Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, creators of The Shadow Hero, recommend their top Asian-American books.
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
Cartoonist powerhouse Derek Kirk Kim perfectly captures what it was like to be an Asian American twenty-something in the 90's. I know. I was there.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
To be perfectly truthful, I don't remember much from most of the books I read. But this book haunts me. There's a scene where the narrator picks on a quiet girl in the bathroom -- it's been years since I read it, but I can still feel it.
Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo
Yes, this is a teen romance. Why would a 40-year-old man be recommending a teen romance? Because David Yoo is hilarious.
Malinky Robot by Sonny Liew
OK. So this isn't exactly Asian American, but Sonny cheated on his list so why can't I? Honestly, I would recommend this book even if Sonny and I aren't friends. Malinky Robot follows the adventures of Oliver and Atari, two street urchins living in a futuristic metropolis.
Silence by Shusaku Endo
Another cheat. Endo is Japanese, not Japanese American, and his book was originally written in his native tongue. Even so, in this masterful novel about a European missionary travelling through a hostile 17th Century Japan, Endo explores the clash between Eastern and Western belief systems, a struggle central to the Asian American experience.
From Sonny Liew:
Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
I've enjoyed all of Allen Say's books -- the art and language looks simple of the surface, but they're wonderfully adept at capturing the passage of time; a sense of things lost, and found, if only for a moment again, in his stories. This account of his Grandfather's journey from Japan to the United States and back again reminds us of how we can be torn between all the places we've lived in -- that there might be no one true home, and our choices are dictated by our mortality as much as anything else.
Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
My favorite of Say's books, though, is Drawing From Memory, about his early apprenticeship under the Manga artist Noro Shinpei. Using artwork and photographs, he shows us the early fears, hopes, and dreams of a young artist in post-war Japan. It's pitch perfect from beginning to end.
The Ghost Bride: A Novel by Yangsze Choo
The writer spent her early years Malaysia but now lives in the United States. The novel itself is a supernatural tale set in 19th century Malacca. Yangsze and I have talked about adapting the book into a graphic novel -- something I raised after reading a draft of the story. It's a bit of Sandman-esque fantasy set in my home country of Malaysia, with a brave (in believable ways) female protagonist -- I think it'd make a great comic, but the book itself if of course well worth a read.
Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo
I read this years and years ago – it’s about Chinese immigrants making a go in London, and the cultural gap between generations. There were troubles with triads in there, too. In my own mind, Sour Sweet has become the prototypical immigrant novel. It's also been a while since I've read another book in the same genre -- a reluctance borne maybe of fear of repetition. Which is probably unfair to all those books out there, but somehow Sour Sweet already occupies that brain space, and there hasn't been room for more just yet.
Chan is Missing by Wayne Wang
Strictly speaking this clearly isn't a book of any sort -- but it's one of my favorite movies and an intriguing look at Chinese-American assimilation in the United States. There's a sort of Rashomon thing going on, with multiple accounts of the life of the missing Chan providing no easy answers, but rather a textured, complex view of a man. It's funny as well!
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
It's rather good, this.
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
Ok, by now this whole Asian American Lit category thing is halfway out the window, maybe we can pretend this counts too. I remember The Good Earth being a harrowing read -- all the hardships the protagonist goes through. I can't vouch for how accurate it is a depiction of the lives of Chinese villagers back in the day, but it certainly felt authentic, a book that's lived long in the memory even as the details have faded.
Skim by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I haven't had a chance to read their new book This One Summer (from First Second!) yet, but Skim was wonderfully drawn and written, an unexpected surprise when I picked it up on a whim from a local comics store. The beauty, aches, half-truths and half-lies of adolescence, all expertly and subtly captured.