If you’re struggling to find ways to contribute during the pandemic, a small way you can help several communities at once is to buy books by Asian or Asian American authors from your local independent bookstore. Debut authors especially, but really anyone with a book out recently is hurting. Small retailers are hurting. And the Asian and Asian American communities across the US have experienced a rise in hate crimes, harassment, and racism. Here are fifteen Asian or Asian American authors who have published books recently and could use some love and support.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune (Nghi Vo) – The intricate tale of an empress’s revolt against a colonizing empire asks big questions about the nature of power, especially women’s power. Delicately told but boldly imagined, it’s a perfectly crafted gem of a book.
The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida (Clarissa Goenawan) – Ryusei is reeling from the sudden death of his crush Miwako, who had retreated to a small, remote village for the final months of her life. As he tries to understand her actions and her inner life, he also finds himself contending with larger questions of suffering and endurance.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold (C. Pam Zhang) – Chinese immigration in the late 1800s is often ignored even though it was a significant period of human migration and cultural exchange (and also gave rise to another period of intolerance and the xenophobic Chinese Exclusion Act, ugh). Zhang shines a light on this time via Lucy and Sam, Chinese American siblings who lose their father and set out to bury him in a land that they struggle to call home.
Vagabonds (Hao Jingfang) – A group of interplanetary exchange students have to negotiate culture shock and also somehow mend the broken relationship between Earth and Mars in this book about fragile peace and what it means to be alienated by Hugo winner Hao Jingfang.
If I Had Your Face (Frances Cha) – Four very different women choose four very different paths through modern Seoul, trying to navigate money, fame, and the power of appearance in a world where nothing is as it appears.
The Magical Language of Others (E. J. Koh) – Koh’s father got a great job in Korea, and Koh’s mother went with him—leaving Koh and her older brother behind in California to effectively finish raising themselves. This book explores sorrow, anger, and forgiveness with a brevity that belies the profound emotional depth and insight Koh has expressed. Elegiac but not tragic, it belongs on every bookshelf.
The Silence of Bones (June Hur) – This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020 and I was not disappointed. A murder mystery in Joseon Korea? Yes please! An orphan and an inspector work together to find the cause of a noblewoman’s death, but when one of them becomes the prime suspect, both must defy tradition and danger in order to find the real killer.
The Iron Will of Genie Lo (F. C. Yee) – Yee is a perennial delight, and his second installment of Genie Lo’s saga is even better than the first, which is saying something. You want some levity, some action, and some romance wrapped up in a modern epic myth? Then this is your book.
Little Gods (Meng Jin) – Su Lan, a renowned physicist, didn’t mean to be a mother. And Liya doesn’t fully understand how to be her daughter. But when Liya takes her mother’s ashes back to China, she encounters two people who might be able to give a sense of place to Liya’s persistent feeling of disorientation, both from China and America, and ultimately from her mother, who she never fully knew.
The Library of Legends (Janie Chang) – Fleeing Nanking, Hu Lian and her fellow students are safeguarding a written collection of myths from destruction as they make their way toward the relative safety of the Western provinces. The myths and legends themselves also begin to take flight, and change the lives of Hu Lian and her companions even more drastically. Whether Hu Lian can reach her family and find a life with love is a matter that touches both human and divine worlds.
Dragon Hoops (Gene Luen Yang) – Yang’s latest graphic novel begins with his struggle to find new directions as an established comic author, but quickly becomes an epic saga of a basketball team’s collective search for success, on the court and off. I don’t care about sports, and this made me care about sports—because it made me care about the players, each a hero, together a legend.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (Cho Nam-Joo) – A satirical critique of Korea’s patriarchy, the titular Jiyoung becomes a literal everywoman when she accepts the pressure to leave her job and become a full-time mother. She begins to speak in the voices of many women, alive and dead, and express a growing dissatisfaction with the way the men in her life and society in general have treated her and all women.
Anna K (Jenny Lee) – It’s Anna Karenina in Manhattan with a Korean American protagonist! Anna’s life is clear sailing on a glittering sea until she meets “Count” Vronsky, who plunges her into the depths of love, confusion, and family chaos.
Breasts and Eggs (Mieko Kawakami) – I loved Kawakami’s novella Ms. Ice Sandwich, and couldn’t wait for this full-length novel. It braids together the stories of three women, Makiko, her younger sister Natsu, and her daughter Midoriko, each of whom respond to the overwhelming expectations of femininity in different ways.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Cathy Park Hong) – Another memoir, but this one’s more colloquial than poetic. Hong recounts her life and thoughts on growing up Korean American, and how her unique experience embodies a cultural critique of race in America.