AAPI Month: Books to Read

by Annika Gangopadhyay

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich cultures, histories, and contributions of AAPI communities. From poignant memoirs to captivating novels, these books offer diverse perspectives and insights into the AAPI experience.

Ocean Vuong, Time is a Mother

If poetry is your go-to genre (or if you’re looking for something outside your comfort zone), this collection is a must-read. Vuong ponders themes of grief, survival, and memory after his mother’s death. The poems convey Vuong’s struggle to preserve his mother’s memory and move forward with deceptively simple language. Many pieces in the collection also explore the author’s identity growing up in the aftermath of war and as a queer, Vietnamese American. Vuong searches for the meaning of life throughout the healing process: not just to overcome grief, but to come to terms with himself.

Kevin Kwan, Lies and Weddings

Kwan’s newest release is an over-the-top romantic comedy that echoes the wit and satire of Crazy Rich Asians. The novel follows socialite Rufus Gresham, who must wed an heiress to save his debt-ridden family trust. However, Gresham finds himself drawn to Eden Tong, the daughter of a doctor. What follows is a high-strung tale of deception, legacy, and unexpected plot twists (including a literal volcanic eruption) which are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Kwan explores a rich backdrop of locations—you’ll find yourself whisked away to places such as Hawai’i, Marrakech and many more.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Bangkok Wakes to Rain

This historical fiction novel is structured like a flood—the author presents a series of storylines that end up converging in devastating ways. The first thread takes place in the 19th century and follows the American doctor Phineas Stevens as he is stationed in Bangkok. Sudbanthad then takes readers about five decades forward to meet the jazz pianist Clyde, who is estranged from his lover. However, Sudbanthad’s primary focus is on the third narrative: the relationship between sisters Nee and Nok. The two are prone to separation due to their vast ideological differences. In a world plagued by violence and warfare, Sudbanthad’s lyrical prose captures the necessity of reconciliation and hope.

Prachi Gupta, They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies That Raised Us

This is a memoir about Gupta’s experiences growing up in an American suburb with her brother. On the surface, Gupta’s family seems to embody the model minority myth: her father is a doctor and her mother is a homemaker who raises successful children in the Indian American community. Gupta explores the tensions between her father’s patriarchal standards and her search for her identity, as well as her complicated relationships with her mother and brother. This book examines the pressures many immigrant families face with themes of belonging, generational trauma, and resilience.

Kristiana Kahakauwila, This is Paradise

Kahakauwila’s debut collection of short stories captures the reality of life in modern Hawai’i. Each story is told through the voices of Waikiki’s local women as they observe tourists throughout the island. Though each scene is rooted in reality, Kahakauwila describes the tensions between the native islanders and tourists with suspense. She also tackles the struggles faced by the Hawai’ian people with the advent of consumerism and cultural conflict. Many characters also feel an inexplicable tie to their homeland despite moving away, a universal experience for many regardless of what part of the world you’re from. With life-like narration and vibrance, these stories are must-reads.

Featured Image via Adobe Stock

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