May was Asian Heritage Month (AHM) and it’s such a great opportunity to highlight the contributions of Asian authors to the book community. In Canada the theme this year for AHM was “United in Diversity” which is a great message and something we should strive for throughout the year!
In the book community we talk a lot about representation in characters or with authors and how much of an impact it can have on not only an individual but as a global society. Asian Heritage Month is a great way to show our support for Asian authors who continue to contribute amazing work to our society. It’s a bit late but we’ve put together some book recommendations to celebrate!
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back... (Read more on Goodreads).
This is a super fun Summer read. There are a bunch of different characters, all with distinct personalities. It was really enjoyable to find out more about each and every character because they’re so different from each other. It was also mind boggling to ready about families with such an enormous amount of wealth! Even when I think to myself “this is what I would do if I was rich” there are just some things in this book that I don’t think I could have even imagined. After reading this, I also read the Vanity Fair interview by the author where he talks about how a lot of the events that happen in the book were based off of things he witnessed as he was born in Singapore himself.
I watched the movie as well and I enjoyed it A LOT. I also love the difference in the conclusion of Astrids’ story in the movie. She was one of my favourite characters in the book and I always thought I didn’t really like how her story ended. That being said, I have yet to read the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend so there is a chance the full story of Astrid ends differently!
“Aiyoooooh, finish everything on your plate, girls! Don’t you know there are children starving in America?”
SPY x FAMILY by Tatsuya Endo
Master spy Twilight is the best at what he does when it comes to going undercover on dangerous missions in the name of a better world. But when he receives the ultimate impossible assignment—get married and have a kid—he may finally be in over his head! Not one to depend on others, Twilight has his work cut out for him procuring both a wife and a child for his mission to infiltrate an elite private school. What he doesn’t know is that the wife he’s chosen is an assassin and the child he’s adopted is a telepath! (Read more on Goodreads)
We don’t really post a lot about Manga on our website but I actually do read a lot of it every year. SPY x FAMILY is a new publication that I am absolutely loving so far. The setting itself reminds me a lot of Germany – almost like a East Berlin and West Berlin situation. It is for the most part light hearted and an adventure story, as this “found” family begins to find comfort in each other. However, when it does talk about the possibility of war/the war that just ended in the story, I think it talks about it in a very serious manner as the main character has been deeply affected by the tragedies of war. I think anyone who loves spy stories would really enjoy this manga! I am currently reading it chapter by chapter on VIZ but the English translated volumes are being released this year and the first volume is already out!
“Everyone has a secret self they don’t show to other people. Not to friends, not to lovers… not even to family. They hide who they are and what they want behind lies and painted smiles. And thus the world maintains its thin veneer of peace.”
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos... (Read more on Goodreads).
This was my favourite read of 2015. The writing was beautiful and almost painful in the emotion you feel as you read about Lydia and her family. There are a lot of themes covered in this book including family, love, racism, sexism and the secrets we keep from the ones we are closest to. One aspect of the novel that really interested me was the complexity of Lydia’s relationship with her mom. There is this mix of love, expectation and the want to not disappoint your parents that I think is portrayed really well. Overall the book is a great study of different characters and I think it really shows how complicated people are, as everyone in this book has this “hidden self” that others around them don’t notice.
“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind... (Read more on Goodreads).
This was a book that me as well as my two sister read and we all had a really great time reading this book. I especially liked it because I really relate to Nikki as someone who is Pakistani but largely grew up in Canada. Often I feel white washed and unfamiliar with my culture. There is this feeling of not quite belonging and almost ignoring that part of yourself as you grow up. There’s many scenes where Nikki struggles with speaking in her native tongue and I really FELT that. I still understand when people speak in Urdu (language spoken in Pakistan) but I would definitely struggle myself if I was expected to respond back in Urdu.
I think we all had only one “worry” about the book. Though the stereotype present in the novel are often based in reality – I can tell you I have met quite a few auntie types in my life – there are some parts that play a bit too much into people’s perception – especially Western perception – that Indian culture is “backwards”.
“In traditional Indian morality tales, wayward children were the primary cause of heart conditions, cancerous lumps, hair loss and other ailments in their aggrieved parents.”
Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi
Between the pressures to marry and become a traditional Indian wife and the humiliation of losing her job in Silicon Valley, Devi is on the edge–where the only way out seems to be to jump. . . . (read more on Goodreads)
The story follows Devi as she recovers from her attempted suicide attempt. She finds comfort in making popular classic Indian dishes with a twist. Instead of speaking, she uses her food as a way to communicate with different members of her family and as readers we get this slow reveal as to the secrets everyone is keeping.
It’s a fairly short story but I loved it because it had a great balance between comedy and tragedy. I also thought that the relationships Devi had with her family members felt realistic and relatable. It’s a great summer filled with humour and heart-warming moments, as Devi attempts to start her healing process.
“But sometimes when you wore a mask for a very long time, it became your face.”
Share books you’ve loved by Asian authors in the comments! We’d love to hear your suggestions.