Culture

7 BOOKS DETAILING THE ASIAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

After a spate of anti-Asian attacks, understanding the experiences of the community has never been more important

18.03.2021

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This past year has seen a tragic wave in hate crimes and racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans, who reported a staggering 3,800 incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an increase of 1,900 per cent. On Tuesday 18 March 2021, a white gunman carried out a fatal attack on multiple massage parlours in Atlanta, killing eight people. Six of the victims were women belonging to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (AAPI). These strings of horrifying acts have made the community increasingly vulnerable, leading to a movement to stop anti-Asian hate in the United States.

Since Tuesday’s tragedy, social media users have taken to platforms to express their grief, horror, and outrage. The AAPI community has rightly asked others for allyship and solidarity in the wake of the attack. This can be shown by volunteering, donating, and being vocal about the overt discrimination Asian Americans face.

To understand the experiences and lives of Asian Americans, a good first step is to educate yourself about the entrenched racial bias that exists in America, and indeed, the world. Books by authors of Asian heritage, from East and South Asia to the Pacific Islands, provide a much-needed window into their lives and experiences. These books touch upon the intimacies, hardships, traumas, joys, and realities of the community. And to read them is to begin a journey of progressive allyship, which is needed now more than ever.

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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

by Ocean Vuong

This magical debut novel made its way into the hearts of both readers and critics for its startling depiction of family, sexuality, and violence. The narrator, Little Dog, is a biracial Vietnamese immigrant who lives in Hartford, Connecticut, with his single mother and grandmother. The novel takes the form of a letter from Little Dog to his mother, acknowledging his trauma at her abuse throughout this childhood. He intertwines retrospective narration with vignettes of his sexuality (he identifies as gay), his romantic relationships, and his family’s generational trauma.

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Sour Heart

by Jenny Zhang

Described by Jia Tolentino as a ‘feminist bildungsroman,’ Zhang’s short story collection deftly weaves together the lives of first-generation, Chinese-American girls, most of whom are around the age of nine. The thrust of the collection is immigrant ambition and resilience, with most of the parental characters fighting to create lives for their children. Zhang carves out the beautiful and heartbreaking experiences of adolescents observing the immigrant struggle, each its own, yet somehow connected.

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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Chan

Published in 1989 – and later adapted for film – this novel deconstructs the lives of four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco, highlighting the fragility and tenacity of mother-daughter relationships. It’s difficult to put down, each character and their lives become distinctive and all-consuming.

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Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

by Cathy Park Hong

In a genre-blending book, combining memoir, theory, and cultural analysis, Hong exposes the reality of race and identity in contemporary America. The book addresses invisibility, shame, language, and questions of racial identity that the author herself reckoned with throughout her life.

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The Buddha in the Attic

by Julie Otsuka

This heartbreaking novel, less driven by plot than it is by theme, focuses not on a single character. Instead, Otsuka grapples with the harrowing stories of mail-order Japanese brides, who immigrate to the West Coast of the United States in the early 1900s to join husbands they have never met and will never really know. The novel presents a deep sense of unity between the women, who stow their white bridal kimonos away and spend years trying to forget the land they left behind.

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Kira-Kira

by Cynthia Kadohata

Belonging to the young adult fiction category, Kira-Kira is a stunningly relevant story about a Japanese immigrant family living in Georgia. The narrator, Katie Takeshima, paints the story of her relationship with her sister, who she considers her best friend and mentor. More than that, she acts as a guiding light as Katie must navigate her identity as the only Japanese-American student in her class.

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The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer is a darkly comedic story of a Vietnamese immigrant and spy, who journeys as a North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army. Later, he finds himself belonging to the South Vietnamese community in America, during which Nguyen explores themes of freedom, identity, and belonging.

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