For the past few decades, works by Asian American authors have slowly gained more recognition. Female authors such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and Amy Tan helped pave the way for a new generation of Asian Americans to express themselves and tell their stories. The novels we handpicked here at Bookstr touch on themes such as diaspora and generational differences but are bonded together by family, food, and even mahjong. We hope you’ll make room for them on your TBR list!
by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Part autobiography and part narrative, Cha created a work that went beyond experimental. The novel is sectioned into nine parts to mirror the nine Greek Muses. Using mixed media and various literary forms, Dictee tells the story of several women, including Cha, her mother, and even goddesses, who are all woven together by one common thread: their triumph over suffering. It touches on other subjects such as diaspora and identity, creating a vulnerable piece that continues to shine a light on the complexities of being Asian American.
The Joy Luck Club (1989)
by Amy Tan
Set in 1949, four Chinese mothers in San Francisco get together every week to play mahjong and swap stories about the life they left in China. They refer to themselves as The Joy Luck Club, united in their loss and hope that their children can thrive in the States. Their Americanized daughters don’t know much about their mother’s stories and often believe they wouldn’t understand what they are going through. However, they eventually discover that their inner turmoil mirrors their mothers’ pasts. Tan’s novel closely examines the rocky, yet unique, bond between mothers and daughters with cultural and generational differences.
In the Shadow of the Banyan (2012)
by Vaddey Ratner
In this historical fiction novel, we follow young Raami who is caught in the middle of a civil war unraveling in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. No longer under the privileged protection of royal security, the following years are filled with forced labor, starvation, and death. With all odds of her living quickly disappearing, the only thing Raami has to cling to is the mythical legends her father spoke of. Using vivid and lyrical language, Ratner pens an inspiring story of survival and humanity.
A Little Life (2015)
by Hanya Yanagihara
When four friends move from a small Massachusetts town to New York, they manage to stay afloat solely through their ambition and friendship. Willem, JB, and Malcolm are all held together by their brilliant yet broken friend, Jude. As the years go by, their friendships become stained with pride and addiction, especially as Jude’s mental state declines in midlife. Yanagihara puts readers through an emotional rollercoaster as Jude wonders if he will ever survive the trauma that has haunted him since childhood.
by Min Jin Lee
Lee’s novel begins in the early 1900s amid Japan’s colonization of Korea, when Sunja, a young teenager and daughter of a fisherman, becomes pregnant with a wealthy stranger’s child. After discovering that he is married, Sunja rejects him, marries a minister, and abandons her home, embarking on a journey that causes a chain reaction spanning four generations. Set in various locations such as Japanese universities and pachinko parlors, the story features complex characters with strong wills to survive in the face of indifference. It was recently adapted into an Apple TV miniseries.
The Leavers (2017)
by Lisa Ko
At just 11 years old, Deming Guo’s undocumented Chinese mother, Polly, went to work at a nail salon and never came home. He is soon adopted by a white couple who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate and rename him Daniel in an attempt to mold him into the average American kid. Deming must find himself in between this new life and the culture that was taken from him with his mother. Ko delves into Deming and Polly’s struggles, as one deals with an identity forced upon him while the other must come to terms with the mistakes she’s made.
Trust Exercise (2019)
by Susan Choi
Choi places us in a performing arts high school in the 1980s, where ambition, passion, and art take center stage. Two talented freshmen, Sarah and David, fall in love amid the drama. Despite growing pressure from family and academics, all seems well until the book flips the script, leaving readers wondering if they truly trust what they’ve been told about the characters and their stories. Filled with twists and turns and a shocking ending, the novel brings us to questions truth, fiction, and friendships.
by K-Ming Chang
Chang blends Taiwanese, Chinese, and Fujianese folklore in her debut novel. When Mother told Daughter the story of Hu Gu Po, a tiger spirit that lived in a woman’s body, she did not know Daughter would wake up with a tiger tail of her own. As more strange occurrences happen, such as a hole in the ground spitting out letters from her grandmother, Daughter asks Ben, the girl she’s falling for, to help her translate. As it becomes increasingly clear that each woman in her family embodies a myth, it is up to Daughter to change their fate.
by Katie Kitamura
Kitamura introduces us to a nameless interpreter who has just traveled from New York to work at the International Court. Very quickly, she finds herself in the middle of scandalous situations. The man she’s seeing is still attached to his wife, her friend witnesses a crime, and our protagonist is stuck interpreting for a former president under fire for being a war criminal. In the midst of all the chaos, the interpreter finds herself vulnerable to all those she is intimate with and must search for what she wants in her life.