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While Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has come to an end, our appreciation for Asian and Pacific Islander authors should continue. Reading works from diverse writers helps create a greater understanding of varied perspectives while uplifting and celebrating all kinds of voices. For May, June, and the rest of the year, join us in reading some of the best literature around, from across the continent, islands, and diaspora.
Toshikazu Kawaguchi puts forth an absolutely charming read that, while so simple in concept and writing, brings about a warm fuzzy feeling that you can carry with you long after you have finished the book. It asks (and answers) the question “If you had the opportunity to travel back in time, just to visit, but not to change anything, would you?” Before the Coffee Gets Cold takes place inside a cosy café in Japan where they brew a special kind of coffee, one that allows the drinker to travel back in time.
Cixin Liu’s award-winning series, officially called Remembrance of Earth’s Past, features hard science concepts, engaging characters, and questions that induce sleepless nights—a perfect science fiction. In The Three-Body Problem, which takes place across history from the cultural revolution to the present day, the story follows how humans made first contact with an alien civilisation. If the books seem long, don’t worry—this epic story is also being adapted into a Netflix original series by the creators of Game of Thrones.
Lisa Ko’s runaway success tells the tale of what happens to those who leave and those who are left behind. Following the stories of mother Polly and son Deming, it is a heart-wrenching and powerful novel that makes you feel truly invested in the characters’ lives. Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant in Brooklyn, disappears overnight, leaving 11-year-old Deming behind, setting the premise for a fascinating examination of what it means to be an Asian-American immigrant—this one should definitely be on your to-read list.
Alka Joshi paints a vibrant and compelling picture of India in the 1950s, providing a unique look at the glitz and glamour of Jaipur royalty as well as the dreary lives that remain unseen underneath. Lead character Lakshmi works as a henna artist for upper-class ladies, gaining access to the secrets of the wealthy. A smart and strong woman who follows her own path, her story is one of perseverance, self-worth, forgiveness, and womanhood.
Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, this sweeping historical novel is Asia’s answer to the works of Isabel Allende, steeped in Chinese and Malaysian mythology and superstition. Yangsze Choo weaves a story that alternates between Ren, an 11-year-old orphaned Chinese houseboy, and Ji Lin, a young apprentice dressmaker who moonlights as a dancehall girl. Ren and Ji Lin’s fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers. With the core mystery intertwined with the characters’ journeys of growing up and self-discovery, there is something for everyone in this read.
Written by Huma Qureshi, a Pakistani-British author, this collection of short stories explores exactly what the title promises: the inability to communicate honestly with the most important people in your life. Featuring a set of complex characters and beautiful settings across London, rural England, Tuscany, and Lahore, it explores the familial relationships between partners, parents, and children. Lyrical writing lends to striking imagery, such as a mother’s eyes feeling “as thin as paper from sleeplessness, as though if she rubbed them too hard they might accidentally rip apart.” You will carry these stories long after reading.
If you are looking for a fun romance with a great blend of sweet and steamy, this bestseller needs to be added to your list immediately! The Kiss Quotient follows Stella, a highly successful woman living with Asperger’s syndrome who hires an escort in order to gain dating experience and explore intimacy. Enter Michael Phan, a Vietnamese-Swedish stunner who not only helps Stella explore the ins and outs of romantic and sexual relationships, but also, in true gender-reversed Pretty Woman style, falls hopelessly in love with her.
A Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai—and if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, Chloe Gong’s stunning debut novel also comes with a mystery for readers to unravel. When an illness causes members of rival gangs to rip out their own throats out, the protagonists have to work together to uncover whether it’s a contagion, a madness, a monster in the shadows, or all of the above. Fast-paced with vivid descriptions and a truly intriguing plot, you will be captivated throughout. If you loved The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, you will adore this new series.
Singaporean novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal provides a unique look at the Punjabi-Sikh community in Singapore with the story of Pin as she unravels her family’s mysteries and secrets. While exploring racism, sexism, and religion in a nuanced and eye-opening approach, the book ultimately centres on the main characters and their relationships. Pin, her parents, and her grandmother are complex, drawing you into their home and kitchen. One reader says, “Like that delicious sweet and bitter layer of sugar on bread, this story just melts in your mouth while leaving an impactful lump in your throat.”
A record-breaking novel that took Korea by storm, spurring the rise of the new feminist movement. Upon leaving her white-collar job to care for her newborn baby, the titular character begins to exhibit elements of psychosis and is sent by her family to a male psychiatrist. Narrating her life, the book tells the story of Kim Jiyoung, presenting the hardships she underwent and highlighting the discrimination and judgement women face, all while being contrasted against Korea’s advancing policies as it abandons “family planning” birth control and passes new legislation against gender discrimination.