May is Asian American and Pacific Highlander Heritage Month. Celebrate and learn about the many peoples in the Asian American and Pacific Highlander cultures by reading. Below are 10 must-reads for Asian American and Pacific Highlander Heritage Month. I found it hard to select only ten. These are all great reads.
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Crying in H Mart
BY MICHELLE ZAUNER
Knopf, April 20, 2021
In her memoir, Zauner reflects on her childhood as a Korean/American in Eugene, Oregon, then moving to the East Coast to attend college. Over time, she lost touch with her Korean identity until her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis when the author was 25 years old. Her mother’s death ultimately caused Zauner to examine her Korean identity. Crying in H Mart is one of my favorite memoirs.
The Joy Luck Club
BY AMY TAN
Penguin Books, September 21, 2006
In 1949, four Chinese women who immigrated to San Francisco began meeting to share food, play mahjong, and talk about their experiences. Known as the Joy Luck Club, these women chose hope over despair. Tan examines her Chinese-American identity and complicated, often painful mother-daughter relationships in the novel. The Joy Luck Club hooked me on Tan as a writer.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
BY OCEAN VUONG
Penguin Books, June 1, 2021
The author, Little Dog, writes his mother a letter, but she cannot read. The letter tells of a family history that began in Vietnam before he was born. This all serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, leading to an amazing revelation. While Vuong depicts undeniable love between a mother and her son, it also explores race, class, and masculinity. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book you should listen to instead of read. The text, read by the author, is poetic.
All You Can Ever Know
BY NICOLE CHUNG
Catapult, October 15, 2019
Nicole Chung was born premature, put up for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in Oregon. She believed her parents made the ultra sacrifice and gave her up, hoping she would have a better life. As she grew up, Chung faced prejudice and struggled to find her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, wondering if she knew the real story of her adoption. Have you read All You Can Ever Know? If so, please share your review in the comments.
The Magical Language of Others
BY E. J. KOH
Tin House Books, January 19, 2021
Fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her younger brother were left behind in California when their parents, after living in California for ten years, returned to Korea to work. Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and lost in a place where her mother’s absence is traumatic. Her mother writes in Korean letters to Eun Ji over the years, seeking love and forgiveness, which she does not fully understand until she finds these letters in a box years later. The Magical Language of Others is on my TBR list for May.
Interpreter of Maladies
BY JHUMPA LAHIRI
Mariner Books, October 22, 2019
Fiction, Short Stories
Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine stories plotting characters’ journeys as they seek love across nations and generations. These stories speak with passion and wisdom to anyone who has ever felt like a foreigner. Like the translator in the story, Lahiri translates between her Indian customs and the modern world.
Little Fires Everywhere
BY CELESTE NG
Penguin Press, September 12, 2017
When Mia Warren, a single mother, enters an idyllic suburb of Chicago with her teenage daughter, the two become quite the attraction. Mia has a mysterious past that threatens to upend the community. When old family friends try to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle threatens to divide the community and finds Mia and Pearl on opposing sides. One of the neighbors, suspicious of Mia, threatens to uncover her past but not without devasting consequences. Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, mother-daughter relationships, identity, and
Searching for Sylvie Lee
BY JEAN KWOK
William Morrow Paperbacks, December 8, 2020
In Searching for Sylvie Lee, two sisters and their mother in a Chinese immigrant family face deep family secrets when the oldest daughter disappears. Sylvie Lee, the oldest daughter in the family, flies to the Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother and vanishes. As the mystery unfolds, we learn that Sylvie has secrets, too.
BY AYAD AKHTAR
Back Bay Books, May 25, 2021
Homeland Elegies blends fiction and fact to tell an epic story in post 9/11 to show longing and dispossession and the struggle for identity and belonging. The work is deeply personal. At the heart of the story is a father, son, and country they call home. The book combines social essay, fiction, and family drama to capture the struggle of these immigrants and their plight.
A Place for Us
BY FATIMA FARHEEN MIRZA
SJP for Hogarth, March 5, 2019
While gathering for a family wedding, two parents must reckon with their children’s choices. A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of the family’s life through their choices to keep their identity and make their way in the world.
10 Must Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Additions
What are you reading for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? We’d like to know. Share your list with us in the comments.