Must-Read Novels By Asian American Authors

What books do you remember reading in high school for your English class? Let me guess, probably The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, or anything by Hemingway. While these novels are labeled as ‘classics’ because they’re such amazing pieces of literature, we need to take a step back and realize the limitations on what we have read throughout our years of education. 

Although classics must be appreciated, for they are great works by intelligent authors, they have only earned the respect they receive because our society only acknowledges the expertise of white novelists. There are endless books by people of color that don’t gain any recognition, despite being absolutely phenomenal. Some may argue that it is because they are simply not as well written as the books we like to dub as ‘classics,’ but that is completely false, as a majority of these novels on this list have earned the Pulitzer Prize, and they are so important because they narrate experiences that need to be told. 

Regarding the arts, Asian Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups, and that is not because there is a lack of Asian creators, but because their work is deemed unworthy of appreciation by our society that naturally favors white people, and therefore their work. Personally, at my high school for our English curriculum, I didn’t read a single novel by an Asian author until my senior year, and I think it’s unacceptable. So here a few of my personal recommendations of books by Asian American authors that I think everyone should read, not only to gain more cultural diversity within literature, but because they are just exceptional novels: 

  1. 1. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

    In The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the Vietnamese experience during the Vietnam War—something Americans rarely focus upon when discussing one of the most brutal and controversial wars we have ever taken part in. 

  2. 2. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

    When speaking of the Asian American experience, South Asians are more often than not excluded from the conversation, but in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri reminds us of the similarities between all Asian American experiences when it comes to identity and immigrant families.

  3. 3. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

    Maxine Hong Kingston fuses her own life and mythology in The Woman Warrior to create a beautiful story exploring the intricacies of the Chinese American experience, as well as reflecting on the women in her life that have impacted her the most.

  4. 4. Clay Walls by Kim Ronyoung 

    Clay Walls tells a story of a Korean family that had to flee Korea due to Japanese occupation, eventually finding a home in America. Kim Ronyoung’s novel is so important, as it explores not only immigration, but the trauma endured from colonization. As it was published in 1986, it inspired many later Asian American writers. 

  5. 5. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

    I saved Interpreter of Maladies for last because this was actually the first book by an Asian author that I read in my high school English curriculum. As cliche as it sounds, this novel literally changed my life and made me realize I wanted to turn my passion for writing into my future. In this book, Lahiri, who is also the author of The Namesake, writes a collection of short stories, each one delving into the experiences of different people and analyzing themes such as the immigrant experience, family, gender, and identity. You may even recognize some of the places in these stories, since Jhumpa Lahiri is a Boston University alum and likes to set her stories in Boston and Cambridge. 

It’s so important to lift the limitations on what you’re exposed to—especially when it comes to literature. Writing is the way in which we are able to understand the lives of other people, which is particularly relevant when it comes to understanding different marginalized communities. With these books, if you’re Asian American, you can find representation within the characters, and if you’re not, you can become educated on the experiences of other communities within the stories.

So let’s encourage others to expand their literary palettes, because I’m pretty sure we’re all tired of reading The Great Gatsby anyway.

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