8 Books to Read by Asian Authors
Earlier this year I took part in ReadWithCindy’s Asian Readathon. Spanning over the course of a month, I read a number of great books by a range of authors from all over Asia and it was a great experience. Reading diversely is something that’s very important to me; it helps me to understand the world from perspectives other than my own and to learn about cultures from around the world. Plus it just generally makes my reading life much more rich and interesting, and it’s something that I encourage you to do too!
Here are eight of my favourite books that I’ve read by Asian authors - each one of these is a gem and I implore you to pick them up when you get the chance.
1) The Astonishing Colour of After by emily x.r. pan
‘When Leigh's mother dies by suicide she leaves only a scribbled note - I want you to remember. Leigh doesn't understand its meaning and wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel - if only she hadn't kissed him and changed everything between them. Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh retreats into art and memories, where colours collide, the rules of reality are broken and the ghosts of the past refuse to rest… But Leigh is determined to unlock her family's secrets. To remember.’
It’s been more than a year since I first read this book and I’m honestly still thinking about it. One of my favourite reads of 2018, The Astonishing Colour of After packs an emotional punch and explores mental illness and grief, as well as the usual YA coming-of-age themes. It’s a beautifully written story and I particularly loved the fact that much of the plot is based in Taiwan - it was so fun to read about their food and culture. I remember feeling slightly apprehensive about the magical realism element but I ended up loving that too.
2) Crazy Rich Asians by kevin kwan
‘When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.’
This book is so much fun! If you like reading decadent descriptions of how the other half live, then you’re in for a treat with Crazy Rich Asians. There are tons of gorgeous clothes, luxuriously described mansions and delicious Singaporian cuisine which really set my imagination alight. My only main criticism is that there are a lot of characters and it can be difficult to keep up with who’s related to who, and the relationships that they have with each other. Despite this I did really enjoy the book and I definitely want to read the next two in the series. I need catch up with the rest of the drama!
3) To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny han
‘What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them…all at once? Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved — five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.’
There’s no way I could write this post without mentioning the wonderful To All the Boys I Loved Before. Lara Jean must be one of my favourite YA characters of all time, she’s just so sweet, and I really loved reading about her life. While I do also adore the movie I particularly love the family dynamic that’s in the books - it’s a joy to read about the relationships that the sisters have. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to fans of contemporary YA.
4) Emergency Contact by mary h.k. choi
‘For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn't actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it's seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can't wait to leave behind.
Sam's stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he's a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
When Sam and Penny cross paths it's less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch--via text--and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.’
I love reading books that are based in a university setting so this story just had to make my list. The characters are so much fun to read about, the romance is adorable and the texting conversations are really fun and realistic. It’s always a huge plus for me when YA stories heavily feature technology and social media because it just feels so real. This is how young people communicate in the 21st century! There’s also a really great balance between the sweet relationship moments and the discussion of more difficult topics, such as alcoholism and sexual assault. Mary H.K. Choi is definitely an author to watch.
5) Naturally Tan by tan france
‘In this heartfelt, funny, touching memoir, Tan France, star of Netflix's smash-hit QUEER EYE, tells his origin story for the first time. With his trademark wit, humour, and radical compassion, Tan reveals what it was like to grow up gay in a traditional Muslim family, as one of the few people of colour in Doncaster, England. He illuminates his winding journey of coming of age, finding his voice (and style!), and how he finally came out to his family at the age of 34, revealing that he was happily married to the love of his life - a Mormon cowboy from Salt Lake City.’
The only non-fiction book on my list, Tan is an absolute sweetheart and I loved reading about his life. In the book Tan speaks about his experience growing up as a gay Muslim, which is a really interesting perspective that just isn’t heard from in mainstream media. I particularly recommend picking up the audiobook version of this as Tan narrates it himself, which is a huge treat for fans of the Netflix show Queer Eye. Plus Antoni makes a special guest appearance at the end which is something that you just don’t get from the physical edition.
6) Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by ayisha malik
'Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?' Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.
As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love...?’
Published a few years ago, this book was marketed as the ‘Muslim Bridget Jones’ which I thought was absolutely spot on. Sofia felt like a friend to me - she’s so funny and it makes for a really enjoyable, light read. It’s the perfect book for a Sunday morning snuggled up in bed!’
7) Convenience Store Woman by sayaka murata
‘Meet Keiko. Keiko is 36 years old. She's never had a boyfriend, and she's been working in the same supermarket for eighteen years. Keiko's family wishes she'd get a proper job. Her friends wonder why she won't get married. But Keiko knows what makes her happy, and she's not going to let anyone come between her and her convenience store...’
This is the book that has inspired me to read more Japanese translated fiction. It’s definitely a slightly unusual read, but I absolutely flew through the pages and it gave me a lot to think about. If you want to really immerse yourself in a different culture then this is definitely a good book to try.
8) Milk and Honey by rupi kaur
‘Milk and honey' is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. 'milk and honey' takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.’
As someone who basically had poetry ruined for me during English lessons at school, Milk and Honey has really opened my eyes to what a poem can be. While the structures and techniques used do feel quite simple, the subject matter is so emotional - it definitely comes straight from the heart - and I think that most young people will be able to relate in some way. If you were like me and don’t identify as a person who likes to read poetry, then I highly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and giving this one a try.
Want more book recommendations? Read about my 7 favourite fiction books that are set at university.