As Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month approaches, I really can’t wait to start celebrating the craft and work of Asian American authors. In light of the recent violence and racism targeting, harming, and even killing Asian Americans across the U.S., I think it’s vital that we take the month of May to support Asian writers’ art, creativity, and stories.
So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be publishing content in preparation for AAPI Heritage Month, and I decided to start off by compiling a list of upcoming releases by Asian American authors for the rest of 2021. This is such a diverse selection of titles that I’m sure everyone will be able to find at least one book they’re interested in trying; personally, I was so excited by so many different books that my TBR list has grown into an absolutely monstrous pile. I hope you’re able to find something that excites you and that this post is helpful — happy browsing!
***You can access a book’s Goodreads page by clicking its cover image.
— LITERARY FICTION —
THINGS WE LOST TO THE WATER by Eric Nguyen | RELEASE DATE: May 4
When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. As she and her boys begin to settle in to life in America, she continues to send letters and tapes back to Cong, hopeful that they will be reunited and her children will grow up with a father.
But with time, Huong realizes she will never see her husband again. While she copes with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh grow up in their absent father’s shadow, haunted by a man and a country trapped in their memory and imagination. As they push forward, the three adapt to life in America in different ways: Huong takes up with a Vietnamese car salesman who is also new in town; Tuan tries to connect with his heritage by joining a local Vietnamese gang; and Binh, now going by Ben, embraces his adopted homeland and his burgeoning sexuality. Their search for identity–as individuals and as a family–threatens to tear them apart. But then disaster strikes the city they now call home, and they must find a new way to come together and honor the ties that bind them.
THINGS WE LOST TO THE WATER has been on my release radar for several months now, ever since I saw it being praised by Roxane Gay and Viet Thanh Nguyen. I was lucky (blessed!) enough to receive a review copy from Knopf in exchange for an honest review, and I’ll be reading and reviewing it in anticipation of AAPI Heritage Month.
THE PARTED EARTH by Anjali Enjeti | RELEASE DATE: May 4
In August 1947, 16-year-old Deepa’s life in New Delhi begins to unravel in the days leading up to the birth of the Muslim minority nation of Pakistan, and the Hindu majority nation of India. Her secret Muslim boyfriend Amir, who sends her origami love notes, must now flee with his sister Layla and their parents to Lahore, Pakistan. Amir promises to return to Delhi to marry Deepa after the violence of Partition has ended. Soon after Amir’s departure, Deepa’s parents are killed. Her God-parents, fearful that Deepa is in grave danger, force her to move with them to London. Nine months later, Deepa gives birth to Vijay. She never sees or hears from Amir again.
After a devastating miscarriage in Atlanta in the present day, 40-year-old newly unemployed Shanthi (“Shan”) Johnson must confront her husband Max about his reckless spending. While grieving both her pregnancy loss and her marriage’s subsequent implosion, she finds clues that lead her to believe that the real reason her deceased father Vijay had abandoned her and her mother 30 years earlier to move to New Delhi was because he was in search of his father, a man he’d never known. To kickstart her life again, Shan moves out of her marital home, searches for a new job, and resumes her father’s search for her grandfather, whose name, she later learns, is Amir. To find Amir, Shan must first track down her estranged 86-year-old grandmother Deepa, a prickly woman who never wanted to have anything to do with Shan. During Shan’s search, which eventually takes her to Amsterdam and New Delhi, she comes to realize that the origami love notes Amir once sent to Deepa may be the clue to their reunion.
WHEREABOUTS by Jhumpa Lahiri | RELEASE DATE: May 4
Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the centre wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father’s untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and “him,” a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits.
GHOST FOREST by Pik-Shuen Fung | RELEASE DATE: July 13
How do you grieve, if your family doesn’t talk about feelings?
This is the question the unnamed protagonist of Ghost Forest considers after her father dies. One of the many Hong Kong “astronaut” fathers, he stays there to work, while the rest of the family immigrated to Canada before the 1997 Handover, when the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.
As she revisits memories of her father through the years, she struggles with unresolved questions and misunderstandings. Turning to her mother and grandmother for answers, she discovers her own life refracted brightly in theirs.
Buoyant, heartbreaking, and unexpectedly funny, Ghost Forest is a slim novel that envelops the reader in joy and sorrow. Fung writes with a poetic and haunting voice, layering detail and abstraction, weaving memory and oral history to paint a moving portrait of a Chinese-Canadian astronaut family.
GHOST FOREST has been described as being perfect for fans of The Farewell, the 2019 film directed by Lulu Wang — which makes it perfect for me, since The Farewell is one of my top-5 favorite movies! I’m really looking forward to this one.
A SONG EVERLASTING by Ha Jin | RELEASE DATE: July 27
After popular singer Yao Tian takes a private gig in New York at the end of a tour with his state-supported choir, expecting to pick up some extra cash for his daughter’s tuition fund, the consequences of his choice spiral out of control.
On his return to China, he is informed that the sponsors of the event were in support of Taiwan’s secession and that he must deliver a formal self-criticism. When he is asked to forfeit his passport to his employer, he impulsively decides instead to return to New York to protest the government’s threat to his artistic integrity. With the help of his old friend, Yabin, Tian’s career begins to flourish in the United States. Soon placed on a government blacklist and thwarted by the State at every turn, it becomes increasingly clear that he may never return to China unless he denounces the freedoms that have made his new life possible. But Tian nevertheless insists on his identity as a performer, refusing to give up his art.
RADIANT FUGITIVES by Nawaaz Ahmed | RELEASE DATE: August 3 | LGBTQ+
A tour-de-force debut following three generations of a Muslim-Indian family confronted with a nation on the brink of change in Obama-era San Francisco and Texas.
Working as a political activist in the early days of the Obama presidency, Seema still struggles with her father’s long-ago decision to exile her from the family after she came out as lesbian, forcing her to construct a new life in the West. Now, nine months pregnant and estranged from the father of her unborn son, Seema seeks reconciliation with the family that once renounced her: her ailing mother, Nafeesa, traveling alone to California from Chennai, and her devoutly religious sister, Tahera, an OB-GYN living in Texas with her husband and children.
Pushed apart and drawn together in equal measure by their often conflicting beliefs, Seema, Tahera, and Nafeesa must confront the complex yearnings in their relationships with one another—and within their innermost selves—as the events that transpire over the course of one fateful week unearth an accumulated lifetime of love, betrayal, and misunderstandings.
— HISTORICAL FICTION —
BUILD YOUR HOUSE AROUND MY BODY by Violet Kupersmith | RELEASE DATE: July 6
Two young women go missing decades apart. Both are fearless, both are lost. And both will have their revenge.
1986: The teenage daughter of a wealthy Vietnamese family loses her way in an abandoned rubber plantation while fleeing her angry father and is forever changed.
2011: A young, unhappy Vietnamese American woman disappears from her new home in Saigon without a trace.
The fates of these two women are inescapably linked, bound together by past generations, by ghosts and ancestors, by the history of possessed bodies and possessed lands. Alongside them, we meet a young boy who is sent to a boarding school for the métis children of French expatriates, just before Vietnam declares its independence from colonial rule; two Frenchmen who are trying to start a business with the Vietnam War on the horizon; and the employees of the Saigon Spirit Eradication Co., who find themselves investigating strange occurrences in a farmhouse on the edge of a forest. Each new character and timeline brings us one step closer to understanding what binds them all.
BUILD YOUR HOUSE AROUND MY BODY has been described as being “part puzzle, part revenge tale, part ghost story” — I can’t imagine anything more up my alley.
— CONTEMPORARY —
THE TIGER MOM’S TALE by Lyn Liao Butler | RELEASE DATE: July 6
Lexa Thomas has never quite fit in. Having grown up in a family of blondes while more closely resembling Constance Wu, she’s neither white enough nor Asian enough. Visiting her father in Taiwan as a child, Lexa thought she’d finally found a place where she belonged. But that was years ago, and even there, some never truly considered her to be Taiwanese.
When her estranged father dies unexpectedly, leaving the fate of his Taiwanese family in Lexa’s hands, her safe life in New York City is no longer enough. She is faced with the choice to return to Taiwan and claim her place in her heritage . . . or leave her Taiwanese family to lose their home for good.
Armed with the advice of two half sisters (one American and the other Taiwanese, who can’t stand each other), a mother who has rediscovered her sexuality, and a man whose kisses make her walk into walls, Lexa finally confronts the person who drove her away from Taiwan all those decades ago. As the truth of the last fateful summer in Taiwan slowly unfolds, Lexa must stand up for herself and open her heart to family and love, or allow the repercussions of her family’s choices to forever dictate the path of her life.
— ROMANCE —
DIAL A FOR AUNTIES by Jesse Q. Sutanto | RELEASE DATE: April 27
What happens when you mix 1 (accidental) murder with 2 thousand wedding guests, and then toss in a possible curse on 3 generations of an immigrant Chinese-Indonesian family?
You get 4 meddling Asian aunties coming to the rescue!
When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for the family wedding business—”Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream flowers.
But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?
I’m usually very disinterested in romances, but DIAL A FOR AUNTIES sounds phenomenal. An accidental murder-mystery and cover-up during a billionaire’s wedding with several nosy aunties and an ex thrown into the mix? Excellent, 10/10 synopsis, absolutely cannot wait.
DESTINATION WEDDING by Diksha Basu | RELEASE DATE: June 30
Tina Das wants to belong, but she just isn’t sure where. India or America? Brooklyn or Bombay? Manhattan or Delhi? Or start from scratch in London–she still has fond memories of her one-night stand with Rocco Gallagher, the handsome Australian, as they traipsed through Covent Garden and Seven Dials, but he never called back so maybe it’s time to let that dream go, and focus on finding the next big story for her streaming network instead.
She’s hoping she’ll find it at her cousin’s lavish, weeklong Delhi wedding, and has taken her best friend Marianne Laing along for the ride to Delhi’s poshest country club, Colebrookes. Marianne has always had international tastes, in life and in love, yet can’t help but think of sweet, steady, khaki-clad Tom back home in New York.
Also in attendance are Tina’s divorced parents: her mother, Radha, who’s bringing her American “boyfriend,” David, to the wedding, and her father, Neel, who’s using the visit to India to explore the idea of dating again, only to discover it and he have both changed completely in the decades he’s been away.
SO WE MEET AGAIN by Suzanne Park | RELEASE DATE: August 3
When up-and-coming investment banker Jess Kim is passed over for a promotion, laid off in a virtual meeting, and then overhears why (“she’s already being overpaid anyway for a woman” and “Asians are worker bees, not someone who can drum up new deals”), she delivers an “eff you guys” speech and storms out of the building. Not sure what’s next, she moves back home to Tennessee with her domineering Korean mom, who tries to set her up with her pastor’s son Daniel Choi, an M&A lawyer by day and a successful video game streamer by night. Turns out he’s swoony and smart, not the awkward preacher’s kid she remembers. With his help, Jess launches a Korean cooking YouTube channel focused on easy meal prep for busy professionals.
All is going well until her mom walks on the show mid-live recording and argues about cooking technique. While she hates being berated by her mother in front of the world, it actually works in their favor—they go viral!
Soon her cooking channel becomes an actual media company and brand. When a client is suddenly interested in buying Jess out, she finds herself sitting across the table from the very investment firm she quit not so long ago. But there’s just one other problem: Daniel, the guy whose been helping her and that she’s been falling for, is the firm’s new general counsel.
THE SHAADI SET-UP by Lillie Vale | RELEASE DATE: September 7
High school sweethearts Rita Chitniss and Milan Rao were the golden couple, until the day he broke her heart. Now, six years later, Rita has turned her passion for furniture restoration into a career and has an almost-perfect boyfriend, Neil. The last thing she needs is for Milan to re-enter her life, but that’s exactly what happens when her mother, an unfailing believer in second chances, sets them up. Milan is just as charming, cocky, and confident as he was back in school. Only this time, he actually needs her business expertise, not her heart, to flip a hard-to-sell house for his realty agency.
While Rita begrudgingly agrees to help, she’s not taking any risks. To prove she’s definitely over him, she signs herself and Neil up on MyShaadi.com, a Desi matchmaking site famous for its success stories and trustworthy enough to convince everyone that she and Neil are the new and improved couple. Instead, she’s shocked when MyShaadi’s perfect match for her isn’t Neil…it’s Milan. Ignoring the website and her mother is one thing, but ignoring Milan proves much more difficult, especially when she promises to help him renovate the beach house of her dreams. And as the two of them dive deeper into work—and their pasts—Rita begins to wonder if maybe her match wasn’t so wrong after all…
THE DONUT TRAP by Julie Tieu | RELEASE DATE: November 2
Jasmine Tran has landed herself behind bars—maple bars that is. With no boyfriend or job prospects, Jasmine returns home to work at her parents’ donut shop. Jasmine quickly loses herself in a cyclical routine of donuts, Netflix, and sleep. She wants to break free from her daily grind, but when a hike in rent threatens the survival of their shop, her parents rely on her more than ever.
Help comes in the form of an old college crush, Alex Lai. Not only is he successful and easy on the eyes, to her parents’ delight, he’s also Chinese. He’s everything she should wish for, until a disastrous dinner reveals Alex isn’t as perfect as she thinks. Worse, he doesn’t think she’s perfect either.
With both sets of parents against their relationship, a family legacy about to shut down, and the reappearance of an old high school flame, Jasmine must scheme to find a solution that satisfies her family’s expectations and can get her out of the donut trap once and for all.
— MYSTERY/THRILLER —
ARSENIC AND ADOBO (TITA ROSIE’S KITCHEN MYSTERY #1) by Mia P. Manansala | RELEASE DATE: May 4
When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.
With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longanisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…
Another one I’m really excited for — nosy aunties and murder-mysteries sound like such a phenomenal combination, and I’m glad that we have two releases with that setting this year!
— HORROR —
NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH by Cassandra Khaw | RELEASE DATE: October 19
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.
A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.
But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Effortlessly taking the classic haunted house story and turning it on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions.
There’s very little I enjoy more than a good ol’ haunted house tale, and this one sounds so promising that it’s been one of my most anticipated releases this year. More Asian horror, please!
— FANTASY —
BLACK WATER SISTER by Zen Cho | RELEASE DATE: May 11 | LGBTQ+
Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.
Drawn into a world of gods, ghosts, and family secrets, Jess finds that making deals with capricious spirits is a dangerous business. As Jess fights for retribution for Ah Ma, she’ll also need to regain control of her body and destiny. If she fails, the Black Water Sister may finish her off for good.
THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL by Nghi Vo | RELEASE DATE: June 1 | LGBTQ+
Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.
Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.
But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.
I’m not the hugest fan of adult fantasy, but since this is a queer Asian retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY… I’ll be picking it up.
THE JASMINE THRONE (BURNING KINGDOMS #1) by Tasha Suri | RELEASE DATE: June 10
Author of EMPIRE OF SAND and REALM OF ASH Tasha Suri’s THE JASMINE THRONE, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess’s traitor brother.
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN (THE RADIANT EMPEROR #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan | RELEASE DATE: July 20 | LGBTQ+
Mulan meets THE SONG OF ACHILLES in Shelley Parker-Chan’s SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.
To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything.
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
IN THE WATCHFUL CITY by S. Qiouyi Lu | RELEASE DATE: August 31 | LGBTQ+
The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.
All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?
— SCIENCE FICTION —
VERSION ZERO by David Yoon | RELEASE DATE: May 25
Reboot the present. Save the future.
Max, a data whiz at the Facebook-like social media company Wren, has gotten a firsthand glimpse of the dark side of big tech. When he starts asking questions about what his company is doing with the data they collect, he finds himself fired…and then blackballed across all of Silicon Valley.
With time on his hands and inside knowledge about the biggest tech companies, Max and his longtime friend—and sometime crush—Akiko, decide to get even by…essentially, rebooting the internet. After all, in order to fix things, sometimes you have to break them. But when Max and Akiko join forces with a reclusive tech baron, they learn that breaking things can have unintended—and disastrous—consequences. And those consequences will ripple across the world, effecting every level of society in ways no one could have imagined.
WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE by Lena Nguyen | RELEASE DATE: July 6
Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship–all specialists in their own fields–as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.
Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes–and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing–neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself–is as it seems.
LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS by Ryka Aoki | RELEASE DATE: September 28 | LGBTQ+
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
— MEMOIR —
CRYING IN H MART: A MEMOIR by Michelle Zauner | RELEASE DATE: April 20
From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018 New Yorker essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up the only Asian American kid at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food. As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
I’ve loved and listened to Japanese Breakfast for years, so I’ve been waiting for this memoir to come out since I first heard about it. Michelle Zauner’s essay in the New Yorker is absolutely beautiful, and I really recommend giving it a read if you’re at all interested in her book. Knopf was also kind enough to send me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, so you can expect to see me talking about it soon!
HEART OF FIRE: AN IMMIGRANT DAUGHTER’S STORY by Mazie K. Hirono | RELEASE DATE: April 20
Mazie Hirono is one of the most fiercely outspoken Democrats in Congress, but her journey to the U.S. Senate was far from likely. Raised poor on her family’s rice farm in rural Japan, Hirono was seven years old when her mother left her abusive husband and sailed with her two elder children to the United States, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life. Though the girl then known as Keiko did not speak English when she entered school in Hawaii, she would go on to hold state and national office, winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
This intimate and inspiring memoir traces her remarkable life from her upbringing in Hawaii, where the family first lived in a single room in a Honolulu boarding house while her mother worked two jobs to keep them afloat; to her emergence as a highly effective legislator whose determination to help the most vulnerable was grounded in her own experiences of economic insecurity, lack of healthcare access, and family separation. Finally, it chronicles her evolution from dogged yet soft-spoken public servant into the fiery critic and advocate we know her as today.
For the vast majority of Mazie Hirono’s five decades in public service, even as she fought for the causes she believed in, she strove to remain polite and reserved. Steeped in the non-confrontational cultures of Japan and Hawaii, and aware of the expectation that women in politics should never show an excess of emotion, she had schooled herself to bite her tongue, even as her male colleagues continually underestimated her. After the 2016 election, however, it was clear that she could moderate herself no longer. In the face of an autocratic administration, Hirono was called to at last give voice to the fire that had always been inside her.