Written By Guest Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Song
“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Song, who will be writing for the site reviewing books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Australia and from other parts of the world.
The premise of my book review column is that Asian people read (see first review here). That we know good books and great literature – so the publishing industry shouldn’t ignore us because we are the consumers!
With this in mind, I always end my reviews by ‘Buy this book as a gift to…’ So, for this holiday season, here’s a bookish shopping list to spread your Asian-Australian Christmas cheer.
The Classics of our time
- How to stay sane in an age of division by Elif Shafak (Non-Fiction; short)
Decades from now, when you sit your children and grandchildren down to tell them about how it all went down in 2020, will they believe you? You lived through the bushfires, the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the US elections – each reaching a crisis point of its own. Shafak – the most read female author in Turkey and a celebrated global intellectual – says, “what we are going through is also a crisis of meanings” (p. 37). As you wade through the ‘whys’ of this year, Shafak will shine a light in your darkness and her writing will give you the answers.
Instead of cancelling 2020, read this book! Buy it for those (still) searching for hope and wisdom in our crazy world.
- How much of these hills is gold by C Pam Zhang (Fiction)
This debut novel made headlines in 2020 and will be celebrated for many years to come. Longlisted for the Booker Prize, two Chinese American sisters are the protagonists in this absorbing work of fiction set against the backdrop of the American Gold Rush in the 1800s. Written by a Chinese American author, the themes in this book transcend time.
Buy it for aspiring BIPOC writers (this book sets the gold standard in storytelling) or anyone who simply needs a good book to help heal from scars of grief and injustice.
- Minor Feelings: A Reckoning of Race and the Asian Condition by Cathy Park Hong (Non-Fiction)
The ‘microracism’ we experience everyday is often expressed as ‘a death by a thousand cuts’. In this important book, Hong gives this hard to pin down emotion a name: minor feelings. She explores the concept of ‘Asian American consciousness’ in poetic prose, true to her training as a published poet. Reading this book, you will feel more human living as a racial minority in this Western world we call home.
Buy it for your friends who’ve ever felt different, foreign, dismissed and ashamed of being Asian. They are not alone.
Lest we forget – our history, our stories, for the ones no longer here.
- How we disappeared by Jing Jing Lee (Fiction)
In this faithfully researched novel about “comfort women” (women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II), the author Jing Jing Lee is so competent in her storytelling craft that she brings to life Singapore’s survivors of war without leaving you haunted by its scars.
Buy it for the history buffs who learn from the past – lest we forget those pained and perished in war.
- Your house will pay by Steph Cha (Fiction)
“Put yourself in their shoes” – it is easier said than done, especially when a young girl has been killed by one of your own. But in writing this fictionalised story of the two families involved in Soon Ja Du’s shooting of Latasha Harlins during the LA Riots in 1991, Steph Cha achieves this with rhetorical empathy. Published before Black Lives Matter, it will help you understand why Koreans and Asians took to the streets in solidarity with George Floyd (and why Sandra Oh wore that purple jacket with ‘Black Lives Matter’ embroidered in Korean for the virtual Emmy’s).
Buy it for your Korean parents, read it to and with them, and for your Black friends – it’s for dialogue, for the airing out of our chequered history, for us to (finally) come together.
- Stranger Country by Monica Tan (Non-Fiction)
If Sex and the City is a love letter to New York, Stranger Country is an ode to Indigenous Australia. Winner of the 2020 Northern Territory Chief Minister’s Book Awards, Monica Tan’s solo travel through Australia will let you go (spiritually, politically and physically) where you have not been before and where you have not dared to go alone.
Buy it for anyone with a wanderlust for a road trip to the ‘outback’.
- The Yield by Tara June Winch (Fiction)
After reading the reviews of this book, the 2020 winner of the Miles Franklin award (one of Australia’s most prestigious literary prizes) I wondered: what took so long for Australia to celebrate a book like this? A story by a Wiradjuri author, The Yield is about a dying grandfather leaving behind the inheritance of culture; and a granddaughter returning home to face loss, grief and a newfound purpose. This is the only book I’m putting on the list without having read it myself because it screams out ‘essential reading’ for book lovers in Australia.
Buy it for…yourself! This book is a gift to myself for Christmas. As I inhale the ‘new book smell’ from its first pages, my heart leaps with anticipation – I can’t wait to get swept up in this novel!
- After Australia edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Fiction; Anthology)
This is a collection of fifteen stories by Australian indigenous writers and writers of colour. The premise of the anthology is enticing – what does Australia look like in the year 2050, according to them? The timing of this book is so right it is almost clairvoyant (spoiler alert: there is a piece titled “White Flu” by Omar Sakr about a pandemic!). You will be blown away by the quality of writing in this book. The future of Australian literature looks bright.
Buy for anyone who loves Australia and wants to call truce on our dogged history wars. If you want Australia to be more tolerant, more beautiful, more honest, read this book.
These Korean men write
- Eat a Peach by David Chang and Gabe Ulla (Non-fiction)
This is for David Chang – the celebrity chef – fans and critics alike. You will find an authentic memoir that explores the father-son relationship in a Korean-American context as well as a masculine insight into living with mental illness.
Buy it for good boys behaving badly and the big foodies in your life.
- How to write an autobiographical novel by Alexander Chee (Non-fiction)
As the saying goes, there is at least one book in everyone, and that goes for immigrants and people of colour too. But how do you write a great book – a work of literature – based on your life? This collection of Chee’s essays, published over many years, will give you something to aspire to. Read this and you will be taken into a lyrical navigation of his student days at Iowa Writers Workshop, HIV/AIDS activism in San Francisco and identity issues as a gay man, a Korean man and a writer. This was my Christmas read last year gifted to me by writer Alice Pung. And while I’d happily read it again, this Christmas, it’s your turn.
Buy it for a kindred spirit – an activist, a creative, a diligent dreamer who values fine writing.
This Korean woman reads
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Images via Amazon and provided