9 Must-Read Memoirs By Asian American And Pacific Islander American Authors

May marks the start of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We’re celebrating this month by sharing some of the most influential and remarkable memoirs by Asian American and Pacific Islander American authors.

Author's Corner Diverse Voices Memoirs & Biographies Non-Fiction Recommendations

Each year, we recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans throughout history. This week, Bookstr is highlighting AAPI authors by sharing their stories. Learning and sharing one’s story may be one of the most heartening ways to commemorate someone’s memory and life experiences. This may be why memoirs have had such a distinct impact on our lives as readers. We may find a part of ourselves in every story, but we haven’t heard every story. We’re celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by amplifying such voices and stories through some of the most compelling AAPI memoirs.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

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In Crying in H Mart, the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner, expresses her life story in an honest and lyrical memoir. The memoir is based on Zauner’s essay of the same name, originally published in The New Yorker on August 20, 2018. Zauner shares her childhood experiences as one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Oregon. She describes her mother’s high expectations of her into adolescence, and the bond that eventually grew between them in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul. A soul-reckoning event, her mother’s terminal cancer, forces Zauner to embrace and reclaim her Korean identity in a whole new light. Her memoir is a beautiful ode to the mother who raised her, the woman Michelle became through reconnecting with her Korean heritage, and the grief she faced in the most unpredictable places by crying in H Mart.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

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Chanel Miller, formerly known to the world as ‘Emily Doe,’ reclaims her identity to tell the story of her trauma, strength, and the power behind her words. In 2015, Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on the Stanford University campus. Her voice became the voice of thousands when her victim impact statement was posted to Buzzfeed. Assault victims had never felt more seen and heard by her heartbreaking story as they shared their own experiences through letters and emails. Know My Name is a devastating yet informative memoir that challenges the culture and illuminates how the criminal justice system is designed to fail the most vulnerable. Chanel Miller’s memoir is a story about finding her identity and a recollection of a traumatic experience that should have never happened at all.

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

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Sigh, Gone tells the story of Phuc Tran, who immigrated to America from Vietnam and spent time in a refugee camp before relocating with his family to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While there, the Trans struggle to assimilate into this new American life with constant abuse, racism, and tragedy. This coming-of-age memoir depicts the harsh reality of assimilation while also highlighting the universal connection between books and punk rock. Tran’s witty and loose writing style makes his emotional tone throughout each scene waver like his overwhelming experience with displacement. Tran learns to accept himself despite struggling with constant feelings of isolation and exclusion. Through creative inspirations in art and themes in beloved classic literature, his journey to self-discovery is anything but simple.

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung

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All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir is an intense look at family and what it mirrors with reality. Born premature, placed for adoption by her biological-Korean parents, and adopted by a white family from a small Oregon town, Chung lost her cultural roots in a matter of months. She concisely unpacks the emotional moments tied with her adoption and Korean heritage. Growing up, she believed meeting her adoptive parents was fated and was given a better life by being a transracial adoptee. However, as Chung faced prejudices when she got older, that dream-like story became dimmed and out of touch. While finding her identity in the world as a writer, Chung provides readers with her search for the people who gave her up and unravels family secrets.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

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An intimate graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, portrays a family with an emotional longing for a better future. Bui depicts the story of her family’s escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s. The heart-rending experience of leaving your country out of fear takes hold in this memoir, where the effects of immigration and displacement on Bui’s child and her family come to life. Bui documents her experiences as a refugee and a parent through the trauma she faced throughout her life by displacement. She uses the term “refugee reflex” to refer to an instinct that pushes one to survive. Her family and friends know this feeling, and she describes her survival by building herself back up again from nothing. This memoir displays the universal struggles of being a first-time mother, especially one that provides in the toughest of times. Maternal strength takes shape as unconditional love and endless sacrifices regarding making the best for your family.

Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei by David Mura

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A sansei, a third-generation Japanese-American, depicts how a year in Japan transformed his identity and allowed him to reclaim his sense of self. Most of Mura’s life had been spent in a Chicago suburb where he heard more Yiddish than Japanese. His immersive memoir explores cultural differences and what is inevitably lost by assimilation. The Award-winning poet provides readers with a self-proclaimed anecdote on Japanese culture through an honest and poetic quest for one’s identity in Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei.

What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang

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Maya Shanbhag Lang shares the extent of her unconditional love for her inspiring mother in What We Carry. Lang idolizes her mother, who immigrated to the United States from India and prioritized keeping a traditional Indian home. This strong mother-daughter relationship like theirs grows more with time. However, after Lang became a mother, she noticed her mother had become abruptly unavailable. While raising her child, Lang looks for answers and learns that her mother is living with Alzheimer’s. While her mother reminisces on old memories, Lang discovers that she doesn’t know her mother as much as she thought she did, or even at all. In the heartwarming and often heartbreaking What We Carry, readers uncover a generational mystery while learning the weight women carry as mothers.

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden

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A coming of age story of a queer, biracial teenager exploring the richness of her life on the surface unravels as instability. Madden lived comfortably behind private schools and designer brand shoes, but home-life reminded her just how lonely she really was. An only child of parents that battled drug and alcohol addictions, Madden was bracing herself for a cultural bond with assault and objectification. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls combines the lyrical pains of a eulogy and love letter and wraps them into an emotional memoir.

Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan

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Fairest: A Memoir tells the all-encompassing life story of a child with albinism or “sun child,” from a rural Philippine village who becomes a woman in America. Dealing with the pain of parental neglect, Talusan found childhood comfort in her grandmother as she was treated with respect rather than curiosity. While navigating life as a trans woman, Meredith Talusan is met with many hardships that challenge her to explore race, class, sexuality, and her place in the gay community. Additionally, she risked losing a man she deeply loved. Emerging as an artist and activist, Talusan rejects the ideas and roles of traditional masculinity and embraces her newfound life spent reflecting on love. Her exploration of love, identity, and gender will inspire readers to embrace new perspectives.

Memoirs Shape Us

Our life experiences shape us, and our feelings towards them are more universal than we think. This month we are shining a light on the Asian American and Pacific Islander American experience. We’re sharing stories that have impacted our way of thinking and made us feel seen. In memoirs, authors transport us to a specific period in their lives where we see them for who they are, loud and lively on a page. For Asian American and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, we suggest you pick up one of these insightful memoirs or read a book by one of your favorite AAPI authors.

If you’re looking for more incredible AAPI authors, keep reading here!

FEATURED IMAGE BY GRIFFYN TIJAMO, BOOKSTR