I’m renowned as a book nerd by those that know me best. I Read A Lot is a semi-regular feature on the blog in which I share with you what I currently have my nose buried in.
Recently I have been having a bit of a love affair with Asian-inspired novels and memoirs. Maybe it is some stifled wanderlust – it’s been almost a year since we went on holiday anywhere, let alone overseas – or maybe it is the need to send my mind beyond the walls of my current experience. I’m not sure. What I do know is that the immersion of myself in these beautiful worlds is making my evenings and nap-times bright. I love that they cover such a broad range of settings and perspectives, respecting the beauty of each individual culture and showing a breadth of experiences. Here’s some of my favorites:
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
I’ve been a fan of Amy Tan for a while now but I think this has to be my favorite book so far. It is an interesting look at the experiences of both courtesans and mixed-race children in early 20th century China. Young Violet (of Chinese and American descent) finds herself separated from her mother when the revolution occurs and is forced to become a ‘virgin courtesan’. I found the descriptions of Shanghai in this novel incredibly vivid and the twists and turns of the plot can be both heartbreaking and uplifting.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Set in the highlands of Malaya, it follows a woman’s desire to build a garden in memory of her sister, brutally killed in the Japanese occupation. She becomes the apprentice of Aritomo, assisting him with his masterpiece, The Garden of Evening Mists, and secrets long hidden are revealed through vivid flashback sequences. I found the description of zen garden philosophy absolutely fascinating – the author really has a way of making the reader understand its simplistic beauty.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
From the sombre to the tongue-firmly-in-cheek, I loved this debut novel by Kevin Kwan. Based largely in the small Asian country of Singapore, this follows the adventures of Rachel Chu (an American-born Chinese) as she agrees to visit her boyfriend’s home country. She doesn’t know his family is – as the title suggests – crazy rich… and more than just a little plain crazy. Will the relationship last?
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A tale with a difference; this story follows the story of Nao, a Japanese teen whose life is falling apart, and Ruth, the woman who finds her diary on the other side of the Pacific. It cleverly weaves in hints of mystery and fantasy into an otherwise contemporary story, pulling you in. Ms. Ozeki writes a very compelling story; I won’t deny that there were a couple of times that my heart was firmly in my throat!
China Dolls by Lisa See
Lisa See is another author on my “Get every book!” list and China Dolls is no disappointment. It juxtaposes the expectations of traditional Asian families against the bright lights of Californian fame with unexpected results. The “dolls” – Grace, Helen and Ruby are each hiding dark secrets; against the historical backdrop of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the secrets don’t stay that way for long.
On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu
We round off this list with a non-fiction selection. On the Noodle Road is a fascinating memoir about the author’s search for the origin of noodles. Starting in her then-current home of Beijing, Jen Lin-Liu takes a cross-continental journey throughout China and Central Asia, heading through Iran and Turkey before ending up in Italy. I found the section of the book on Iran particularly fascinating as it is a country I know very little about. If you are a foodie like me, you will love this book!
I hope that you find something that you love in this list! If you have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them.