By Hannah White
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To celebrate, I’ve put together a list of 7 of the many great works of literature written by Asian American and Pacific Islander authors. From Maxine Hong Kingston to Haruki Murakami, this list includes some of the best work by the most celebrated authors of all time.
Clay Walls by Ronyoung Kim
This enlightening story is about a couple who moves to the U.S. from Korea in the decade before World War II. Haesu, a yangban of the nobility class, following tradition, is arranged to marry Chun, a farmer’s son. They move to America to begin a life together, but Haesu is confronted with a culture shock in California. Coming from a place where class defines one’s status, Haesu resents the way Americans treat her, while her husband Chun, embodying Taoist ideals, does not seek to find his worth from strangers.
In this story, America blurs “these two irreconcilable strains of Eastern tradition, personified in Haesu and Chun” into one Asian identity, failing “to distinguish one Asian immigrant from another. Within the walls of their home, however, the Chuns wage unrelenting war over their differences. It remains for their children, born in the United States, to integrate these conflicts and, ultimately, find their place in the New World.”
If you are interested in learning more about Korean culture and the hardships immigrants at this time faced in America, give this wonderful book a read this month.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Another book that details immigrants’ experiences, Lahiri’s The Namesake gives readers a detailed narrative of the Ganguli family, new arrivals from Calcutta who are trying to assimilate with American culture while still preserving their traditions.
Described by The New York Times as “Dazzling…An intimate, closely observed family portrait”, The Namesake is another eye opening book to read this May and beyond.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
In this beautiful, genre defying pastiche, Maxine Hong Kingston’s widely successful nonfiction book combines autobiography with traditional Chinese folk tales. Kingston gives readers a beautiful tale of her personal life and her culture to help them understand her position as a first-generation Chinese-American woman. The book is divided into five chapters that read like short stories.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This story takes place in the early 1900s and follows teenage Sunja who falls in love with a wealthy stranger. “He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.”
Extending through generations, this beautifully moving, and simply but boldly told story is full of complex and realistic characters that keep you turning the page.
Black Ice Matter by Gina Cole
A woman is torn between traditional Fijian culture and the brutal military dictatorship. From a story about a young girl in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreaming about a different life, to two women taking a deathly trip to a glacier melt stream, this collection is captivating and tragic. Though the stories range so widely, they are all tied together by the unifying themes of heat versus cold.
Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz, translated by Jena Anderson
The first ever novel written by an Indiginous Tahitian writer, Spitz tells a story about family and doomed love all in beautifully lyrical prose. Taking place in French Polynesia in the time leading up to the first nuclear tests, this book’s publication in Tahiti became extremely polarizing for its criticism of the French government.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
And how could this list be complete without Murakami? One of the most highly acclaimed authors of all time, in this story Murakami gives us some of the most beautiful, quotable lines. He writes, “If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.”In this story, “we meet a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who is on the run, and Nakata, an aging simpleton who is drawn to Kafka for reasons that he cannot fathom. As their paths converge, acclaimed author Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder, in what is a truly remarkable journey.”