May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month and we have a ton of fantastic fiction for you to immerse yourself in. I’m going to unpack of some of my favorite fiction (and one poetry collection because I can’t help it) of the last year or so, and include some bonus recs from colleagues… as a treat!
First, start with our Bunker Book Club pick of the month: The Book of Salt by Monique Truong.
Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this novel narrated by the acerbic, tippling Binh, a Vietnamese chef cooking for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in their Paris apartment. And then join the discussion with us on Facebook!
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu was strongly recommended to me by a friend I swap recs with all the time. I take these things very seriously. Thanks, Carolyn!
It. Was. Awesome.
The frenetic action of a film that jumps from one genre to another, with a buddy-cop style show at the center, is such an inventive way to tell a story about how Asian people have been, and still are, portrayed by Hollywood and raises so many points for discussion. This would be a great book club choice for those looking for something truly original that might span multiple meetings.
If you enjoyed that, you’ll also enjoy New Waves by Kevin Nguyen. After two best friends stage a heist to get revenge on a company they work for, one of them dies in a car accident under mysterious circumstances. This novel dives into the tech start-up world and social media, and challenges us to ask “how well we really know each other?”.
Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang is a collection of 12 short stories about Chinese youth in America and China. Love, money, family, and identity explored by cleverly told stories that leave you gasping and eagerly turning to the next.
That We May Live is a slim and thoroughly engrossing collection of short speculative fiction from comtemporary Chinese authors, in translation. From tales of strange tea and stranger mothers to mushroom high-rises, this fantastic collection will have you searching for more.
Fans of The Lost Children Archive will enjoy Insurrecto by Gina Apostol. Both road novels with “stories within a story”, Insurrecto follows two women in the Philippines–one filmmaker, one translator–and two different visions of history contained in rival scripts, intertwining and playing out on the pages.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a tender and raw coming of age story written in the form of a confessional letter addressed to the author’s own illiterate mother. His novel explores the immigrant experience in America, a fractured but close-knit family, and a young man discovering his sexuality. Every word on every page is gorgeous. Vuong is an award-winning poet and this is his first novel. The staggering beauty of his writing has me hooked forever.
Once you’re done with that and your tender heart needs more, read Not Here by Hieuh Minh Nguyen, a poetry collection and “big beating heart of a book” (it so is) that also addresses queerness, sons and mothers, and the Vietnamese-American experience.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, is set at a facility in Northern Virginia, tense family drama, mystery unfolds, fans of Celeste Ng and JP Delaney will enjoy this one. Next, jump into Amnesty by Aravind Adiga, a story of an undocumented Sri Lankan immigrant living in Australia who finds himself with key information about a murder, and a choice to make about whether to come forward and risk exposing himself. This novel is full of Adiga’s wry wit and propulsive storytelling.
Fans of cyber-punk will LOVE Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan, an exciting and fast-paced novel about what happens to the places where all the tech industry waste goes, and to the people who live there.
And finally, from one of my all-time favorites authors, Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police. A stunning, surreal fable about memory and the power of the written word. Set on an island where things have a way of disappearing completely, including all memory of the lost objects, and a shadowy police force exits to impose forgetfulness, a struggling novelist hides her editor under the floor boards to escape the Memory Police so that she may continue her work in writing down what is forgotten.
Young Adult Recommendations from Jenn Deuell:
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins – This book follows a young Bengali family, a mother and her two daughters, as they immigrate to NYC. The women struggle to maintain their cultural identity in their new community as each adjusts to American life in her own way. Added to that tension, is the Islamophobia they face in a post-911 world. The story goes on to follow these women as they grow, move away, and reconnect, weaving together their dissimilar yet parallel lives. It is beautifully written with wonderful portrayals of Indian culture sprinkled throughout. It will appeal to fans of diverse family sagas such as The Joy Luck Club and The Namesake.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee – This historical fiction novel tells the story of an often overlooked experience in American history. In 1890 Atlanta, 17-year old Chinese-American Jo Kuan faces much prejudice and discrimination. Because of this, she struggles to find housing and must live with her guardian secretly in the basement of the Bells, a family who runs the local newspaper. By day Jo is a ladies’ maid to one of the wealthiest families in town. By night, she writes a popular advice column under the pen name “Miss Sweetie.” Although the author paints an stark portrait of racism during this time, the tone of the book is still empowering and hopeful, and Jo, aka Miss Sweetie, is a character you won’t soon forget!
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan – If you love magical realism, this book is for you. But be prepared by setting aside a large chunk of time (you won’t be able to put it down) and a box of tissues (as it will inevitably have you in tears). The Astonishing Color of After is the story Leigh Chen Sanders. Leigh’s mother just committed suicide and Leigh is convinced she has come back as a bird. In an effort to help her grieve, Leigh’s father sends her to Taiwan to visit her maternal grandparents. There she learns of her family’s history, uncovers long hidden secrets, and comes face to face with her mother’s ghost. This book will have you feeling all the feels.
Science Fiction and Fantasy from Robyn Webb:
Adult Sci-Fi & Fantasy
The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate Series #1) by J.Y. Yang
The start of J.Y. Yang’s incredibly inventive Tensorate Series, follows twins, Mokoya and Akeha, as they grow up and challenge the world around them. Mokoya struggles with visions and them being used by her ruling mother, the Protectorate, while Akeha rages and turns towards the rebelling Machinists. But this will take him further from his twin and their bond.
The pacing in this silkpunk novella is both fast and precise and carries you along through the intrigue, action and magic. Absolutely beautiful and human, definitely worth a read.
The Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
First of the Machineries of Empire trilogy, Ninefox Gambit is a fantastically unique space opera. The Hexarchate, a system of political control based on a calendar, is at risk if they are not able to win a seemingly impossible war. To do this, Captain Kel Cheris is given the chance of redeeming herself from disgrace if she teams up with the undead tactician, Shuos Jedao, to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles.
Definitely not like any other book you’ve read, this is a delightfully weird immersive read, full of action, war and politics.
Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
High fantasy, set in a world reminiscent of imperial China, tells the story of In-yo’s rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden and one of her only friend’s, Rabbit. Packed full of court intrigue, feminism and criticism of monarchies, Empress of Salt and Fortune is a romping fast read but that will stick with you.
Children’s Fiction & Graphic Novels
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Min is from a family of fox spirits, but because of prejudices against foxes and the magic they can do, they keep it secret and hardly ever use their abilities. But when Min’s brother goes missing, accused of deserting the Space Forces, Min will use all her cunning and fox magic to escape out into space and solve the mystery of what happened to her brother… and if the legendary Dragon Pearl has something to do with it.
Full of action and space pirates and possible conspiracies, Dragon Pearl is a delightful read!
Stargazing by Jen Wang
Delightfully illustrated graphic novel, Stargazing is about friendship and empathy and understanding. At first nervous about the weird girl and her mom moving into the guest house, Christine and Moon soon become fast friends even though growing up in the same Chinese-American suburb seems to be the only thing they have in common. When their friendship is tested by a catastrophe, can Christine be the friend that Moon needs?
Newsprints by Ru Xu
In an alternate steampunk world that mirrors some of the World War I era, Blue is an orphan who pretends to be a newsboy. She loves the Bugle, the only newspaper that prints the truth, and the freedom that comes with not living as a girl, but after meeting Crow, a boy with something of his own to hide, Blue will have to take risks for both their freedom.