It’s almost May, baby! And that means three things:
- We’re already almost halfway through 2021
- Taurus season is upon us
- It’s almost AAPI Heritage Month, and therefore it’s almost time for Asian Readathon!
I think the Asian Readathon, as well as any other readathon that surrounds cultural events/heritage months, is an amazing opportunity to explore books out of your comfort zone, or that you may have never heard of before. Due to the rise in violent hate crimes and racist attacks against Asian Americans, it’s now especially important that people take the time to learn more about AAPI cultures and politics, as well as the violence, racism, and xenophobia Asian Americans have historically experienced (and clearly continue to experience).
Also, considering how severely white the publishing industry is, it’s absolutely crucial that we celebrate the creativity and accomplishments of authors of color across the publishing spectrum and all genres. (We’ve been introduced to so many new authors and works of color in recent years; we need to keep this ball rolling!)
With that being said, here’s more about the readathon and my TBR for it:
The Asian Readathon is a 100% free, accessible, and online month-long event dedicated to reading and celebrating books by Asian authors, hosted by the BookTuber @readwithcindy. You can find her video announcing the event here, as well as the Asian Readathon’s official Google Doc here.
For the readathon, participants aim to read at least five books by Asian/AAPI authors, with each book fulfilling a different challenge prompt. This year, the Asian Readathon challenges are:
- Read any book written by an Asian author
- Read any book featuring an Asian protagonist
- Read any book written by an Asian author in your favorite genre
- Read any nonfiction book written by an Asian author
- Read any book written by an Asian author that’s not US-centric
While these challenges can be combined to make the readathon easier to complete, there’s a twist: Each book you read for the readathon should feature a character or author of a different Asian ethnicity. Here’s the example that Cindy gives on the Google Doc:
- “Example: I can read a Japanese book to combine challenges #1, #2, and #3. But if I read a second Japanese book, that would not count for any other challenge, therefore I still need to read about a different ethnicity to cover challenges #4 and #5.”
Along with the official readathon prompts, I’ve set a personal goal to read as much non-East Asian literature as possible in May — I realized that although I’ve read a lot of fiction by East Asian authors over the years, I’ve been neglecting books by South/Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander writers. I’ve also included a few YA titles on this list because I don’t typically read YA; I really want to read more broadly and diversely, and I’m looking forward to finally picking up books I’ve heard so many good things about! This is definitely an ambitious list, but I’ll do the best I can.
— HIGH PRIORITY TBR —
THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen | Historical Fiction | Challenges #1 & #2
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.
THE SYMPATHIZER is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
THE SYMPATHIZER has been sitting on my shelf for an embarrassingly long time, and I’m so excited to finally get around to reading it — I’ve heard basically nothing but good things about it from friends and reviewers I really trust since it came out.
ARSENIC AND ADOBO (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery #1) by Mia P. Manansala | Thriller/Mystery | Challenges #1 & #2 | 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…
ARSENIC AND ADOBO has been one of my most anticipated releases since I first heard of it earlier this year, and I’m going to grab a Kindle copy of it from the library the day it comes out. A murder-mystery??? Restaurant drama??? Meddling aunties??? I can’t wait.
UZUMAKI by Junji Ito | Horror Manga | Challenge #3
In the town of Kurouzu-cho, Kirie Goshima lives a fairly normal life with her family. As she walks to the train station one day to meet her boyfriend, Shuuichi Saito, she sees his father staring at a snail shell in an alley. Thinking nothing of it, she mentions the incident to Shuuichi, who says that his father has been acting weird lately. Shuuichi reveals his rising desire to leave the town with Kirie, saying that the town is infected with spirals.
But his father’s obsession with the shape soon proves deadly, beginning a chain of horrific and unexplainable events that causes the residents of Kurouzu-cho to spiral into madness.
Since I’m trying to diversify my reading as much as possible this month, I thought I’d also read my first manga! I’ve heard nothing but great things about Junji Ito, and UZUMAKI is a close friend of mine’s favorite work by him. Horror is also my favorite genre, so reading UZUMAKI will fulfill Challenge #3 for me.
THEY CALLED US ENEMY by George Takei | Graphic Memoir | Challenge #4
Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.
In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.
THEY CALLED US ENEMY is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.
I think it’s easy to forget how young the United states, as a country, is — we’re only a few generations removed from some of our ugliest histories, but we spend very little time being educated about them in public school classrooms (far-right legislators prefer feeding us propaganda) or discussing them meaningfully. These memories need to be passed on, and we need to continue hearing them, making works like Takei’s vital.
I also think that the graphic novel is one of the most powerful forms a memoir can take. The illustrations, from the characters with their carefully-rendered expressions to the sensitive depictions of violent or otherwise difficult scenes, allow readers to feel as though they’re reliving memories alongside the author — personally, I think they’re extremely under-appreciated and under-utilized.
KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982 by Cho Nam-joo | Literary Fiction | Challenge #5
Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.
In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul lives Kim Jiyoung. A thirtysomething-year-old “millennial everywoman,” she has recently left her white-collar desk job—in order to care for her newborn daughter full-time—as so many Korean women are expected to do. But she quickly begins to exhibit strange symptoms that alarm her husband, parents, and in-laws: Jiyoung impersonates the voices of other women—alive and even dead, both known and unknown to her. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her discomfited husband sends her to a male psychiatrist.
In a chilling, eerily truncated third-person voice, Jiyoung’s entire life is recounted to the psychiatrist—a narrative infused with disparate elements of frustration, perseverance, and submission. Born in 1982 and given the most common name for Korean baby girls, Jiyoung quickly becomes the unfavored sister to her princeling little brother. Always, her behavior is policed by the male figures around her—from the elementary school teachers who enforce strict uniforms for girls, to the coworkers who install a hidden camera in the women’s restroom and post their photos online. In her father’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s fault that men harass her late at night; in her husband’s eyes, it is Jiyoung’s duty to forsake her career to take care of him and their child—to put them first.
Jiyoung’s painfully common life is juxtaposed against a backdrop of an advancing Korea, as it abandons “family planning” birth control policies and passes new legislation against gender discrimination. But can her doctor flawlessly, completely cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?
It felt like everyone was talking about KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982 last year, but I didn’t want to read it until I had a physical copy (there are some books where I just need to read them for the first time via a physical copy. I can’t explain why; a literal physical impulse just grips me, and there’s nothing I can do but submit to it), but since it was released in the U.S. during lockdown and I try my best not to buy from Amazon, I couldn’t get a copy of it from my favorite indie bookstore until very recently. That was my longwinded way of saying: I’ve been wanting to read this for a very long time and have very high hopes for it.
PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay | YA Contemporary/Mystery | Challenges #1 & #2
A coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder.
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.
There are so many things about this book that appeal to me: a Filipino protagonist, an examination of state-sponsored and sanctioned violence, family secrets, discussions about American imperialism and colonialism, and a mystery that needs solving. I’m very excited for this, even though I have a feeling it might break my heart.
MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES by S.J. Sindu | LGBTQ+ Contemporary | Challenges #1 & #2
Lucky and her husband, Krishna, are gay. They present an illusion of marital bliss to their conservative Sri Lankan–American families, while each dates on the side. It’s not ideal, but for Lucky, it seems to be working. She goes out dancing, she drinks a bit, she makes ends meet by doing digital art on commission. But when Lucky’s grandmother has a nasty fall, Lucky returns to her childhood home and unexpectedly reconnects with her former best friend and first lover, Nisha, who is preparing for her own arranged wedding with a man she’s never met.
As the connection between the two women is rekindled, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie. But does Nisha really want to be saved? And after a decade’s worth of lying, can Lucky break free of her own circumstances and build a new life? Is she willing to walk away from all that she values about her parents and community to live in a new truth? As Lucky—an outsider no matter what choices she makes—is pushed to the breaking point, Marriage of a Thousand Lies offers a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality.
Y’all… I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was when I found out MARRIAGE OF A THOUSAND LIES exists. I don’t really love reading romances (unless they’re w/w lol), but I love, love, love diaspora stories about tricky, emotional situations, and if this manages to deliver everything it promises — a vivid exploration of a life lived at a complex intersection of race, sexuality, and nationality — I’ll be thrilled.
— TBR IF I HAVE THE TIME —
THE POPPY WAR (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang | Fantasy | Challenges #1 & #2
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
THE POPPY WAR is yet another party that I’m beyond late to. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this book on Goodreads, Twitter, and BookTube; some BookTubers I watch and reviewers I read who are notoriously difficult to please have even declared this their favorite series of all time. I haven’t read a high fantasy series in a very long time (THRONE OF GLASS really did a number on me back in high school), but I would love for THE POPPY WAR to be my re-introduction to the genre.
PARACHUTES by Kelly Yang | YA Contemporary | Challenges #1 & #2
They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.
Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.
Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.
I’m also very late to this one! Everyone seems to have nothing but good things to say about PARACHUTES; I’ve heard it described as being very clever, intense, and observant. I feel like it would be criminal to not use this opportunity to finally read it.
INHERITORS by Asako Serizawa | Historical Fiction | Challenges #1, #2, & #5
Spanning more than 150 years, and set in multiple locations in colonial and postcolonial Asia and the United States, Inheritorspaints a kaleidoscopic portrait of its characters as they grapple with the legacies of loss, imperialism, and war.
Written from myriad perspectives and in a wide range of styles, each of these interconnected stories is designed to speak to the others, contesting assumptions and illuminating the complicated ways we experience, interpret, and pass on our personal and shared histories. A retired doctor, for example, is forced to confront the horrific moral consequences of his wartime actions. An elderly woman subjects herself to an interview, gradually revealing a fifty-year old murder and its shattering aftermath. And in the last days of a doomed war, a prodigal son who enlisted against his parents’ wishes survives the American invasion of his island outpost, only to be asked for a sacrifice more daunting than any he imagined.
I’ve been wanting to read INHERITORS for almost a year now, and I’m really hoping that I’ll have the chance to read it in May. I love that it tells stories based in both Asian America and Asia, rather than just one or the other.
For the sake of spreading more awareness about this readathon, I wanted to tag some of my favorite other Asian book bloggers to share their TBRs, too! I’m tagging Eleennae @ Inkhaven, Katie @ Whispering of Pages, Ahaana @ Windows to Worlds, and Rania @ Rania’s Rambling Reads. (There’s no pressure to participate or post your TBR if you weren’t already planning to; this is solely to get the word out and encourage anyone interested to participate!)
If you’re planning to participate in the Asian Readathon this year, let me know what you’re thinking about reading in the comments! I’ll have a list of my personal recommendations for the event posted on Monday.