May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. It marks the perfect opportunity for us to highlight the contributions of authors with Asian backgrounds to the world of books. There have been many inspiring authors over the years, from the celebrated works of Michael Ondaatje and Rupi Kaur, to newer and lesser known contributions of Souvankham Thammavongsa or Ann Hui. These authors help take us around the world and inspire us with their writings. Representing almost 50 countries, each with their own unique culture and viewpoints, there is an incredible range of Asian writers and stories to delight all kinds of readers.
Enjoy these relatively recent reads from authors of Asian backgrounds: Looking for even more selections? Check out the CBC curated list here.
What it is: A captivating historical fantasy in which a convoy of student refugees travel across China, fleeing the hostilities of a brutal war with Japan.
Reviewers say: “Chang expertly weaves mysticism and historical details, and sets up a cast of memorable characters. This will charm readers from the very first page.” Publishers Weekly
About the Author: Janie Chang is a historical fiction writer. Born in Taiwan, she has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, New Zealand and Canada.Chang’s first novel, Three Souls, was a finalist for the 2014 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and nominated for the 2015 International Dublin Literary Award. She published her second novel, Dragon Springs Road in 2017.
What it is: In this modern Muslim adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of Toronto’s Indian-Muslim community.
Reviewers say: “With humor and abundant cultural references, both manifest in the all-seeing all-criticizing aunty brigade, Jalaluddin cleverly illustrates the social pressures facing young Indian-Muslim adults. Jalaluddin stays true to the original Austen while tackling meatier issues likes workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. Even readers unfamiliar with Austen’s work will find this a highly entertaining tale of family, community, and romance.” – Publishers Weekly
About the Author: Uzma Jalaluddin, a high school teacher, writes Samosas and Maple Syrup, a regular column about modern Muslim life for the Toronto Star.
What it is: Forced by cultural expectations to marry young, an Indian-American woman upsets her tight-knit community by getting divorced and investing all of her savings in a career path against her parents’ wishes.
Reviewers say: “Lalli creates relatable characters, realistic and fresh dialogue, and a cultural setting that is both new and familiar. A perfect recommendation for readers who enjoy sweet contemporary romances with an emphasis on family.” – Booklist
About the Author: Sonya Lalli is a Canadian writer of Indian heritage. She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and loves travel, yoga, piano, reading and cocktail bartending.
What it is: Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past.
Reviewers say: “Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang’s awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek.” – Publishers Weekly
About the Author: Born in Beijing but raised in the United States, C Pam Zhang has lived in thirteen cities across four countries. She’s been awarded support from Tin House, Bread Loaf, Aspen Words and elsewhere, and currently lives in San Francisco.
What it is: A stereotyped character actor stumbles into the spotlight before uncovering surprising links between his family and the secret history of Chinatown.
Reviewers say: “Resembling a script, complete with a classic typewriter font, Yu’s tale ingeniously draws on real-life Hollywood dead ends for Asian American actors, including, quite possibly, Kelvin Yu, the author’s younger brother. As preposterous as many scenes may seem, their sobering reality will resonate with savvy readers.- Booklist
About the Author: Charles Yu is an American author who has received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld.