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Asian Pacific American Heritage Month - Fiction & Literature

Updated: June 1, 2019

A selected list of novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly by writers from the various countries, but also some key works by writers from other countries.

Alameddine, Rabih,

While waiting in a clinic, Yemeni-American poet Jacob mulls over his life, which began with little promise, and was filled with turmoil. All the while, Satan is flirting with him, Death tells him to call it quits, and there are fourteen saints hanging about. Jacob is confronted with what is worth remembering and what should be forgotten in his exceptional life.

Aswani, ʻAlaʼ, 1957-

Post-World War II Cairo is the setting for murmurings of political change and upheaval.  Alaa Al Aswany writes about a once prosperous landowner whose life has taken a turn for the worse. He finds work as a servant at the Automobile Club, once the private reserve of former colonials. This 1950s political/social/economic setting is a portent of future dissatisfaction and unrest.

Kurniawan, Eka, 1975-

A modern Indonesian novel which has epic characteristics in much the same way as One hundred years of solitude. This lyrical and horrific novel is a captivating way for readers to explore the rich literature and history of one part of this nation.

Yu, Hua, 1960-

A rip-roaringly funny and clever work about modern China.Taking on the Cultural Revolution, entrepreneurship, capitalism, and a skewering of hyperbolic western values, Yu has created a satire to rival the best--think of Rabelais, Cervantes, Smollett, Swift, Bulgakov, Hasek and Twain. Half-brothers, Baldy Li and Song Gang, are opposites in personality, but dependent on each other for their existence as they compete, overcome and support each other in this ribald tale of humanity in all its glory and degradation.

Otsuka, Julie, 1962-

Explore the collective lives of a group of Japanese “picture brides” brought to the US in the early part of the 20th century.  Otsuka gives us a compelling yet wrenching tale of the immigrant experience in this novel.

Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1954-

This is a strange and dreamlike story about a group of characters traveling through a mist shrouded ancient Britain. They, and many of the people they meet, are suffering memory lapses. Can they find the things and people that they seek, or will the fog hide everything from them, even who they truly are? 


Nahai, Gina Barkhordar.

Though both of Yaas' Iranian parents are Jewish, her father's upper class family is contemptuous of her mother, who comes from an impoverished community of South Tehran.  But the real challenge to her parents' marriage is her father's love for his beautiful Muslim mistress.  Hoping to spare her daughter the misery she endures, Yaas' mother expects her daughter to excel academically, but something prevents Yaas from grasping the basics of learning.

Aswānī, ʻAlāʼ, 1957-

Post-9/11 Chicago is the backdrop for clashes of culture, politics, religion, bureaucratic contentiousness, sexual liberation, love and more, as revealed in the lives of a dazzling group of Americans and recent immigrants.

Murata, Sayaka, 1979-

Keiko Furukura marches to the beat of her own drummer. Or rather, to the music of her own convenience store. She may not have any idea how to function in the outside world, but she is completely in her element at the conbini where she has worked for 18 years. Her friends and family, however, all think there’s something wrong with her, so she resolves to find her own cure.

Kherdian, David,
Call Number: 891.9921 K45

Dating back to the 9th century, David of Sassoun is a centuries-old Armenian epic, embodying the freedom-loving spirit, spiritual strength, and wisdom of the heart of Armenia.  Also recommended is this bilingual edition with lavish illustrations:  David of Sassoun: told and sung by more than forty generations of Armenian bards.


Das, Indra,

Both hauntingly lovely and upsetting, this novel follows the story of one lonely man as he transcribes the several strange and violent journals of an odd, feral man. The journals recount the lives of shapeshifters:  their loves, their hungers, and their loneliness 

Avakian, Arra S.

An engaging historical saga set in fifth century Armenia and the struggle to preserve its culture and faith.  The tyrranical monarch of a neighboring country demands that Armenia renounce its faith and accept a sun god as the ultimate deity. The Armenian princes are confronted with a crisis--to yield to the monarch's demand, or to suffer a devasting invasion by his mighty armies.

Tawada, Yoko, 1960-

In this dystopian novel, award-winning author, Toko Tawada portrays the after-effects of an unnamed, irreversible disaster that takes place in Japan. The novel is a riff on a post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world, which turns disaster on its head by way of Mumei, a child who will lead the way to something better.

Altan, Ahmet,

A scenically beautiful Turkish seaside resort does not provide respite for a bon vivant crime writer.  All the turmoil, political intrigue, personal pettiness and rivalries that existed in the big city are magnified in small town life, which has its own horrific secrets. Underestimating the town folk, the writer has the tables turned on him. A carefully crafted satire about politics and the human condition. What is truth, what is not?

Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941.
Call Number: 891.4 T128-44

In 1913, Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore was the first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This monumental volume in English offers a wide variety of Tagore's writings: poetry, plays, travel writings, humor, prose and letters

Ng, Celeste.

This slender debut novel is deceptively quiet and elegantly restrained on the surface, but packs a knock-out punch. The story of how and why teenager Lydia Lee, the beautiful, brilliant, best-loved child of a 1970's mixed-race Ohio family, meets her shocking death is much more than just a Midwestern mystery. Within her very specific rendering of one family's tragedy, author Celeste Ng illuminates America's poisonous history of racism, sexism, and homophobia, but never at the expense of a suspenseful plot and a compellingly original cast of characters.

Hamid, Mohsin, 1971-

Hamid, the Pakistani author of Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is one of the world's best contemporary writers, sure to be considered for the Nobel Prize in literature. This novel concerns refugees who pass through hidden magic doors in search of a safer life. Fear, loss, resilience, love, and hope all play a part as main characters Nadia and Saeed gradually make their way from an unnamed, war-torn homeland to a dystopic America.

Chen, Guanzhong.
A novel that has been banned in modern China. This is a dystopian story set in the near future, in China, where there is a booming economy and seemingly public contentment. However, when a past month vanishes from the history of events, few people seem to care or notice, except one successful writer. A key premise of this book challenges the concept of prosperity and material comfort versus freedom of thought and expression in a totalitarian state.

Lee, Min Jin.

Thrown out of her parents’ threadbare home for speaking with contempt to her low-achieving father, twenty-two year-old Casey Han strives to maintain the excessively high standard of living she enjoyed as a student on scholarship at Princeton. Fellow Korean immigrants, co-workers, friends, boyfriends and churchgoers aid and abet Casey in her quest.

Sin, Kyong-suk,

From the award-wining novelist who wrote, Please look after momKyung-Sook Sin has written a semi-autobiographical novel.

Roy, Arundhati.
This novel is a stylistically challenging Booker Prize Winner that depicts a series of events in a family in India. It is reminiscent of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

Brennert, Alan.
Expecting to receive the education she is denied as a female in Korea in 1914, Regret travels to Honolulu as the picture bride for a wealthy Korean man who has established himself in the tropical paradise. Instead she finds herself married to a violent alcoholic who is an impoverished plantation worker.

Han, Kang, 1970-

This work of historical fiction looks back at South Korean history from 1979 through the 1980s, when there was a dictatorship and assassinations, torture, civil unrest, and the slaughter of protesters.Han Kang focuses on the infamous Gwangju uprising and personalizes the resulting events through the death of a young boy. By integrating personal stories (based on her family’s experiences) with historical details, Han Kang peals back layers of problems that have not been fully acknowledged or rectified within the South Korean society and government. Although this novel’s setting is South Korea, the problems of truth, justice and freedom are universal.


Parameswaran, Rajesh.

A striking debut collection of short fiction that traffics in desire. In "The Infamous Bengal Ming," a lovesick tiger mauls his keeper and then prowls the city in anguish under helicopter high beams. In "Demons," a quietly desperate wife idly wishes her husband dead, then is crushed by guilt when he suddenly dies of a heart attack. These characters - human, animal, and insect - bear the puzzling weight of destroying what they love, or being destroyed by it.

Call Number: 891.58108 I115

A surprising book from women who are oppressed in many ways, but their spirits, heart-felt desires (secular, sensual, and religious),and thoughts are not.

Lahiri, Jhumpa.
In Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning debut collection, her Indian-American characters contend with assimilation, cultural traditions, and family relationships that cross generations and national borders.

Rushdie, Salman.
Call Number: 823 R953R

Salman Rushdie feels so disconnected from his life in hiding after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author of The Satanic Verses that he writes his memoirs in the third person. The book is both a memoir of the carefree existence Rushdie had prior to the Ayatollah’s death decree, and a recounting of the events after the fatwa (the title itself refers to the alias Rushdie went by during that time). Rushdie is a defiant defender of civil rights and liberties, particularly the freedom of expression.

Tan, Amy.
This book follows four immigrant Chinese mothers and their American born daughters in a series of vignettes that explore the impact of their life experiences on their familial relations.

Eddé, Dominique.

A searing family saga set in modern Syria, Europe and the United States.  All the elements of a Shakespearean historical tragedy are here, where a patriarch's will to power creates generational damage, sorrow and chaos.

Ko, Lisa,

Deming Guo’s mother disappears when he is eleven years old, and the white couple that adopts him rename him Daniel Wilkinson and attempt to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy”.

2017-2018 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, Adult Fiction.

Call Number: SS

A remarkable collection of short fiction and poetry from writers living in countries listed as "enemy nations," this is part of an ongoing project from Bard College, Columbia University and the NEA. The introduction raises questions about being open to what others in the world are thinking--whether we agree with them or not.

Yanagihara, Hanya,

A Little Life follows Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm from the beginnings of their friendship in college on into their adulthood. In their own separate ways, the four blossom in their respective fields, but secrets from Jude's past have consequences for them all. Devastating and beautiful, it is no wonder that A Little Life was a finalist for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.


Call Number: 895.2108 L8975-1
Contemporary Japanese authors approach the traditional form alongside masters like Basho. "half of the mountain/dyed by red maples-/one-sided love" -Chiyo-Ni

Call Number: 895.2108 L8975 2003
Kenneth Rexroth's translations of Japanese poetry from the 8th century to the modern age.

Call Number: 891.408 M2335
Along with poems of romantic love, this collection also includes a surprising number of poems expressing a darker, more cynical attitude. "The heart is not a tulip/to bloom on its own in answer to summer." -Dilara Hashem

Jarrar, Randa.

Nidali, the daughter of a Palestinian father and an Egyptian-Greek mother, recounts with comedic aplomb her childhood in Kuwait, her family’s harrowing escape during the Iraqi invasion, the no-holds-barred fights between her parents, her teenage years in Egypt, and the family’s ultimate move to Texas where she is routinely perceived as a Spanish-speaking Latina.

Tenorio, Lysley.

This debut collection of stories is noteworthy for its depiction of a spectrum of Filipino and Filipino-American experiences little represented in American literature; settings include San Francisco’s Manilatown in the 1930s, a Philippine leper colony in the 60s, and the Manila film scene of the 70s. What makes the stories truly enjoyable though, is Tenorio’s ability to cut to the quick of deep emotions with control and with humor.

Lahiri, Jhumpa.

Born in Boston soon after his parents arrive from Calcutta, Gogul Ganguli grows up embracing American ways that are an affront to his family’s Bengali heritage. He even legally changes his given name, which his father had chosen to honor a Russian writer he credits with saving his life.The book is beautifully descriptive, capturing 30 years in brief, relevant snippets.

Qashu, Sayed, 1975-
Call Number: 892.4092 Q1

A compilation of Sayed Qashu's newspaper articles in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. Qashu is a prominent Israeli Arab author and journalist, who has written about the dififculties of being an Israeli Arab.  He is well known for the novel Dancing Arabsand for the satirical and biting television series, Arab Labor. which aired on PBS and can be found on YouTube.

Call Number: 894.35108 N6885
Includes classical poems by Rumi and poems by sultans and folk poets from the Ottoman Empire as well as poems by contemporary authors. "You are half of an apple, I am the other half;/Day and night, we are one, our hearth and home are one." -Oktay Rifat

See, Lisa.

In 17th century China it was an affectation of wealthy daughters to copy the sadness in a play, The Peony Pavilion. They became known as the lovesick maidens who often died from the self-induced melancholy rather than submit to arranged marriages. A hauntingly beautiful tale based on historical fact.

Sei Shōnagon, approximately 967-
Call Number: 895.28 S457-2

Lyrical, insightful, witty writing from the diary of a lady at the Imperial Court, 10th century Japan.

Sin, Ky?ng-suk.
An aging woman goes missing, spurring stories of love and guilt from her family in this South Korean novel.  An interesting choice of voice and a rich level of detail help bring depth to this universal human story. A mother's disappearance in a Seoul subway station elicits reflection on the part of her children, husband and the mother herself. The children and father suddenly realize how they have taken her for granted, and reminisce about the sacrifices made by the mother.

Taraqqī, Gulī.

In this superb collection of short stories Iranian writer Goli Taraghi portrays what it is like for individuals to be deracinated within their own country, or exiled as the result of political change; for them to have an eternal longing to go home to a place that will never be the same, except in their memories and hearts. The various characters are portrayed in their full humanity which Taraghi does in a cheeky, humorous style.  The characters and perspective are Iranian, but the stories are universal in appeal.

November 5, 2013, the author was a guest at ALOUD.

Chin, Marilyn,
Call Number: 811 C5386-4

 Marilyn Chin's poetry is direct, asssertive and examines her own identity as a woman and Asian American. Never self-deprecating, she weaves humor, earthiness, and candor about origins, family and love.

Nafisi, Azar.
Call Number: 370.92 N146
This book follows a female professor and her students as they are forced to take their class out of the university and into their homes. Despite the social pressures they experience during this time of revolution, they continue to study classics of English literature.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh, 1971-

A collection of eight short stories exploring the Vietnamese American diaspora.

2017-2018 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, Honor, for Adult Fiction.

Hamid, Mohsin, 1971-

Changez reminisces to an American he meets in Lahore, Pakistan, about his meteoric rise to success in a New York financial firm, and his acceptance in elite social circles via his relationship with a woman he met while a student at Princeton University. After September 11, 2001, his love for his new country transforms.

Makiya, Kanan,

Beginning with the American invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's hanging, the nameless narrator reflects on his life as an Iraqi citizen and military man. He reviews Iraq's modern history as a nation, and the cultural-religious-political events which have left the country fractured.

Ōsawa, Arimasa, 1956-
Call Number: M

Samejima is a renegade but successful Tokyo detective who fights the police department's bureaucracy with the same tenacity that he pursues organized crime. A noir tale set within one of Tokyo's seedy districts. This is the first English translation of a very popular series of Japanese mysteries.

Khuḍayrī, Batūl.

Alienation and inner reconciliation are the themes in this tale of a young woman's adolescence in modern Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. Sensuous prose evokes a Baghdad of natural beauty and diversity, which create the backdrop for the young protagonist's conflicts with her two cultures, the war, her family and herself.

See, Lisa.
Follow the lives of a pair of women in 19th century China, and experience vicariously everything from the agony of foot binding to the atrocity of war.

Yoon, Paul.
A former prisoner of war leaves Korea for Brazil in an attempt to cobble together a different life from what he left behind. Lyrical and tender, this spare volume holds within its few pages a life both tragic and vibrant.

Kureishi, Hanif.

Psychoanalyst Jamal wants to turn the tables. Instead of being the one who listens, as his profession requires, he wants to be the one to talk. Satirically funny and biting, Jamal reveals a good deal about our modern life and its daily quirks that help to create havoc and insanity. Kureishi is well-known for this screenplays to Venus and My beautiful laundrette.

Darznik, Jasmin, 1973-

A historical novel based on the life of Iran's most controversial modern female poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, who was both exalted and reviled during her short life. The poetess dared to create and to live as a liberated woman, long before the Iranian Cultural Revolution. This beautiful novel brings to life the feelings, direct speech and thoughts of a woman seeking to live unshackled as a human being and artist.

Mishima, Yukio, 1925-1970.
Call Number: Ed.a
This is a tale of first-time love. The setting is a remote island village in Japan where the young couple must overcome the usual obstacles of social status and town gossip. This is a rather conventional tale, but it is Mishima's telling of it with simple honesty that never over-dramatizes the tribulations of the young couple. This book is for those in search of an old fashioned tale of first love conquering all odds, written with just the right mixture of realism and romance.

Pamuk, Orhan, 1952-

Orhan Pamuk, 2006 laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, has created a picaresque tale of old Istanbul and Turkey versus the changing world of the modern city and country.  Boza, a fermented drink, was once ubiquitous, but is rare and sold by few sellers. Mevlut Karataş is one of the few who still walks the streets selling the drink. A rather ordinary man from Central Anatolia, he thinks back upon his entire life and wonders what or who brought him his greatest joy and love.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh, 1971-

As the Vietnam War, and U.S. involvement, comes to an inconclusive end in 1975, Viet Thanh Nguyen skillfully portrays the conflicts which existed within the Vietnamese people. There were those who supported the United States and those who supported the North Vietnamese, but how they did this was not always clearly evident.

See, Lisa,

A sweeping tale of the little known Akha people of China and their culture of tea.  Traditions and family ties are sacred in Li-yan’s far flung town in the Yunnan province. When she has a baby out of wedlock, it is in secret. The child swaddled with a tea cake is left at an orphanage. The baby is adopted by a loving family in Pasadena and grows up as Hillary. Li-yan and the lives of her townsfolk are about to change dramatically with the arrival of a man seeking the rare tea they grow, which becomes a gold mine.  Since Li-yan is educated and at the center of this change, her fortune takes a dramatic turn but she never forgets, or stops longing for her daughter.  Hillary also questions her heritage and yearns for her homeland.  Their bond remains, and ultimately tea is what binds them as they seek answers.


Maḥfūẓ, Najīb, 1911-2006.
Call Number: Ed.b

A recently released prisoner winds up on an ill-fated revenge quest in this stream of consciousness novel by Egyptian Nobel Winner Mahfouz.

Hosseini, Khaled.

A family saga set in present-day Afghanistan, that is a story told through the lives of women who have great spirit, determination and joy despite the sanctions of their society.

Arikawa, Hiro, 1972-

A tender story of friendship, love and trust between a stray cat, with a crooked tale, taken in by a man. Satoru travels in a van to various parts of Japan in order to visit old friends. Nana the cat is his companion as they venture forth on a trip of the spirit and road.

Guo, Xiaolu, 1973-
Fenfang Wang is the country-girl hick who leaves her family's sweet-potato farm seeking adventure, some money, and a better way of life in modern Beijing.

Alameddine, Rabih,

A tour de force novel about a flinty, reclusive 72-year-old woman who lives in modern-day Beirut.  Aaliya spends her days thinking about books, art, music and what, if anything, they have to do with real life, especially with her beloved city.  However, once a year she takes on the self-assigned task of translating a book that she deems significant.

Note:  This book has a copyright date of 2013, but was published in 2014.


Li, Yiyun, 1972-

A teacher, a former concubine, a rubbish collector, a disfigured girl, a news anchor, a wealthy layabout, and a little boy--each of their lives will be impacted by a young Chinese counterrevolutionary.  Set two years after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Li's tale provides a gripping introduction to a turbulent time period that is not well known outside of China.

Jin, Ha, 1956-
This is an intimate look at the relationship between a Chinese army doctor, his wife, and the woman he is in love with.

Taseer, Aatish, 1980-

A big, complex book that deconstructs the dissolution of a marriage and alienation of a family, amidst and inevitably linked to the multifaceted social and political upheavals of India from the 1970s to the present. The book centers on a father and son, Toby and Skanda, both Sanskritists, and their difficult relationship with Uma, Toby’s estranged wife and Skanda’s mother, and with India. Taseer weaves a considerable amount of history and Sanskrit into this novel, but never at the expense of his characters who feel absolutely alive and credible and absorbing.


Umrigar, Thrity N.

Though she has lived in America for almost thirty years, Armaiti’s greatest wish, when diagnosed with a brain tumor, is for a reunion with her three best friends from their undergraduate student activist days in Bombay. Laleh and Kavita don’t hesitate to accept the invitation to travel to America, but they first need to find Nishta, who disappeared when her Hindu parents disowned her for marrying a Muslim

Hacikyan, A. J. (Agop Jack), 1931-

This is a sequel to the epic Summer Without Dawn and can be read on its own. In the 1950’s Nour Kadam attempts to reconcile his Armenian family’s past history, the Armenian Genocide and his own life as a successful Turkish lawyer.