By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 01, 2020
Literature reflecting the experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has blossomed during the last several decades. In celebration of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, here are eight books that reflect the expanding cultural diversity of authors who fall into this category.
This electric debut from C Pam Zhang sets two newly orphaned Chinese-American siblings against the iconic backdrop of the Old West. Fleeing the threats of a western mining town amidst the American gold rush era, Lucy and Sam set off on a quest to honorably bury their father. The account of their journey is both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and American history with fiercely original language and storytelling.
This autobiographical novel from Alexander Chee tells the story of a young Korean American boy whose choir director molests him and several peers. While the subject matter is difficult, the quiet, lyrical prose provides a counterbalance for the horror, resulting in an imminently relatable story about truth, self, and the yearning for a place in the world.
Throughout her debut collection, Indian-American author Sejal Shah reflects on making herself visible in a country that struggles with race. She maps her identity as a woman of color, drawing on her interests in ethnicity and place—the distances between people, both real and imagined. Her memoir in essays introduces a vital new voice to the conversation about race and belonging in America.
Poet Ocean Vuong's debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of truth. Written in the form of a letter from a son to his Vietnamese immigrant mother who cannot read, it is a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Imbued with compassion and tenderness, the narrative explores timely questions for our American moment.
This Newbery Award-winning children's novel by Cynthia Kadohata tells the poignant story of two Japanese-American sisters growing up in Georgia in the 1950s and 60s. While the book does an excellent job depicting the difficulties of being different in the small Southern town, it's the nurturing relationship between the two sisters that stays with you.
Lebanese-American author Rabih Alameddine's award-winning recent novel tells the story of Jacob, a gay Arab man living in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The book is described in an NPR review as “a reminder that we can never forget our past, the friends and family we've loved and lost. It's a raw love letter from those who survived a plague to those who didn't."
When Hero arrives in America, haunted by her experiences in the Philippines, her uncle gives her a fresh start in the Bay Area. He knows better than to ask questions, but his American-born daughter can't resist asking about Hero's broken thumbs. Told with exuberance, grit, and sly tenderness, this sprawling family saga by Elaine Castillo packs quite a punch.
Lucky and her husband, Krishna present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan-American families, despite the fact that they are both gay. But when she finds herself trying to discourage a former lover from entering into an arranged marriage, Lucky begins to question her own choices. S. J. Sindu's novel explores a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality.
Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month encompasses a vast spectrum of people. This selection of books, many of them debuts, represents just a smattering of the glorious diversity of this broad array of cultures, lifestyles, and stories. Please let us know if you have any recommendations to add.