culture

18 Book Recommendations Celebrating AAPI Month

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Retailers

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and in recognition of the countless creative achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the Cut surveyed some of our favorite Asian American and Pacific Islander American writers on their favorite works by fellow AAPI authors. Add them to your independent-bookstore cart or your library-request list now!

“Cha’s writing is striking and evocative; reading her novel, at times it felt as if I was watching scenes play out in a film. Her observations on Korean beauty standards are incisive and heartbreaking and deeply inspired my own work.” — Michelle Zauner, author of Crying in H Mart: A Memoir

Severance, by Ling Ma
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“Beyond everything you may have heard about Severance being uncannily prescient or literature ‘for these times’ or whatever, it’s just a really good book. Written in clean, understated prose, the novel explores themes like the drudgery of life and work, the alienation of living without family or roots, and the banality of survival. It’s one of my favorite works of fiction in recent years.” — Jenny G. Zhang, features editor and writer at Gawker

“Pacific Islander stories and histories continue being subsumed and erased under the broad categorization of ‘AAPI.’ However, in this forthcoming ecoliterature anthology, we see how Pacific Islander communities across Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and the global Pacific diaspora are leading a global climate-justice and artistic movement. These featured authors remember and articulate a way to navigate toward a hopeful future, calling on us to act now and attend to our relations to land and water — to protect all forms and sources of life. This is one of the most important anthologies to ever be released.”— Joseph Han, author of Nuclear Family

Year of the Tiger is a fantastic memoir in the style of a zine that addresses an array of matters such as disability activism, the admirable qualities of felines, and the abstract art of a ‘spit cup,’ while including a variety of forms (comics and interviews among them).”— Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

“I’ve been a fan of Johnson’s for many years now, and while I do love his illustrations for The New Yorker and Penguin Classics, this is what I live for. This graphic novel is about a single mother in Hawaii trying to take care of her father, her son, and, soon, also her black-sheep musician brother as she tries to change her career path. Her brother has surprised her unexpectedly at perhaps the worst possible moment for him to do so, after years of leaving her to look after their dad, but when the father dies, some truths come out and some stay hidden. The story is set between all of these. Johnson’s brilliant artwork, his commitment to silence and visual storytelling, all let the fraught terms such an impossible and ordinary story emerges from turn into glimpses of the lives of each of these family members. We ask questions about how we are supposed to care for ourselves and others and the cost of seeking our dreams to ourselves and those around us.” — Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays

“Songsiridej’s smart and soulful debut novel is the story of female desire that I’ve always wanted to read. Here, an Asian American woman is the one in pursuit. It’s her gaze driving the story, which is about ambition and art-making as much as it is about sex. I loved reading about the narrator’s complex yearnings and seeing her inner life treated with reverence.” — Jessamine Chan, author of The School for Good Mothers

“This novel comes out in August, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it. It’s a bildungsroman, a gorgeous queer love story, and a musing on labor and immigration. But you’ll fall most in love with its wickedly sharp narrator, who’s funny, passionate, and complicated.” — Sanjena Sathian, author of Gold Diggers

“I’d like to recommend Vauhini Vara’s debut novel The Immortal King Rao, an impressive mashup of three distinct genres: the Indian family saga, the American immigrant narrative, and dystopian speculative fiction. Vara’s book represents a more general coming of age of AAPI literature in which no strand of geographical or cultural belonging needs to be ditched to please a largely white audience: The book, like its characters, is confidently heterodox.” — Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“The term AAPI only makes sense as a political identity, and those politics only make sense with history, specifically the long decade of organizing called the Asian American Movement. Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel I Hotel uses a key struggle of the movement — stopping the eviction of the young leftists and retired Chinese and Filipino laborers from San Francisco’s International Hotel — as the entry point into a sprawling, polyvocal chronicle of the revolutionaries and rebels, the takeovers of campuses and prisons, the printing workshops and concerts that forged Asian America. Our heritage has never been as explosive, comical, or radical as in Yamashita’s shamanic hands.” — Ryan Lee Wong, author of Which Side Are You On

“Riotous, razor sharp, and hilarious, Chou’s debut novel, Disorientation — published in March and lauded by authors such as Cathy Park Hong and Alexander Chee — is a blistering satire and campus novel. Disorientation interrogates white supremacy, cultural appropriation, the fetishization of Asian women, activism, art, identity, and more.” — Daphne Palasi Andreades, author of Brown Girls

“This is such a heartwarming, emotional, contemporary novel about a girl who would do anything to leave New York City behind and the boy who makes her fall in love with home for the first time. I think of this book as the very embodiment of a big, fierce hug.” — Chloe Gong, author of These Violent Delights

The Collective is a brilliant, incisive, and heartbreaking novel following three friends in college who form the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective, that eventually crashes and burns. Published in 2012, it remains startlingly prescient in its exploration of issues such as a tricky relationship between an Asian man and a white woman; white authors appropriating Asian stories in a writing workshop; surviving as a marginalized artist in a white industry; and how we offer up our identities for the sake of art and politics, sometimes to devastating ends. Lee plumbs so much of the Asian American experience beyond superficial or easily definable categories, unafraid to look at the ugly parts — the parts where we betray ourselves and each other. When it comes to not only Asian American literature but American literature in general, The Collective is canon.” — Elaine Hsieh Chou, author of Disorientation

“This book is about two Chinese American siblings surviving the Wild West. The novel begins as they heave around their father’s coffin, trying to bury his rotting corpse while traversing the Gold Rush–fevered hills of 1800s California. The story is at once vast and intimate, and Zhang’s prose is both atmospheric and addicting. Truly, I could not put this book down–I read it in one day, sobbed all evening, and then had an emotional hangover for a full week. (To be clear, I am recommending this experience.) A true delight, for me, was learning that Zhang had never read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, so any parallels with that old guy’s novel were by happenstance. How Much of These Hills Is Gold — as so many of us wish for Asian America — not a reboot but a story entirely of its own making.” — Karen Chee, writer, Late Night With Seth Meyers

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“Poetry has been a steadfast companion these past years, and a recently published poetry collection I really love is Solmaz Sharif’s Customs. I love the book’s precision and truthfulness and find I continue to turn to it for something like help. The book’s acknowledgments end as follows, with a couple of lines I keep reciting to myself: ‘Thank you, fear. That’s enough now.’” — R. O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

“A heartwrenching, lyrical memoir about her strained relationship with her mother. E. J. Koh’s parents moved to Korea when she was 15, and left her behind in the United States under her brother’s care. Koh shows us that love, and mothering, can take many forms.” — Sindya Bhanoo, author of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere

We Play a Game, by Duy Doan
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“In Duy Doan’s playful, ironic, and keenly observant poetry collection, the language of ‘games’ — Vietnamese tongue-twisters, boxing, soccer, etc. — becomes the form for self-portraits and storytelling. A childlike voice rendered through repetition and songlike qualities juxtaposes with the sometimes bitter, sometimes dark history it tells. The precision with which Doan designs sound and structure in We Play a Game is a marvel.” — Emily Jungmin Yoon, author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems

“Fortunately — or unfortunately — the years I spent in Afghanistan, as much as anything, are a big part of who I am. This book helped me understand my own past life covering the American war there.” — May Jeong, writer at Vanity Fair

“Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American activist and writer. She and her husband, James Boggs, were two of Detroit’s most noted radical organizers, advocating for labor and civil rights, Black Power, the Asian American movement and environmental justice.

The Next American Revolution was published in 2011, four years before Boggs passed at the age of 100. Boggs shares poignant lessons learned as an activist with decades of organizing experience, often through anecdotes of her collaborative work with her late husband and other community and civic leaders in Detroit. The book is an infinitely profound meditation on sustainable social change and how to transform our institutions and ourselves.” — Jean Chen Ho, author of Fiona and Jane

18 Books Our Favorite AAPI Writers Love