Explore Authentic AAPI Experiences With These Eye-Opening Historical Novels

Read these seven historical fiction books to gain a better understanding of AAPI experiences.

Author's Corner Diverse Voices Historical Fiction Recommendations
Book jackets for Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan, and We Are Not Free by Traci Chee are side by side on a grainy brown background. Each corner is framed by green vegetation. Bird graphics and a line drawing of the sun are on top of the covers. Another bird graphic is on the bottom.

Historical fiction is an enlightening genre of literature that illuminates the complexities of the past. It helps readers make sense of the future and equips them with the knowledge to refine their narratives. Entertaining and engaging, historical fiction makes the truth palatable, widening perspectives and furthering global cultural understating. In these seven books, we travel back in time to understand the histories and stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan

Book jacket for The Storm We Made by Vanessa Chan. A painting of an Asian woman in a blue shirt is smudged from the side. The title and author name are in white.

In 1945, in British-colonized Malaya, Cecily Alcantara had put her family in danger. In an effort to evade sentencing as a housewife to a low-level bureaucrat, she became a spy for General Fujiwara, hoping for independence for Asia. Yet, she mistakenly aided in intensifying the Japanese occupation. Now, her son is missing, her youngest daughter is confined to the basement to avoid a draft into the comfort stations, and her oldest daughter, whose patience is wearing thin, serves drunken Japanese soldiers at a tea house. Ten years later, with imminent doom tormenting her family, Cecily must do everything she can to save them.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Book jacket of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. In a red temple, a woman in traditional clothing stands in an open arch way. The title and author name are at the top in white.

Set in the 1950s, 17-year-old Lakshmi escapes from an abusive marriage to Jaipur, becoming a famous Henna artist to the vibrant city’s upper-class women. Famed for her original henna designs and sage expertise, Lakshmi’s independence is only threatened by the local gossips who could devastate her business and her life. Then, one day, her husband, who’s been tracking her down for years, shows up with Lakshmi’s estranged younger sister. Despite her life at risk, Lakshmi discovered that all she needs is within her and around her.

Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

Book jacket for Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai. A transparent image of a young boy's face in a floral headdress is overlaid on an image of a jungle on fire.

During the tumultuous Tamil-Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka, Arjie grew up preferring to dress up with his cousin instead of partaking in sports. When his parents discover this, he is barred from his innocent games and forced to follow strict rules to set him up for the adult life expected of him. Navigating self-discovery, exploring his sexuality, and treading the waters of political unrest, Arjie’s journey to manhood is painful and turbulent. Arjie’s powerful story calls on readers to stay true to themselves in this compassionate, poignant novel.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Book jacket for We Are Not Free by Traci Chee. On white vinyl siding, three Asian teenagers are spray pained around a pile of luggage. One is a girl in a pink dress holding a bird, the other a boy with a notebook and blue jacket, and another boy crossing his arms in a jean jacket.

We Are Not Free follows a found family of 14 teenagers, all second-generation Japanese American citizens, who form an unlikely community as the world falls apart around them. Having grown up alongside each other in San Francisco’s Japantown, they join the hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry as they are forced into incarceration camps during World War II. As their lives are forever changed, these young Nisei fight for justice and equality.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book jacket for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. On a boardwalk, two people, a man and a woman, walk with umbrellas. The man has a dark green umbrella and is wearing a suit. The woman is wearing a white long jacket with a matching white umbrella. The image is in gold hues.

Taking place in Seattle in 1986, this story follows Henry Lee, a Chinese American who watches as the belongings of those sent to Japanese internment camps in Seattle are unearthed in front of the Panama Hotel. The discoveries reignite Henry’s memory of Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese girl whom Henry’s friendship with and love for came to the detriment of both of their Old World ancestors. Decades after Keiko and her family were evacuated to the camps, Henry searches for their belongings, finding an invaluable novelty in his reflections on the past, the decisions and sacrifices he made for love, his family, and his country.

Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

Book jacket for Water Ghosts: A Novel by Shawna Yang Ryan. Three ghostly woman on a boat appear in a golden glow on a green lake. One of the women is holding an orange umbrella. Vegetation frames the cover. The title is written above the boat in green neon letters. The author name is below, written in yellow.

This multifaceted novel intertwines immigrant life in the Sacramento Delta with Chinese myth. In the late 1920s in Locke, California, three ghosts emerge from the mist above the Sacramento River on the banks of a Chinese farming town. Two are unrecognizable, but one woman is the wife of the gambling parlor manager, Richard Fong. As they mingle with the townspeople, their paranormal powers unleash onto the town, unraveling a lush illustration of humanity, its passions, and its cultures.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book jacket for Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The author name is painted in white, above the title painted in black. Underneath is an abstract painting of a beach, with a blue sky, black horizon, and an orange and yellow shore.

A stunning map of the cross sections and divergence of immigrants, expatriates, and their children, Interpreter of Maladies sheds light on a series of eloquent stories. In one, a power outage urges an Indian couple to share hidden secrets that disrupt their perceived domestic peace. At a Halloween party, a young Indian American girl makes amends with her cultural identity as the Pakistani civil war is broadcast on the host’s TV. A kid with a hard-working single mother takes refuge in a woman from Calcutta. Then, an interpreter showing an Indian American family around the land of their ancestors is burdened with a startling confession.

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