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Water Cooler: AAPI Heritage Month Reads

UPDATED: Mon., May 17, 2021

Vietnamese author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’ and her 2020 novel “The Mountains Sing.”  (Courtesy of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai')
Vietnamese author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’ and her 2020 novel “The Mountains Sing.” (Courtesy of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai')

Celebrate the stories and cultures of Asian American and Pacific Islanders this month with reading. Here are a few titles to check out for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“The Mountains Sing,” by Nguyen Phan Que Mai’ – A multigenerational tale of the Tran family, beginning with Tran Dieu Lan, who was forced to flee her family farm with her six children in the wake of the Land Reform, orchestrated by the Communist government in the north of Vietnam.

War and political instability haunts her family line years later as her granddaughter, Huong grows up watching her parents and uncles head off into the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in the Vietnam War.

“Heart and Seoul,” by Jen Frederick – At age 25, Hara Wilson has figured she’d come to terms with the challenges that came along with being the Korean adoptee to two white parents.

After her father’s death, she realizes this may not be true and starts to feel a crisis of identity that sends her traveling to Seoul in search of her roots.

“The Farm,” by Joanne Ramos – Jane is an immigrant from the Philippines in search of a better future. Drawn by the promises of a luxury retreat in New York’s Hudson Valley, she agrees to become a “host” at Golden Oaks, more popularly referred to as “the farm” by its residents.

There she gets to enjoy every amenity from personal trainers, to organic meals and daily massages, but with one catch. Each host must stay nine months while dedicating themselves to produce the ideal baby under constant surveillance.

“Free Food for Millionaires,” by Min Jin Lee – Casey Han, the daughter of working-class Korean immigrants, gets to join the ranks of America’s upper-class, educated elite by way of academic scholarships.

Her sense of identity is challenged as she gets a closer look at Manhattan’s rich residents and what goes into sustaining their expensive habits.

“The Joy Luck Club,” by Amy Tan – In 1949, four Chinese women begin to meet over dim sum, mahjong and conversation.

They are united by shared tragedy and loss and choose to use their gatherings to raise one another’s spirits, deeming it the “Joy Luck Club.”

“Eat a Peach,” by David Chang and Gabe Ulla – In 2004, David Chang opened Momofuku Noodle Bar in a small space in Manhattan’s East Village, serving ramen to fellow cooks and diners who have only known it in its instant form. Little did he know, Chang would go on to become one of the most influential chefs in his generation.

“Whereabouts,” by Jhumpa Lahiri – An unnamed narrator in an unnamed city goes on a reflective journey to her usual spots, populated by colleagues and strangers alike.

She feels she has lost her way, but one day at the sea abruptly changes her perspective.

“Interior Chinatown,” by Charles Yu – Willis Wu sees himself as the “Generic Asian Man” instead of the main protagonist after a lifetime of being relegated to prop or an extra as “Background Oriental Making a Weird Face,” or “Disgraced Son.”

Those days would soon be over after he stumbles into the spotlight and starts to uncover secret family legacies and little-known Chinatown history.

“When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities,” by Chen Chen – A collection of poetry that explores family and love through the story of a strained mother-son relationship through an Asian American, immigrant, and queer perspective.

It celebrates the joy and struggles that come along with finding one’s path and identity.

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