Books about Asian Pacific Islander Heritage

May 14, 2015

Books about Asian Pacific Islander Heritage

May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The following books highlight, inform and celebrate the Asian Pacific Islander experience, and many of them are written by Asian authors who have made tremendous contributions to the literary canon and popular culture. All of these books can be borrowed from the Roslindale Branch Library.


The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts
By Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully written memoir of growing up Chinese American in Stockton, California. Maxine Hong Kingston distils the dire lessons of her mother’s mesmerizing “talk-story” tales of a China where girls are worthless, tradition is exalted and only a strong, wily woman can scratch her way upward. The author’s America is a landscape of confounding white “ghosts”–the policeman ghost, the social worker ghost–with equally rigid, but very different rules. Like the woman warrior of the title, Kingston carries the crimes against her family carved into her back by her parents in testimony to and defiance of the pain.

Empress Orchid
By Anchee Min

This is an epic story firmly in the mold of Anchee Min’s Becoming Madame Mao. Like that best-selling historical novel, the heroine of Empress Orchid comes down to us with a diabolical reputation — a woman who seized power through sexual seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. But reality tells a different story. Based on copious research, this is a vivid portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived in a male world, a woman whose main struggle was not to hold on to power but to her own humanity. Richly detailed and completely gripping, Empress Orchid is a novel of high drama and lyricism and the first volume of a trilogy about the life of one of the most important women in history.

The Moor’s Last Sigh
By Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie combines a ferociously witty family saga with a surreally imagined and sometimes blasphemous chronicle of modern India and flavors the mixture with peppery soliloquies on art, ethnicity, religious fanaticism, and the terrifying power of love. Moraes Moor Zogoiby, the last surviving scion of a dynasty of Cochinese spice merchants and crime lords, is also a compulsive storyteller and an exile. As he travels a route that takes him from India to Spain, he leaves behind a tale of mad passions and volcanic family hatreds, of titanic matriarchs and their mesmerized offspring, of premature deaths and curses that strike beyond the grave.

And the Mountains Echoed
By Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and step-mother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Adbullah, Pari, as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything.

The Namesake
By Jhumpa Lahiri

Gogol Ganguli is born to Indian immigrants newly arrived in Cambridge, MA, after their arranged marriage. Gogol becomes the Russian author’s namesake as a newborn when his grandmother’s letter decreeing his official name fails to arrive from Calcutta. As a first-generation American, Gogol grows up resenting both his strange name and the yoke of Indian culture imposed by his parents and their extended family of Indian expatriates. This first novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies) cobbles together everyday events with mesmerizing inner dialog and glimpses of Bengali culture.

Ice Cold
By Tess Gerritsen

This book is part of a series of crime novels written by the Chinese-American author and has inspired the hit TNT drama Rizzoli and Isles. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli receives the grim news that Maura’s charred body has been found in a mountain ravine. Shocked and grieving, Jane is determined to learn what happened to her friend. The investigation plunges Jane into the twisted history of Kingdom Come, Wyoming, where a gruesome discovery lies buried beneath the snow.

Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
By Frank Wu

Writing in the tradition of W. E. B. Du Bois, Cornel West, and others who confronted the “color line” of the twentieth century, journalist, scholar, and activist Frank H. Wu offers a unique perspective on how changing ideas of racial identity will affect race relations in the twenty-first century. Wu examines affirmative action, globalization, immigration, and other controversial contemporary issues through the lens of the Asian-American experience. Mixing personal anecdotes, legal cases, and journalistic reporting, Wu confronts damaging Asian-American stereotypes such as “the model minority” and “the perpetual foreigner.” By offering new ways of thinking about race in American society, Wu’s work dares us to make good on our great democratic experiment.

A Map of Betrayal
By Ha Jin

From the award-winning author of Waiting: a spare, haunting tale of espionage and conflicted loyalties that span half a century in the entwined histories of two countries–China and the United States–and two families as it explores the complicated terrain of love and honor.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter
By Amy Tan

Ruth Young lives in San Francisco with her longtime partner and his teenage daughters. Her father died when she was an infant, leaving her mother, Chinese-born LuLing, to raise her. Now LuLing has senile dementia, and Ruth urgently wants to find out the real story of her mother’s upbringing. The discovery of LuLing’s handwritten memoir helps Ruth make sense of her mother’s stories and actions, allowing her a better sense of her own actions and relationships.

To Bear Any Burden: The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath in the Words of Americans and Southeast Asians
By Ali Santoli

The 48 American and Asian veterans, refugees, and officials who speak in this book come from widely divergent backgrounds. In their narratives, we hear them reliving crucial moments in the preparation, execution, and aftermath of war. It is a riveting, eyewitness account of the war and also reclaims from this tragic continuum larger patterns of courage and dedication.

Teens/Young Adults

Girl in Translation
By Jean Kwok

Caught between the pressure to succeed in America, her duty to their family, and her own personal desires, Kimberly Chang, an immigrant girl from Hong Kong, learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

The Fold
By An Na

Joyce never used to care that much about how she looked, but that was before she met ‘JFK’- John Ford Kang, the most gorgeous guy in school. And it doesn’t help that she’s constantly being compared to her beautiful older sister, Helen. Then her rich plastic-surgery-addict aunt offers Joyce a gift to ‘fix’ a part of herself she’d never realized needed fixing-her eyes. An Na has created a surprisingly funny and thought-provoking look at notions of beauty, who sets the standards, and how they affect us all. Joyce’s decision is sure to spark heated discussions about the beauty myths readers confront in their own lives.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius
By Lisa Yee

In a series of journal entries, eleven-year-old child prodigy Millicent Min records her struggles to learn to play volleyball, tutor her enemy, deal with her grandmother’s departure, and make friends over the course of a tumultuous summer.

Musicians from a Different Shore
By Mari Yoshihara

Musicians of Asian descent enjoy unprecedented prominence in concert halls, conservatories, and classical music performance competitions. In the first book on the subject, Mari Yoshihara looks into the reasons for this phenomenon, starting with her own experience of learning to play piano in Japan at the age of three. Yoshihara shows how a confluence of culture, politics, and commerce after the war made classical music a staple in middle-class households, established Yamaha as the world’s largest producer of pianos and gave the Suzuki method of music training an international clientele. Soon, talented musicians from Japan, China, and South Korea were flocking to the United States to study and establish careers, and Asian American families were enrolling toddlers in music classes.

Yell-oh Girls: Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing up Asian American
By Vicki Nam

In this groundbreaking collection of personal writings, young Asian American girls come together for the first time and engage in a dynamic conversation about the unique challenges they face in their lives. Promoted by a variety of pressing questions from editor Vickie Nam and culled from hundreds of submission from all over the country, these revelatory essays, poems, and stories tackle such complex issues as dual identities, culture clashes, family matters, body image, and the need to find one’s voice.

American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults
By Lori Carlson

These stories re-create the conflicts that exist in young people trying to balance their families’ heritage and traditions with the modern world.

Children of the River
By Linda Crew

Seventeen-year-old Sundara is torn between her Cambodian family’s expectations and her desire to become more American now that she has been forced to relocate along with her aunt’s family following the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge. Matters are complicated by her feelings for Jonathan, a popular American boy who has fallen for Sundara and has trouble accepting the custom which forbids Cambodian girls from dating and dictates arranged marriages. The captivating, touching, and sometimes tragic story by Linda Crew (Delacorte, 1989) touches upon issues of culture, history, gender, and race wrapped around an engaging romance. The story is set in 1979 and provides enough details about the situation in Cambodia at the time to set the scene without bogging down the narrative.

In the Heart of Filipino America
By Ronald Takaki

Professor Takai’s narrative draws heavily upon personal recollections, allowing Asian Americans, the fastest growing ethnic group in North America, to tell of their hopes and dreams in their own words.

By Cynthia Kadohata

Chronicles the close friendship between two Japanese-American sisters growing up in rural Georgia during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the despair when one sister becomes terminally ill.

American Born Chinese
By Gene Luen Yang

Alternates interrelated stories about three characters, including a Chinese-American trying to participate in popular culture; a Chinese folk hero attempting to be worshiped as a god; and a teenager who is so ashamed by his Chinese cousin’s behavior that he changes schools.


Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai

Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.

Grandma and the Great Sound
By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

On her way to visit her daughter on the other side of the jungle, Grandma encounters a hungry fox, bear, and tiger, and although she convinces them to wait for her return trip, she still must find a way to outwit them all.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
By Grace Lin

Minli, an adventurous girl from a poor village, buys a magical goldfish and then joins a dragon who cannot fly on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon in hopes of bringing life to Fruitless Mountain and freshness to Jade River.

The Great Wall of Lucy
By Wendy Wan Long Shang

Eleven-year-old aspiring basketball star and interior designer Lucy Wu is excited about finally having her own bedroom, until she learns that her great-aunt is coming to visit and Lucy will have to share a room with her for several months, shattering her plans for a perfect sixth-grade year.

Farewell to Manzanar
By Jeanne Houston

Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when her family was uprooted from their home and sent to live at Manzanar internment camp–with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. Along with searchlight towers and armed guards, Manzanar ludicrously featured cheerleaders, Boy Scouts, sock hops, baton twirling lessons and a dance band called The Jive Bombers who would play any popular song except the nation’s #1 hit: “Don’t Fence Me In.” Farewell To Manzanar is the true story of one spirited Japanese-American family’s attempt to survive the indignities of forced detention . . . and of a native-born American child who discovered what it was like to grow up behind barbed wire in the United States.

Tiger Boy
By Mitali Perkins

A tiger cub has escaped from a reserve in the Sunderbans in West Bengal, India, and Neel, a poor boy from the islands, is determined to find her in order to save her from being captured and sold on the black market by Mr. Gupta and his men.

Younguncle comes to Town
By Vanda Shiva

In a small town in northern India, three siblings await their father’s youngest brother, Younguncle, who is said to be somewhat eccentric.

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