One month is way too short to fully explore the diverse history and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. You could devote years of study to understanding a heritage as wide as the Pacific and as large as Asia. Make a commitment to read one book in May to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. All recommended titles are in the Stonington Public Library collection. Lists for younger readers will follow soon.
Don’t see your favorite book about Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage on our list? Email us with your choice, even if it’s not in our collection, and we’ll share a composite list of patron recommendations later this month.
|Chemistry by Weike Wang
Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She’s tormented by her failed research–and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there’s another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can’t make a life before finding success on her own.
|The Color of Air by Gail Tsukiyama
Daniel Abe, a young doctor in Chicago, is finally coming back to Hawai’i. He has his own reason for returning to his childhood home, but it is not to revisit the past, unlike his Uncle Koji. Koji lives with the memories of Daniel’s mother, Mariko, the love of his life, and the scars of a life hard-lived. He can’t wait to see Daniel, who he’s always thought of as a son, but he knows the time has come to tell him the truth about his mother, and his father. But Daniel’s arrival coincides with the awakening of the Mauna Loa volcano, and its dangerous path toward their village stirs both new and long ago passions in their community.
|Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
|The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
If you think McDonald’s is the most ubiquitous restaurant experience in America, consider that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined. New York Times reporter and Chinese-American (or American-born Chinese), Jennifer 8 Lee, traces the history of Chinese-American experience through the lens of the food. In a compelling blend of sociology and history, Jenny Lee exposes the indentured servitude Chinese restaurants expect from illegal immigrant chefs, investigates the relationship between Jews and Chinese food, and weaves a personal narrative about her own relationship with Chinese food. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles speaks to the immigrant experience as a whole, and the way it has shaped our country.
|The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies
The Fortunes recasts American history through the lives of Chinese Americans and reimagines the multigenerational novel through the fractures of immigrant family experience.
Inhabiting four lives—a railroad baron’s valet who unwittingly ignites an explosion in Chinese labor, Hollywood’s first Chinese movie star, a hate-crime victim whose death mobilizes Asian Americans, and a biracial writer visiting China for an adoption—this novel captures and capsizes over a century of our history, showing that even as family bonds are denied and broken, a community can survive—as much through love as blood.
|Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
A deeply personal work about hope and identity in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of belonging and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque adventure — at its heart, it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.
Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and our ideals have been sacrificed to the gods of finance, where a TV personality is president and immigrants live in fear, and where the nation’s unhealed wounds of 9/11 wreak havoc around the world.
|The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.
|Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here too. . . but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the highest aspiration he can imagine for a Chinatown denizen. Or is it?
After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family, and what that means for him, in today’s America.
|The Leavers by Lisa Ko
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
|Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.
A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?
|On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class—descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China—find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement.
In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind.
|The Resisters by Gish Jen
The time: a not-so-distant future. The place: AutoAmerica. The land: half under water. The Internet–the new face of government–is “Aunt Nettie”: a mix of artificial intelligence, surveillance technology, and pesky maxims. The people have been divided, and no one is happy. The angel-fair “Netted” still have jobs and literally occupy the high ground, while the mostly coppertoned “Surplus” live on swampland if they’re lucky, on the water if they’re not.
An astonishing story of an America that seems only too possible, and of a family struggling to maintain its humanity in circumstances that threaten their every value–even their very existence.
|Roughhouse Friday by Jaed Coffin
Coffin washed up in Alaska after a forty-day solo kayaking journey. Born to an American father and a Thai mother who had met during the Vietnam War, Coffin never felt particularly comfortable growing up in his rural Vermont town. Following his parents’ prickly divorce and a childhood spent drifting between his father’s new white family and his mother’s Thai roots, Coffin didn’t know who he was, much less what path his life should follow. His father’s notions about what it meant to be a man—formed by King Arthur legends and calcified in the military—did nothing to help. After college, he took to the road, working odd jobs and sleeping in his car before heading north.
|Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon
Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the perilous landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet Vang, a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky.
In a world where the landscape and the roads have turned into an ocean of bombs, we follow their grueling days of rescuing civilians and searching for medical supplies, until Vang secures their evacuation on the last helicopters leaving the country. It’s a move with irrevocable consequences—and sets them on disparate and treacherous paths across the world.
|Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran
In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.
|A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
|Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets at the heart of family life. Here they enter the worlds of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers. Rich with the signature gifts that have established Jhumpa Lahiri as one of our most essential writers, Unaccustomed Earth exquisitely renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind.
|The Woman Warrior / China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Woman Warrior is Kingston’s disturbing and fiercely beautiful account of growing up Chinese-American in California. The young Kingston lives in two worlds: the America to which her parents have emigrated, a place inhabited by white “ghosts,” and the China of her mother’s “talk stories,” a place haunted by the ghosts of the past. Kingston learns to fill in the mystifying spaces in her mother’s stories with stories of her own, engaging her family’s past and her own present with anger, imagination, and dazzling passion.
China Men is Kingston’s unforgettable imaginative journey into the hearts and minds of generations of Chinese men in America, from those who worked on the transcontinental railroad in the 1840s to those who fought in Vietnam. Mixing vivid fables and legends, personal stories from her own family, and details of the historical hardships faced by Chinese immigrants in different times and places, Kingston illuminates their long, arduous search for the Gold Mountain.
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