8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 5 2021
Share 8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and we’re recommending several sweeping historical novels that honor the plentiful perspectives and cultures within these nations and diasporas. Spanning generations and geographies, the stories on this list shed light on moments and individuals throughout Asian history that had a lasting impact on families and communities, from the Chinese Cultural Revolution to the female diving team on a tiny Korean island, and more. For details on resources and events that celebrate this heritage month, check out the official site.  

For more book recommendations, be sure to check out Simon & Schuster’s page!

Swimming Back to Trout River
by Linda Rui Feng

Powerful and mesmerizing, Linda Rui Feng’s new debut novel depicts the challenging history of China’s Cultural Revolution and Chinese immigration to America through four unforgettable characters. In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a letter from her parents, Momo and Cassia, who promise that by her twelfth birthday she will be reunited with them in the United States. What she does know is that she has no plans to leave the village, wanting to remain with her paternal grandparents. What she doesn’t know is that Momo and Cassia are newly estranged, wrestling with their tumultuous pasts brought upon by the Cultural Revolution and the heartbreaking circumstances of Junie’s own birth. Will Momo, Cassia, and their daughter reunite by Junie’s twelfth birthday?

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
Swimming Back to Trout River
Linda Rui Feng

A lyrical novel set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution that follows a father’s quest to reunite his family before his precocious daughter’s momentous birthday, which Garth Greenwell calls “one of the most beautiful debuts I’ve read in years.”

How many times in life can we start over without losing ourselves?

In the summer of 1986 in a small Chinese village, ten-year-old Junie receives a momentous letter from her parents, who had left for America years ago: her father promises to return home and collect her by her twelfth birthday. But Junie’s growing determination to stay put in the idyllic countryside with her beloved grandparents threatens to derail her family’s shared future.

What Junie doesn’t know is that her parents, Momo and Cassia, are newly estranged from one another in their adopted country, each holding close private tragedies and histories from the tumultuous years of their youth during China’s Cultural Revolution. While Momo grapples anew with his deferred musical ambitions and dreams for Junie’s future in America, Cassia finally begins to wrestle with a shocking act of brutality from years ago. In order for Momo to fulfill his promise, he must make one last desperate attempt to reunite all three members of the family before Junie’s birthday—even if it means bringing painful family secrets to light.

“A beautifully written, poignant exploration of family, art, culture, immigration, and most of all, love,” (Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee) Swimming Back to Trout River weaves together the stories of Junie, Momo, Cassia, and Dawn—a talented violinist from Momo’s past—while depicting their heartbreak and resilience, tenderly revealing the hope, compromises, and abiding ingenuity that make up the lives of immigrants.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Books That Celebrate Black Love, Joy, and Life

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 18, 2021

10 Chilling Summer Thrillers to Cool You Off in No Time

By Maddie Ehrenreich | June 17, 2021

8 Under-the-Radar Reads That Deserve All the Love

By Chris Gaudio | June 16, 2021

Book Club at the Beach: What My Club is Reading This Summer

By Holly Claytor | June 15, 2021

Genre Bridges: 7 Books to Shake Up Your Reading Routine

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 14, 2021

Books as Gifts: 14 Reads Dad Will Love This Father’s Day

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 11, 2021

Close
An Atlas of Impossible Longing
by Anuradha Roy

AN ATLAS OF IMPOSSIBLE LONGINGS is at once a family saga and an immersive look at the political turbulence of twentieth-century India. Anuradha Roy charts three generations of a family impacted by love, loss, and isolation, shifting between the outskirts of a small town in Bengal to the city of Calcutta. It delves into multiple households, questioning and exploring the strong aches of longing and heartbreak that a home can have on a person. The story mainly revolves around the memories of and experiences within one secluded mansion, decaying over decades, and occupied by intriguing figures, including Bakul, a motherless daughter, who forges a strong relationship with Mukunda, the family's adopted orphan of unknown caste, and the matriarch (Bakul's grandmother) confined to the room at the top of the house and slowly going mad.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo
An Atlas of Impossible Longing
Anuradha Roy

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 5, 2021

7 Continents in 7 Books: Tour the World With these Vibrant Reads

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 27, 2020

11 Historical Novels That Will Enlarge Your Worldview

By Sarah Jane Abbott | March 26, 2019

Close
Music of the Ghosts
by Vaddey Ratner

MUSIC OF THE GHOSTS opens with the passing of Teera’s aunt Amara, her last living connection to her Cambodian childhood and the Khmer Rouge genocide, from which she escaped at age thirteen in 1979. Returning to Cambodia for the first time since her escape more than two decades ago, Teera finds herself a stranger in her homeland. While acclimating to a drastically changed Cambodia, Teera returns her aunt’s ashes to Phnom Penh, as well as visits The Old Musician, a man who claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
Music of the Ghosts
Vaddey Ratner

This “novel of extraordinary humanity” (Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing) from New York Times bestselling author Vaddey Ratner reveals “the endless ways that families can be forged and broken hearts held” (Chicago Tribune) as a young woman begins an odyssey to discover the truth about her missing father.

Leaving the safety of America, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since her harrowing escape as a child refugee. She carries a letter from a man who mysteriously signs himself as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.

In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors of unfathomable violence live side by side, striving to mend their still beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, confronts her long-buried memories, and prepares to learn her father’s fate.

Meanwhile, the Old Musician, who earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaits Teera’s visit. He will have to confess the bonds he shared with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness, Music of the Ghosts is a “sensitive portrait of the inheritance of survival” (USA TODAY) and a journey through the embattled geography of the heart where love can be reborn.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 5, 2021

Close
The Island of Sea Women
by Lisa See

Lisa See’s THE ISLAND OF SEA WOMEN is an epic generational tale with themes of female community and empowerment. The story, set off South Korea’s Jeju Island, focuses on best friends Mi-ja and Young-sook, who join their village’s haenyeo, an all-female diving collective, to serve as their families’ breadwinners (diving for abalone and other seafood). Spanning the years from 1938 through 2008, the novel depicts the exciting and dangerous world of diving during the course of colonialism and wars, as well as the strain put on Mi-ja and Young-sook’s friendship due to their different upbringings.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
The Island of Sea Women
Lisa See

THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“A mesmerizing new historical novel” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from Lisa See, the bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and devastating family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility—but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook find it impossible to ignore their differences. The Island of Sea Women takes place over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

“This vivid…thoughtful and empathetic” novel (The New York Times Book Review) illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge and the men take care of the children. “A wonderful ode to a truly singular group of women” (Publishers Weekly), The Island of Sea Women is a “beautiful story…about the endurance of friendship when it’s pushed to its limits, and you…will love it” (Cosmopolitan).

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
Close
The Diplomat's Daughter
by Karin Tanabe

THE DIPLOMAT’s DAUGHTER explores an epic love triangle, broken apart and stitched together repeatedly amid internment, violence, and fear throughout WWII. Emi Kato, daughter of a Japanese diplomat and herself a skilled pianist, grew up in refined, worldly circles, and fell deeply in love in Vienna with Leo Hartmann, son of an Austrian-Jewish banker. But soon Leo’s family is forced to flee to Shanghai due to anti-Semitism, and Emi must follow her father to the United States, where they become detained in a Texas internment camp. There, Emi meets another romantic interest, Christian Lange, the son of a German-born steel baron. But once again the war wrenches the two apart and across continents, leaving Emi a deep ache that endures as she fights for her freedom and her community, wondering all the while about her past loves, who are thinking about her as well, and doing everything to get back to her.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo
The Diplomat's Daughter
Karin Tanabe

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and Orphan Train, the author of the “thought-provoking” (Library Journal, starred review) and “must-read” (PopSugar) novel The Gilded Years crafts a captivating tale of three young people divided by the horrors of World War II and their journey back to one another.

During the turbulent months following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, twenty-one-year-old Emi Kato, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, is locked behind barbed wire in a Texas internment camp. She feels hopeless until she meets handsome young Christian Lange, whose German-born parents were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Together, they live as prisoners with thousands of other German and Japanese families, but discover that love can bloom in even the bleakest circumstances.

When Emi and her mother are abruptly sent back to Japan, Christian enlists in the United States Army, with his sights set on the Pacific front—and, he hopes, a reunion with Emi—unaware that her first love, Leo Hartmann, the son of wealthy of Austrian parents and now a Jewish refugee in Shanghai, may still have her heart.

Fearful of bombings in Tokyo, Emi’s parents send her to a remote resort town in the mountains, where many in the foreign community have fled. Cut off from her family, struggling with growing depression and hunger, Emi repeatedly risks her life to help keep her community safe—all while wondering if the two men she loves are still alive.

As Christian Lange struggles to adapt to life as a soldier, his unit pushes its way from the South Pacific to Okinawa, where one of the bloodiest battles of World War II awaits them. Meanwhile, in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, as Leo fights to survive the squalor of the Jewish ghetto, a surprise confrontation with a Nazi officer threatens his life. For each man, Emi Kato is never far from their minds.

Flung together by war, passion, and extraordinary acts of selflessness, the paths of these three remarkable young people will collide as the fighting on the Pacific front crescendos. With her “elegant and extremely gratifying” (USA TODAY) storytelling, Karin Tanabe paints a stunning portrait of a turning point in history.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 5, 2021

5 Historical Fiction Novels About WWII’s Lasting Impact on Japan

By Maddie Ehrenreich | May 22, 2020

The Perfect Blend: 12 Book and Tea Pairings

By Sarah Jane Abbott | February 25, 2020

Close
The Laws of Evening
by Mary Yukari Waters

The stories in this debut collection intimately explore Japan in the aftermath of WWII, as the culture rapidly shifted due to Westernization. Connected by motifs of water, each story contemplates the sad realities of a changing society. It explores both the massive implications that arise—as traditions are abandoned and generational rifts develop—and the small, more intimate moments, including a father struggling to adjust to his former life and family after the war.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo
The Laws of Evening
Mary Yukari Waters

In this dazzling and critically acclaimed debut collection, Mary Yukari Waters provides a rare glimpse into the heart and humanity of a society in the midst of immense change. These graceful, expertly crafted stories, set in Japan, explore the gray areas between the long shadow of World War II and the rapid advance of Westernization. The women and children who inhabit this terrain have lost husbands and fathers to the war, and ancient traditions to American pop culture. Parents are mystified by the future of forks and knives, hairspray and hip-hop; children embrace it.
With these stories of upheaval and renewal, estrangement and reconciliation, Waters provides keen insight into the experience and sensibility of different generations as they confront an altered world. A virtuoso collection infused with warmth, The Laws of Evening announces a stunning new voice in fiction.

Amazon logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 5, 2021

Close
The Storm
by Arif Anwar

In a sweeping epic that encompasses sixty years of Bangladeshi history, THE STORM weaves together five narratives to explore race, religion, and family against the backdrop of an impending storm—inspired by the tragic 1970 Bhola cyclone. In the present day, Shahryar is being wrenched away from his nine-year-old daughter, after learning that his US visa is about to expire. As he prepares to leave, he tells his daughter about the storm, narrating the rest of the story in flashbacks. From there, interwoven stories of love and sacrifice converge in a village on the Bay of Bengal, revolving around a poor fisherman and his wife. Many lives intersect, from a British doctor stationed in Burma during World War II to a wealthy couple whose lives are disrupted by the Partition of India. With a structure that mimics the storm itself, this historical novel crescendos and recedes like the waves themselves, tugging readers into poignant stories of sacrifice, betrayal, resilience, and love.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo
The Storm
Arif Anwar

From an immensely talented new voice in international fiction, this “fascinating, ambitious” (The New York Times Book Review) and epic novel seamlessly interweaves five love stories that, together, chronicle sixty years of Bangladeshi history—for fans of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance.

Shahryar, a recent PhD graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the United States when his visa expires. In their last remaining weeks together, we learn Shahryar’s history, in a vil­lage on the Bay of Bengal, where a poor fisherman and his wife are preparing to face a storm of historic proportions. That story intersects with those of a Japanese pilot, a British doctor stationed in Burma during World War II, and a privileged couple in Calcutta who leaves everything behind to move to East Pakistan following the Partition of India. Inspired by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, in which half a million-people perished overnight, the structure of this riveting novel mimics the storm itself. Building to a series of revelatory and moving climaxes, it shows the many ways in which families love, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another.

At once grounded in history and fantastically imaginative, The Storm “moves us deftly through time and across borders, beautifully illustrating the strange intersections we call fate, and reminding us how the past shapes the present” (Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty). Exploring the human­ity that connects us beyond the surface differences of race, religion, and nationality, “this powerful and important debut is a story for our time” (Library Journal, starred review).

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo iTunes logo Indiebound logo Kobo logo Kindle logo Bookshop logo Libro.fm logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Must-Reads for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Off the Shelf Staff | May 5, 2021

Close
Before We Visit the Goddess
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A heartbreaking South Asian immigrant story that spans generations, BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS follows three unforgettable Bengali women—mothers and their daughters—whose choices haunt one another. In 1950, Sabitri was a poor baker in Bengal, desperate for an education. But after falling in love with the wrong man, her options disintegrate, leading her on a different path to a still comfortable, yet unfulfilling life that lingers with regret. Her daughter, Bela, feels suffocated under these reverberations and flees to Houston, Texas, with her boyfriend. She wants little to do with her mother or her Bengali culture, but then the marriage crumbles years later, and Bela’s own daughter now wishes to drop out of college. This riveting multigenerational tale explores quietly devastating themes: the disappearance of culture in the pursuit of independence, the complexities in mother-daughter relationships, and so much more.

Read our review of BEFORE WE VISIT THE GODDESS.

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo
Before We Visit the Goddess
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Amazon logo Audible logo Barnes & Noble logo Books a Million logo Google Play logo iBooks logo Indiebound logo Bookshop logo

MENTIONED IN:

8 Books That Celebrate Black Love, Joy, and Life

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 18, 2021

10 Chilling Summer Thrillers to Cool You Off in No Time

By Maddie Ehrenreich | June 17, 2021

8 Under-the-Radar Reads That Deserve All the Love

By Chris Gaudio | June 16, 2021

Book Club at the Beach: What My Club is Reading This Summer

By Holly Claytor | June 15, 2021

Genre Bridges: 7 Books to Shake Up Your Reading Routine

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 14, 2021

Books as Gifts: 14 Reads Dad Will Love This Father’s Day

By Off the Shelf Staff | June 11, 2021

Close

Photo credit: iStock / Serbogachuk

You must be logged in to add books to your shelf.

Please log in or sign up now.