The past three or four years have been instrumental in unpacking what my identity is and who I am on this planet. Welp, that’s a heavy intro to a cosy bookish post! When I unceremoniously moved home from Hong Kong, what struck me most was how comfortable I felt being unapologetically me. Friends and family would remark that I seemed like I’d stepped into myself, grown and flourished, and looking back, that’s absolutely true. Race and identity have always circled on my tongue, lapping at the edges but remaining somewhat of a question in a world where I wasn’t Black or white. And seeking out experiences and stories of fellow first-generation immigrants has helped.
I think what will strike you most is that this introductory reading list is seriously lacking in British-Chinese authors. But hopefully in a few short years, that tide will change. I feel really positively about this, and think that this is just the beginning for fair, equal and better representation of East and South East Asian voices everywhere. To support this cause, please sign this petition and let your voice be heard too.
The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
This thought-provoking and excellently compiled set of essays bring to light the experiences and stories of 21 Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers in the UK. I first read it a few years when it came out, but revisited it again this summer, and it’s one I really recommend reading. For those of us who are hugely underrepresented, it feels like a hug from a mate. Much of the time, even thinking about discrimination or prejudiced experiences that we’ve experienced can leave us feeling gaslit – I know I do. But seeing these stories published in black and white made me feel so seen. It wasn’t on me. The book covers a diverse set of immigrant experiences, and they’re funny, poignant, heart-breaking and authentic. One to read, savour, keep and read again.
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
A non-fiction part-memoir by Korean-American Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings is a great deep-dive into modern life as an Asian American womxn. It wasn’t what I expected, but many of the essays spoke to me and it was really eye-opening to read about experiences in the wider Asian diaspora. Moreover, it’s one of the most topical and talked-about books at the moment, so it’d be brilliant to suggest for book club.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
I mean… need I say more?
Americanah by Chimamande Ngozi Adichie
I’m absolutely besotted with this novel by Ngozi Adichie, and I’m constantly stunned that it took me so long to get round to reading it. I reviewed it properly here, but in short, non-white readers will likely enjoy it for it being a beautiful, non-linear love story that deftly weaves in culture and rich, rich emotion. I’m already excited to revisit this one!
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Yet another non-fiction, All You Can Ever Know is a magical memoir that delicately entangles and untangles race, identity and familial relationships. A Korean adoptee into a white American family, Chung eloquently and graciously shares her life learning about race and finding who she is. What I adored most was Chung’s innate ability to tell stories beyond her own; she’s on the cusp of becoming a mother. She’s honest, unabashedly so, but tender and respectful too.
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
There aren’t enough great things that I can say about my girl Natasha. I’m beyond proud of everything she’s achieved – hello, New York Times №1 bestselling author! – and Girls is the most incredible story. Her ability to conjure creative, immersive fantasy worlds and colourful characters with depth is unrivalled. And I just adore the backdrop of Asian culture, nodding to her Chinese-Malaysian heritage. Much of the book feels like a cosy childhood hug, the other part a magnetising dramatic scope.
The Life of a Banana by PP Wong
Available on Kindle, The Life of a Banana is an emotive fictional look at British-Chinese life in London. It nods to the slur of what people call us, a banana, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I’m yet to read this – hello broken Kindle! – but I’m excited to soon because it will be the first ever novel I’ll have read by a fellow British-Chinese.
Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang
Eddie Huang’s literary ode to the Fresh Off the Boat is a compelling, funny and emotive read. If you’re not much of a ‘reader’, then I think this would be perfect. It’s light-hearted in many passages and maybe one of the more relatable reads in this list. Again, it’s from an Asian American perspective, but one that’s keenly memorable and evocative of my own experiences.
Let me know if you read any of these books. And, if you know of any I’d enjoy about the Asian diaspora.