By Emma Zaratian • April 29, 2019
It's practically May, which means—aside from the backyard relaxation station starting to come into its own—we're entering Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time our country celebrates the many cultural and historic contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. To honor this special month, we've compiled a short starter list of some of the best new fiction (released in the past year) by Asian-Pacific American authors. These are the kind of riveting reads you can curl up with in your hammock, on a lounger, or at the beach and lose track of the day.
Joan He's debut novel—a thrilling construct of Chinese-inspired fantasy and palace intrigue à la Game of Thrones—does not disappoint. In fact, do yourself a favor and just set aside a whole day to binge-read Descendant of the Crane. The heroine, Princess Hesina, has suddenly become queen after the assassination of her father, whom she loved deeply. To find the killer she must employ the help of a soothsayer and a private investigator—all the while wondering the true intentions of her own family members. Every character is carefully devised and richly developed, nothing is what it seems, and you will very likely cry somewhere along the way. Just saying.
*This title is currently out of stock, but if this interests you be sure to add the item to your wish list so you know when we get one!
Indian-born author and Vassar professor Amitava Kumar explores the motivations, ambitions, and erotic desires of an Indian transplant in his beautifully written novel Immigrant, Montana. The protagonist, Kailash, has arrived in New York City for grad school in the early 1990s. It's the Clinton years, college campuses are teeming with young intellectuals, and the previously sexually inexperienced student begins, quite intently, a series of failed amorous relationships. But the story is told in two different voices—one that is an older reflective Kailash reflecting on the past, and one that is the young, virile Kailash speaking in the present. And this structure allows the reader to see the old Kailash in a new way. Hailed as a 2018 Notable Book by the New York Times, the quest for meaningful love eventually embeds itself within the young man's integration into his new-found country, tamping down the temptation to return to his homeland.
Prepare to be hooked. An Instant New York Times Bestseller, The Night Tiger is an explosive, winding adventure novel that never ceases to amaze, complete with serial killers, shape-shifting tigers, missing fingers, and a trio of unlikely sleuths. Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, the lives of a young seamstress who spends her nights in the dance hall, an orphaned houseboy tasked to find his master's finger, and a surgeon who later becomes the boy's master all intertwine as they perilously search for the same thing. While Yangsze Choo's sophomore book is a rather carefully researched work of historical fiction, the subplots touch on provocative themes like superstition, mythology, murder, and forbidden love. An ideal read for a blocked-out weekend with no other plans.
Let's preface this with an important tip: give yourself time to get past the character development in the first 100 pages—it's worth the effort. Ok, now that that's been said, this award-winning novel by Celeste Ng might be the perfect Mother's Day book, because it delves deeply into the fierceness of motherly love. Set in a harmonious, meticulously planned Shaker Heights neighborhood in Ohio in the 1990s, Little Fires Everywhere opens with the Richardson family's burned-down house. No one knows who did it, but they have their suspicions. Then a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, arrive and rent from the Richardsons—a comingling of families that doesn't always feel so harmonious. Throughout the course of the novel, a series of births comes into play, which pulls on themes of maternal instinct, racial disparity, and family drama. Who set the fires and why? Read and find out!
Angie Kim, a former lawyer, has penned an enthralling legal thriller in her debut novel, Miracle Creek. It's the kind of whodunit in which everyone's got something to hide and curveballs blow in without warning. The story opens with a literal explosion in a rather nifty if not unusual setting—a family-run hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) facility, which offers pressurized oxygen treatment to patients with autism or infertility. Inside the chamber are four people, including a young boy with mental disabilities, but only two survive. The owners, a Korean immigrant couple, are immediately suspected of setting the fire in hopes of an insurance payout, but eventually it's the young boy's mother who's pegged as the perpetrator. Yet the things we think we know begin to unravel in the courtroom, where each character's secrets slowly trickle out, and where our understanding of identity, parental love, and family responsibilities are challenged.
Of course, we know there are tons more new releases by American authors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent (but only so many novels this writer could read), so please leave us your recommendations on any other titles you've loved this year that fit the criteria above. We'd appreciate hearing your recs!