4 Books by Asian Authors You Should Read in 2021

Celebrate the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by delving into these four authentic stories.

4 Books by Asian Authors You Should Read in 2021
Photo by Yue Iris on Unsplash

Celebrate the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by delving into these four authentic stories.

This month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Why not celebrate it by reading some books written by Asian authors?

I’m from India — one of the largest countries in Asia. Needless to say, I was tempted to include only Indian books in this article. But I picked four books from four different countries with stories that explore some aspect of the unique culture of that country.

Because unlike what popular media might portray, there is no such thing as “Asian culture.” There are 48 countries in Asia and each country has its own unique culture and traditions. I’ve only picked four stories for this article, but we have to start somewhere, haven’t we?

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through them, it will help me earn a small amount — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

1. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Set in: Sundarbans, India from the point of view of an American.

Image: Goodreads

The longest river of India, Ganga, and the largest Indian river, Brahmaputra, meet at a point and drain their waters into the Bay of Bengal, forming an immense delta. It breaks the land into an archipelago of tiny islands known as the Sundarbans.

Life here is sealed off into a world of its own. The crocodile-infested waters and the constant threat of attack by Bengal tigers make life full of risks. The locals believe that anyone who ventures into this watery labyrinth will never return unless they are pure of heart.

This precarious balance is tilted when two outsiders enter the realm. The American marine biologist, Piya Roy, and the Delhi businessman, Kanai Dutt. Piya hires an illiterate local fisherman to be their guide in this watery world, and Kanai acts as the translator bridging the gap between them.

“How do you lose a word? Does it vanish into your memory, like an old toy in a cupboard, and lie hidden in the cobwebs and dust, waiting to be cleaned out or rediscovered?”

What makes this book a must-read

The narrative shifts languidly between past and present, modern and traditional, cold logic and the mystical. The prose will transport you into the mindset of the superstitious local folk, who have braved the consistent ebb and flow of the unforgiving tide. This is a stark contrast to our protagonists, blinded by arrogance, who are eventually forced to respect nature in order to survive.

This is a story of love, revolution, and retribution. It’s a narrative heavily laden with questions regarding man’s place within the treacheries of nature.

Purchase this book here.

2. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Set in: The United States from the point of view of a Vietnamese immigrant.

Image: Goodreads

This is the letter from a son to a mother who cannot read English.

It’s the story of “Little Dog,” a Vietnamese boy learning to settle in an America where he’s always marked as an outsider. Where the color of his skin and the shape of his eyes determine his identity. Where his sexual orientation and country of origin are more important than his name or his dreams.

It’s the story of a family ravaged by war. Of a heritage torn to shreds and a language on the brink of extinction.

This is the story of love and loss and the depths of compassion, hatred, friendship, and envy the human heart is capable of.

“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence — I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.”

What makes this book a must-read

The unabashed honesty and the raw pain in the narrative make it one of the most genuine, authentic books I’ve ever read. For an enhanced experience, read this book while listening to the audiobook. It’s narrated by the author and the emotions it will evoke in your heart are unparalled.

Purchase this book here.

3. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

Set in: Spanning 60 years from the bombing in Nagasaki to the India-Pakistan partition to Afghanistan, and finally to the United States post 9/11.

Image: Goodreads

Hiroko Tanaka, a woman in Nagasaki on the brink of starting a new life with the man she loves has her world torn apart by the 1945 atomic bombing. Fleeing and heartbroken, she moves to Delhi where she finds solace in the company of a Muslim man, only to find herself displaced once again as India is split into two countries — India and Pakistan.

Old wars are replaced by new conflicts as Hiroko escapes once again and through a series of shocking coincidences, finds herself in a war-torn Afghanistan and in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

“How to explain to the earth that it was more functional as a vegetable patch than a flower garden, just as factories were more functional than schools and boys were more functional as weapons than as humans.”

What makes this book a must-read

Read this for an honest portrayal of the impacts os of racism, class division, and the devastation brought about by the various types of wars constantly being fought around the world: wars for power, for religion, for territory, or blood ties.

But when a war ends, are there any winners, or are there just survivors who have lost more than they gained?

Purchase this book here.

4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Set in: As the name suggests: the United States from the point of view of a Chinese.

Image: Goodreads

This book mixes three timelines to tell the story of what it means to be a Chinese American boy. The first story is a play on the famous Chinese Fable, Journey to the West.

The second story introduces us to the protagonist, Jin Wang, age 9, and his best friend Wei-Chein. All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school.

The third story is about Danny and how he finally has to visit his cousin, Chin-Kee, whom he’s trying to avoid all his life by changing schools every year.

“It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.”

What makes this book a must-read

This is a graphic novel with brilliant illustrations. If that doesn’t tempt you enough, all the illustrations are in color, unlike most other graphic novels where everything is in black and white. The colors add more life to the characters, making this tiny book an unforgettable read.

If you haven’t read graphic novels, this could be the perfect place to start!

Purchase this book here.

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