Nine books by Asian authors to keep you entertained while you stay inside

Books have always provided an escape, and nowadays, as we’re being forced indoors to keep each other safe, books are coming through for us again.

May these books anchor you, push you to think, and take you on journeys beyond the walls of your home. 

To make up for the Mulan release date being pushed back

Spin the Dawn, Elizabeth Lim

A girl disguises herself to take the place of her father to serve her country. Sound familiar? But this time, throw in a high stakes competition to become the Imperial Tailor, some magic, and a journey across vast lands.

Lim’s book takes the bones of the Mulan story and gives it a fresh spin with different stakes and new characters. 

Image shot from above of a woman sitting under a blanket, reading a book.
Photo Credit: Kavita Jangid

Standing on the shoulders of the women before us

We live in the context of family and the women who came before us. Especially now as you might be spending more time with family, check out these books that explore generational relationships.

Before We Visit the Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This engaging, beautifully written story of mothers and daughters weaves between time and location, specifically India and the United States. From a baker’s daughter to her daughter that flees to America to her daughter that wants to drop out of college, Divakaruni writes a story that highlights the complexity and commonalities of mother-daughter relationships. 

The Magical Language of Others, E.J. Koh

When Koh was fifteen, her parents went back to Seoul, leaving her and her brother behind to finish their education in America. To stay in touch, Koh’s mother sent letters that were in Korean. Years later, they were unearthed and finally translated. This memoir is built from these letters as Koh tries to understand her mother and the women that came before her.   

Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky

This is a generational story, but with animals. By centering the story on polar bears, Tawada creates a story that wrestles with the concept of “otherness” that is both strange and effective. Three generations of polar bears write about language, the phenomenon of celebrity (as circus performers), and where they belong.

Language

During this time of social distancing and lockdown, maybe you’ve thought of learning a new language. Here are two books that explore language, both in learning something new and in savouring the ones we already know.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri

When we are already bilingual, how does a new language interact? This collection of personal essays delves into the relationship between a mother tongue, English, and a chosen language. 

Lahiri wrote the entirety of this book in Italian, her third language, as an exercise and the book reflects that by having the English translation on the right pages.

The White Book, Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

What is the colour white? Kang, the winner of the Man Booker International Prize, mulls over objects that are white in this methodical, meditative book. The White Book zooms into one word and uses the exploration of the word as a way to explore grief. 

Woman sitting on a bean bag reading a book with a Macbook on her lap, in front of a coffee table with a green leafy plant and a cell phone on top of it.
Photo Credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam

Relationships with those around us

Our lives are never lived alone. These three books explore different relationships over different spans of time. 

Loveboat, Taipei, Abigail Hing Wen

Ever Wong is sent to Taiwan to study Mandarin but the summer quickly reveals itself to be the infamous “loveboat” where there are no rules. 

This book about a particular summer quickly became a New York Times bestseller and is already being considered for film by the folks behind the smash hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

The Ensemble, Aja Gabel

A string quartet is a creative ensemble that necessitates intimacy. How do the relationships between the members play out over a 20-year career? Gabel, a cellist herself, takes us on a journey between the four members as they mature in their professional, creative, and personal lives. 

Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)

Plot twist: this is about a relationship with a store. Quirky yet calm, this will make you question your relationship with work and other humans. This story won the prestigious Akutagawa fiction prize and is the first of Murata’s stories to be translated into English.

If you need more recommendations, we have another list with 12 more books for you to find your next read.

Stay healthy, wash your hands, and cozy up to some great books! 

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