World Book Day 2021: 15 Must-Read Books By Asian Authors
This time, we're putting the spotlight on books written by Asian authors, in support of the Asian and Asian American community during these trying times. Whether you're looking for a charming read, a powerful story or one that blurs reality and dreams, we've got them all listed here.
1/15 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is set in the early 1900s and follows a teenaged Sunja who, after getting pregnant from a married man, decides to accept an offer of marriage from an ailing minister on his way to Japan. Abandoning her home and family sets off a dramatic journey for the young woman.
Soon to be adapted into a series, Pachinko tells a powerful story of love, sacrifice, ambition and loyalty. It chronicles the vivid street markets of Japan to the pachinko parlours in the criminal underworld.
2/15 Breast and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
It seems like Mieko Kawakami turned from a promising young writer for her debut work to a best-selling novelist for her sophomore work overnight. Kawakami was first a singer before winning the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for Breast and Eggs.
Her novel explores contemporary womanhood in Japan by following the journeys of three women, 30-year-old Natsu, her older sister Makiko and Makiko's daughter, Midoriko, as they tackle oppressive traditional customs and come to terms with their own insecurities and uncertainties to ultimately find peace within themselves.
3/15 The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Lisa Ko's award-winning novel, The Leavers is about Deming's search for his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who disappeared when he was just 11 years old. He is then adopted by a white family and with that come a shift in his identity, moving states, to become the family's version of an "all-American boy".
He continues to struggle with his new life and come to terms with his mother's disappearance. Ko's stunning debut novel looks at belonging and identity, tapping into real-life experiences of families separated due to US immigration policies.
4/15 That Man In Our Lives by Xu Xi
That Man In Our Lives by New York-Hong Kong author, Xu Xi looks at the lifelong friendship between three friends. When Gordon turned 50, he decides to give his wealth away. His friend and tax lawyer, Harold tells him to use this opportunity to write a book, chronicling his life up until this decision. Upon publication, the book becomes a minor cult success.
This sends Gordon into a self-imposed exile for several years, until he eventually decides to disappear during a flight delay in Hong Kong. It sent his friends, Harold and Larry into a cat-and-mouse game of finding him. Xu Xi, one of Hong Kong's most well-known writers takes inspiration from John Adams' opera, Nixon in China for this brilliant work.
See also: Tatler Reading List: 10 Books About Hong Kong By Hongkongers
5/15 Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Randy Ribay's Patron Saints of Nothing is a coming-of-age story about grief and guilt set against the Philippines' "war on drugs". It follows Filipino-American teenager, Jay Reguero who finds out that his cousin Jun, has been murdered as part of the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines.
To seek answers and uncover the truth, Jay travels to the Philippines. He soon discovers that there are many sides to his cousin that he never knew and that he may have played a part in his death.
See also: The 10 Best Restaurants For Filipino Food In Hong Kong
6/15 The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
The Mountains Sing marks Vietnamese writer, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai's debut book in English and tells an intimate, multigenerational story of the Tran family during the Vietnam War, the same year that she was born.
The novel starts with Tran Dieu Lan, who had to leave her home with her six children at a critical point in Vietnam's history. Years followed and her granddaughter, Hương comes of age. But despite the years that passed, conflict doesn't leave the family nor the country.
7/15 The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
The Kiss Quotient trilogy was inspired by author Helen Hoang's journey after being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This spectacular debut novel taps into Hoang's own experience, with the lead character Stella Lane also having ASD.
Math is everything that's on Stella's mind. She can easily whip up algorithms to predict customer purchases but struggles in the dating department. To help her, she hires the Vietnamese-Swedish stunner, Michael Phan. In the game of pretending, Stella starts to feel the magic of love calling out to her.
Witty, fun but also heartwarming, Hoang's debut novel proves that math is useless in figuring out what makes your heart tick.
8/15 The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A Pulitzer Prize winner, The Sympathizer proves to be an extraordinary debut by Vietnamese-American professor, Viet Thanh Nguyen. It's already set for a TV adaptation helmed by renowned Korean director, Park Chan-wook.
The story centres on an unnamed a half-French, half-Vietnamese man who was a spy for the Communist forces during the Vietnam War. The readers follow as he lives through the final days of the war, then in exile in the US and finally moves around Southeast Asia.
See also: 13 Book-To-Movie Adaptations To Watch On Netflix
9/15 The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Malaysian author and Tatler's Culture List 2021 honouree, Tan Twan Eng's The Garden of Evening Mists is a winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. A haunting work about war and memory, the story is set in 1951 and follows Yun Ling Teoh, the lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp.
She escapes to the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands where she discovers the only Japanese garden in Malaya, Yugiri and its owner and creator, Aritomo who once worked as a gardener for the emperor of Japan. Seeking to create a garden in memory of her sister, Yuh Ling reasons with Aritomo until he accepts her as his apprentice.
Yuh Ling finds herself drawn to the gardener and his art after months together. But the peace is threatened when a guerilla war rages around them.
10/15 A Burning by Megha Majumdar
A Burning is another electrifying debut novel worth a read. Penned by Indian-American writer, Megha Majumdar, the story is about three characters looking to rise, whether it's on the social ladder, gaining political power or stardom. But they soon find their lives entangled in a catastrophe that shakes contemporary India.
Packed with social commentary and political statements, A Burning presents complex themes that touch on class, fate, corruption, justice and dreams. Masterfully written, A Burning can easily be read in a single sitting but with messages that remain with you.
11/15 The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan
An astonishing debut novel that looks at the different stages of grief and depression, The Astonishing Colour of After is a cathartic read. It tells the story of Leigh, whose mother dies by suicide, only leaving a note saying, "I want you to remember".
But Leigh has no clue what it means. Seeking answers and guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh goes to Taiwan to see her grandparents for the first time. In her search, she ends up chasing after ghosts, unlocking long-lost family secrets and connecting with her grandparents.
12/15 Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Witty and heartwarming, Convenience Store Woman is the tale of a 36-year-old Tokyo resident, Keiko Furukura who works at a convenience store. Keiko started working at the "konbini" since she was 18 years old and becomes convinced that's her life's calling.
Despite Keiko being content about her job, people around her remain dubious and continue pressuring her to find a husband or start a proper career...until she eventually caves in and start to take action. In this brilliant novel by Sayaka Murata, the convenience store is as much a character as Keiko, having a life of his own.
The novel looks at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, all backed by a charming and unforgettable heroine.
13/15 In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
In the Shadow of the Banyan showcases Vaddy Ratner's gift for language, telling the story of human resilience. Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide and war refugee, taps into her own experiences for this semi-autographical work that follows seven-year-old Raami.
The young Raami hears of news that the civil war has overwhelmed the streets of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. Over the next four years, Raami deals with the deaths of family members, starvation and forced labour. Holding her together are the mythical legends and poems that her father used to tell her as she desperately fights to survive.
14/15 Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Popular contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, is well-known for his take on surrealism, blurring the lines between reality and dreams. Kafka on the Shore is a testament to the writer's ability to tell a story of metaphysical reality. This tour de force novel is powered by two characters, Kafka Tamura and Nakata.
Kafka runs away from home but his purpose is unclear: either to escape an oedipal prophecy or to look for his long-lost mother and sister. On the other hand, Nakata is an ageing simpleton who has never recovered from the trauma of war and finds himself drawn to Kafka for reasons unknown to him.
From there, it becomes a whirlwind of dream-like sequences that makes us question whether we're reading something that's happening in reality or just Murakami playing with our imagination.
15/15 Almond: A Novel by Sohn Won-pyung
Almond: A Novel markets itself as a story about a monster meeting a monster. One of the monsters in question is Yunjae, who was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia, making it hard for him to feel emotions such as fear or anger. Because of this, he doesn't have friends. Despite that, he's content living with his mother and grandmother.
But Yunjae's life changes on his 16th birthday, when a random act of violence leaves him alone on his own. Coping with the tragedy, he succumbs to self-isolation until he develops a bond with another troubled teenager, Gon, the other monster in question. Slowly, his life changes.