacArthur after World War II.
4. Three Souls by Janie Chang
A young woman in early 20th century China observes her own funeral and travels back into her own past to figure out why she is being denied entry to the afterlife.
1. The Inspector Singh series by Shalimi Flint
A rotund police detective from Singapore who is a bit of a cross between Nero Wolfe and Colombo, Inspector Singh pursues justice and faces politics and corruption across Asia. The series is a police procedural with a character-driven cozy tone, and I enjoy reading about his adventures.
2. Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
Short stories about an oddball cast of private investigators, the Ravi PI series is being developed for TV, and I can’t wait to see it on screen.
1. The Parcel by Anosh Irani
A powerful and disturbing story of a hijra (third gender) former prostitute who has to prepare a “parcel” (a kidnapped young girl) for the sex trade, this is an emotionally devastating read.
2. She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
A beautiful book, this novel includes a re-telling of a classic Hindu myth alongside the story of a bisexual man who is trying to reconcile his identification as gay with his growing attraction to a woman.
1. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
A YA romance between geeky teens in an arranged marriage who meet in computer coding camp, this gave me the feels and is probably the best YA book I’ve read in a while. Out in May 2017 — mark your calendars and add this to your To Read shelf stat!
2. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
This is a lighthearted and moving look at a woman’s struggles with body image over time.
3. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety by Ann Y.K. Choi
A coming of age novel about a Korean-Canadian girl who is figuring out who she is while navigating both cultures in 1980s Toronto.
1. When Sparks Fly by Ines Bautista-Yao
Shy photographer’s assistant Regina falls in love with the guy who broke her best friend’s heart. The flirty banter between Regina and Ben is great, and I also like the focus on the friendship between Regina and Lana.
2. Tough Love by Melissa Salva
A shy karate brown belt challenges her fears when she trains at sparring and faces her true feelings for her handsome karate teacher. There are some awkward moments (particularly when the karate teacher practically bullies her into confessing the truth), but still a fun read.
Stories with Animal Characters
1. The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy
Alley cats and their magical indoor cat Seeker in a Delhi neighbourhood who are in danger of losing their home — this book reminded me somewhat of Ursula Le Guin’s Catwings series and, really, how can I not love this book?!
2. The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-Mi Hwang
Charming and rather sad, this little book about a dog named Scraggly who encountered quite a number of things in her short life, from dognappers to bully neighbourhood dogs.
1. Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
A silly and irreverent memoir about growing up Muslim in Canada, this is also a profoundly honest book about the experience of straddling two cultures.
2. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
A tongue-in-cheek take on the travails of romance in the modern world, Ansari’s book also includes some fascinating stats about love to geek over.