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Asian-Pacific American Heritage Picks for Adults


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It is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, so to celebrate these writers we asked our staff here at NYPL to name some of their favorites. Here is what they had to say:

"So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead." Viet Thanh Nguyen's masterful debut novel, The Sympathizer, not only sheds light on the Vietnamese experience in America, but takes a penetrating look at the lasting legacies of war. —Miriam Tuliao, Selection Team

Last year I read A Tale For the Time Being  by Ruth Ozeki. It's a little bit surreal in parts, uncanny and dreamy like a Murakami story, which I like. And it regularly reminded me of a film I love, Ikiru, for extra obvious reasons that might be spoiler-y if I wrote them out. It manages to both be a bit of a meditation and well as a story with suspenseful moments. And it's all very human and real, despite being surreal at points. I feel like my describing it is a bit of an injustice but I liked this one quite a lot. I found it enveloping and delicate and descriptive and interesting. —Carmen Nigro, Milstein Division

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age is one of a series of novels that Kenzaburō Ōe has written about a father’s relationship with his developmentally challenged son. There are a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, that describe the trials and gifts of raising a child in those circumstances, but few achieve the emotional and intellectual insights that is achieved here. Combining moving descriptions of this special father/son relationship filtered through ruminations on the writings of William Blake, Ōe demonstrates why his Nobel Prize for literature was well-deserved. —Wayne Roylance, Selection Team

The collection of short stories titled Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharensap, a young Thai-American author, is a raw, hilarious, and personal take on Thai cultural norms, family relationships, romance and friendship. The author offers incisive views about Thai interactions with farang (tourists), and also tackles the issue of Cambodian immigration in Bangkok communities. Lapcharensap will have you laughing through your tears with this poignant collection of stories. —Sherri Machlin, Mulberry Street

I just finished All the Birds, Singing by Australian/British author Evie Wyld. It was dark, mysterious and not at all uplifting, but still fantastic and engaging. The story works backwards, pulling you to the end. The mystery of what happened to this reclusive female sheep farmer unravels through to the last pages. Kokoro by Natsume Soseki is a Japanese classic that quietly and beautifully crosses generations to look at traditional values placed against new ideas and examines the loneliness embodied in a young student and his aging mentor, "Sensei." —Jessica Cline, Mid- Manhattan

I always enjoy a good book by Chang Rae Lee. His insightful writing is the type that sticks with you long after you're done reading it. I just started his most recent book (it came highly recommended by some of my colleagues!), On Such a Full Sea, and I can't put it down. My favorite novel of his (so far...) is his debut, Native Speaker. Filled with spies, political intrigue, family drama, and sharp cultural and emotional observations, Native Speaker has a lot to say about the immigrant experience in America, and it says it with a punch that might just make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about race and class in our communities. —Nancy Aravecz, Mid-Manhattan

I have so many recommendations I am going to need my own list inside this list.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is the hot book right now encouraging minimalism, Zen and joy in your everyday life, something Japanese culture has always embraced. 
  • Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang is the genesis for the current ABC comedy, a hilarious, profane and thoughtful look at Asian-American culture and family.
  • I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight by the comedian Margaret Cho (who paved the way for a show like Fresh Off the Boat) is fierce, funny and feminist. All things great! And I'm not just recommending her because I get mistaken for her on the street all the time.
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is essential graphic novel reading—this book changed the genre and shared the ABC experience in a new way. 
  • Echoes of the White Giraffe by Sook Nyul Choi - I read this as a teenager coming to terms with being an adopted Korean in a white American family. It's not specifically about adoption, but I was so hungry for insight into Asian culture (in rural Oklahoma) and so very grateful for this book.
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua garnered intense attention from both supporters and critics. Did Chua further stereotypes or bring understanding to the biological nature of Asian mothers? The world may never know, but I think it's worth a read for any mother or perfectionist. Happy Asian-Pacific Heritage Month!

—Leslie Tabor, Associate Director, Manhattan East

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Asian American book list

Michener? this is a serious suggestion from the NYPL? It's not an Asian-American book. Geez.

More books by Asian and Pacific Americans

There are many other great books to suggest. Here are some by Filipino and Filipino-American authors-- Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco, Dogeaters, Dream Jungle, and others by Jessica Hagedorn, Her Wild American Self and Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery by M. Evelina Galang, Drivers at the Short-Time Motel by Eugene Gloria, Dusk, The Samsons, and Don Vicente by F. Sionil Jose, and Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Jose Rizal, among others!

Memoirs of a Geisha?

hahahaha. Nice try.

Memoirs of a Geisha?!? NO,

Memoirs of a Geisha?!? NO, just NO!

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month picks

Most of the suggestions here are welcome, but considering that this is in celebration of Asian-Pacific *American* Heritage month, placing books by Asian writers, who have no ties to America, is misguided because Asian Americans so often struggle with being "othered," or assumed to be foreign.There is a difference between being Asian and being Asian American! And with so many amazing Asian American writers publishing great books, the inclusion of books by non-Asian American authors is a missed opportunity to promote writers who aren't promoted as frequently as European American authors . Lastly, the inclusion of Memoirs of a Geisha, by Golden, a non-Asian American writer, strikes a nerve because it is considered Orientalist by many Asian Americans. We know you can do better, NYPL. Here's a great, recent novel by an Asian American writer: A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara. Adalena Kavanagh, Taiwanese-Irish American writer, and Librarian

APA Book List

Memoirs of a Geisha and James Michener? Really?!

Curious what question was asked of the librarians who submitted

Kenzaburo Oe: Asian, not American Evie Wyld: Not Asian, not American, book is not even about Asians, Americans or Asian Americans James Michener: Not Asian, colonialist Arthur Golden: Not Asian, exploitative

Embarrassing Choices

I hope the NYPL thinks long and hard about what it means that they've chosen this list. Memoirs of a Geisha is deeply inaccurate and Orientalist, fetishistic and sexist. James Michener is not Asian and his book Hawaii contains many inaccuracies. Amy Chua's book is representative of her personal beliefs and has been challenged by many Asian Americans as a stereotypical and borderline abusive take on parenting - certainly not a "heritage" that Asian Americans agree on. These Asian American Heritage picks include three white authors. Almost all other authors are East Asian or of East Asian descent, excluding West Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, etc. perspectives. This list is frankly embarrassing.

Loving some of your selections...

...but have to echo some of the sentiments expressed in the comments section. I'd also like to add there's no representation of authors that expand the boundaries of the APA experience, such as Lynda Barry, May Lee Chai and Jason Shiga.

Non-fiction recommend

Sheridan Prasso's The Asian Mystique

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