May 25, 2024

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: Four Novels

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May), I'm posting my book reviews by several Asian American novelists. The first, Real Americans, is new. The other three reviews were originally posted in April 2023. 

The authors are from China, Taiwan, and Korea




Real Americans by Rachel Khong

Published April 30, 2024; Knopf

Genre: immigrant literature, contemporary fiction, speculative fiction

American-born Lily Chen was brought up in New York by her Chinese immigrant parents to be a "real American" culturally and socially. When she meets and falls in love with Matthew, a Caucasian from a ultra wealthy pharmaceutical family, she is hesitant but marries him anyway, and has a child, Nico. From there on, the real American Lily continues to live her contemporary life - divorce, single motherhood, raising a biracial child, family estrangement. Her aging scientist mother in America seems to complete the cycle - widowhood, old age, alienation from family, loneliness.

The third part of the book I think strayed from the "real American" theme, delving into Lily's parents' turbulent past in Mao's China, a past that precipitated their migration to the United States. 

There is an element of fantasy in another part of the "real American" story of Lily's scientist parents, who were chasing the dream of DNA research to eradicate genetic flaws and guarantee longevity.

This is a complex book with complex themes that invite speculation and would make a great book club choice because of the many questions it brings up about what the term "real American" can mean.

Returning home:

I 've been reading books about young women abandoning their job after a breakup with a boyfriend, and returning to their parents' home. This seems to be a popular trope as I've seen it in several  contemporary novels.

However, the stories vary widely once the main character moves back to family, depending on their circumstances and family dynamics. This makes them interesting regardless of the trope.



A Quitter's Paradise: A Novel by Elysha Chang
Publication: June 6, 2023' SJP Lit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel deals with two generations of a family impacting each other - the story of Rita and Jing from Taipei, who emigrate to the U.S. and the stories of their daughters, Narisa and Eleanor, born and raised in New York.

The adult Eleanor, on her own, quits her PhD program in neuroscience; her older sister Narisa disappeared for good while a teen, after one too many fights with her harsh and disapproving parents. And only Eleanor and her mother Rita are left in the family after the father Jing leaves home and forms a new family in Taipei.

After Rita's death, Eleanor has to face the truth of both her parents' lives and her own.

I was left amazed and dismayed at the family dynamics in this novel, especially that created by the parents. I wondered how Eleanor would cope with the history of people leaving/quitting and with the story of her mother Rita, left alone to raise the girls in the U.S. when Jing left the family.

The novel follows two separate story lines, a complex one of the parents and their extended family in NY and that of the girls raised in the U.S. I found both stories fascinating.




Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Published: July 11, 2017; Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: literary fiction, contemporary, family drama, adult fiction

Ruth used to go to Charleston with her boyfriend Joel for the holidays, but no more. After they broke up, Ruth is left with the prospect of going home to her parents in LA, parents she hasn't seen in a while.

While there, Ruth decides to stay and help out as her father is developing dementia and losing coping skills. The novel centers around Ruth and their mother and her brother Linus's attempts to ease their father and themselves into a new reality. 

Written with a lot of humor and pathos, Goodbye, Vitamin tells a story of a family support of a loved one whose personality is slowly changing. I gave this novel five stars.


Sea Change
 by Gina Chung

Publication: March 28, 2023, Vintage

Genre: family drama, speculative fiction, animal story, contemporary

The story of Ro's friendship with Dolores, the giant Pacific octopus, is a heartwarming one, especially since it's Ro's only connection with her missing scientist father, who had discovered and captured the octopus which now lives in the local aquarium.

I was a little disappointed when the story veers away from Ro's father never returning and her boyfriend leaving, perhaps forever, on a space exploration trip to Mars.

The novel includes Ro's friends and other young Korean Americans and their lives in the U.S. Their stories don't quite mesh with the story of Dolores, the giant Pacific Northwest octopus and the sadness of Ro's missing father.

The information about the octopus, its personality and its importance to Ro are the key parts of the novel although at least half of the book is devoted to Ro's other friendships.



What are you reading this week?  Which Asian authors have you read ?

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso, It's Monday: What Are You Reading, Sunday Salon, and Stacking the Shelves     

23 comments:

  1. These all sound promising. If Real Americans is a complex book with complex themes, I agree that it sounds like a wonderful book club book.

    There seem to be a lot of books about young women returning home. It's an interesting idea to explore.

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  2. These all sound interesting especially Real Americans and Sea Change.

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  3. Sounds like you had some good reads for Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month!

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  4. Sounds like some interesting reads. Have a great weekend!

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  5. Thanks for bringing these books to our attention. More for my "to be read" list!

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  6. As with all the best sub-genres, it provides loads of scope to vary the dynamic. Goodby Vitamin sounds like a heartbreak - but also a fascinating read. I hope you have a great week.

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  7. Presently reading (about half way through) 'The Undivided Past - History Beyond our Differences' by David Cannadine. Next up will be 'Atoms and Ashes - From Bikini Atoll to Fukushima' by Serhii Plokhy.

    I'm afraid that I haven't read many Asian authors but am always looking to expand my reading, so 'watch this space' as they say....

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  8. Thanks for putting this list together, Harvee! :) I grew up with a younger brother who adored everything about the ocean, so Sea Change is definitely striking a chord for me. :) I try my best to read from Asian authors being an Asian myself (Filipino-Chinese). I recently read The Poppy War by RF Kuang who is Chinese-American. :)

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    1. Her books are on my reading list as well. I enjoyed Yellowface.

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  9. That's an interesting insight that you're seeing books about people who move home. I suppose that reflects a reality. Plus, it provides a great set up for generational stories.

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  10. These books all sound interesting. You always have books that grab my attention. Have a great week!

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  11. Those do all sound good. The one that grabs my attention most is the one featuring the octopus because I was a bit underwhelmed by Remarkably Bright Creatures. Maybe Sea Change will turn out to be the novel I was hoping RBC would be.

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  12. A Quitter's Paradise sounds good and was available so I borrowed the Kindle book from the library. I'm really curious because a lot of Goodreads reviewers didn't like the book as much as you did. I'm curious to see if I like it or not.

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  13. Real Americans sounds like a good read. I'm on the library hold list.

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  14. How many stars did you give Real Americans? The Mao part interests me. I hope to read River East River West soon for my summer reading list and I'm glad you liked it. Also another good Asian story is Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng. Have you read that one?

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    1. I gave Real Americans 4-5 stars. River East River Wrst was interesting. I haven’t read the third book you mentioned but it’s on my list.

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  15. These aren't my genres but they do sound interesting. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

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    1. I try to expand my genres to learn something new!

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  16. These all sound good! I think I've had Goodbye, Vitamin on my TBR for quite a while. For AAPI Month, I listened to The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok.

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  17. You find the most interesting books to read!

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  18. Unfortunately I didn't get to any books for AAPI month but all of these sound so interesting, especially Goodbye, Vitamin. Earlier this year I did read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and that explored some of the same themes about fitting in and differences in first vs. second generation. If you haven't read that one yet I'd recommend it.

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    1. Read the Ng book in 2014 but my goodreads review only says that it's an outstanding debut novel and "bring out the tissues."

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  19. These all look interesting and I have not read nearly enough books that are written through an Asian American perspective. I will have to look for these.

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I appreciate your comments and thoughts...

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