Love this site? Then you might just love some of my favorite books, which I’ve listed with my own comments. (Note: Titles are linked directly to Amazon, where your purchase helps support Speaking of China. Thanks for your support!)
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Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self by Alex Tizon
Alex Tizon’s new memoir deftly covers many of the popular topics I’ve written about on this blog. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Asian American experience and is a memoir I’ll cherish for years. (Read my interview with the author.)
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This dark story centers on an AMWF family living in 1970s small town America grappling with an unimaginable tragedy, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. (Read my interview with the author.)
On Gold Mountain by Lisa See
This tale of Lisa See’s Chinese-American family encompasses the fascinating and often tragic history of Chinese America itself (including the severe racism that threatened people’s lives). In addition, the story includes a beautiful AMWF interracial relationship at the turn of the 20th century, a time when such marriages were still outlawed.
Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
This powerful book demonstrates how modern racism works in America (a more insidious “colorblind” approach). While Bonilla-Silva makes his case mainly through sociological studies with whites discussing blacks, the message applies to any marginalized group (including Asians). It’s my favorite academic read on the subject of racism in America.
The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs
While it’s an AMWF love story, the heart of this lovely novel centers on the tragic internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as well as issues of racism and discrimination. (Read my interview with the author.)
East Wind: West Wind by Pearl S. Buck
A foreigner in the family? The narrator, a young Chinese woman, tells the story of her brother and his love affair — and eventual marriage — to an American woman in pre-Communist China, when traditional Chinese culture was already being challenged by Western ideas and customs.
Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin
A woman who dared to love Chinese men on screen (and off), as well as Chinese culture. Rachel writes about it all with passion and humor.
Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong by Susan Blumberg-Kason
The true story of Susan’s whirlwind courtship and marriage to Cai, a dashing young Chinese man who turns out to be more trouble than she imagined. It’s a gripping story of how one shy young woman eventually finds the courage to stand up for herself and her family. (Read my interview with the author.)
The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel by Nicole Mones
The best explanation of Chinese food I’ve ever encountered, seasoned with plenty of love (stories). A sumptuous tale of Maggie, a recently widowed American food writer who gets a chopstick-eye view of China with the help of Sam, a half-Chinese, half-American chef in Beijing, while confronting the destructive past her husband left behind from his China love affairs.
Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones
The story of Alice Mannegan, an American translator in China with a thirst for Chinese men, who discovers love — both lost and found — while on an expedition for Peking Man in the Mongolian desert.
In her mid-forties and divorced, the last thing Ellen ever expected was to travel to China and marry a Chinese man she knew for less than a week. But the unspoken connection between then brings this unlikely pair together, and sustains them through the trials and tribulations of their new cross-cultural relationship. While set mainly in the US, this book reveals much about Chinese culture and family life.
Red Azalea by Anchee Min
The Cultural Revolution book to read if you’re burned out by the usual Cultural Revolution stories. The narrative is touching, personal and delves into forbidden loves and desires that most books never speak of. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.
Repeat After Me: A Novel by Rachel DeWoskin
A tale of cross-cultural love between an American girl and a Chinese dissident (and, later China) — and how, when things fall apart, you can find the strength to move forward from unlikely people and places.
Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu
This reads like a Valentine to Shen Fu’s true love, Yun, who tragically passes away before her time, all because of family misunderstandings. A moving, real story from the Qing Dynasty, written by a poor scholar.
Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin
Is it better to have a peaceful, stable — but loveless — marriage, or marry your passionate soulmate? In Waiting, Ha Jin ponders such a choice through characters living during and after the Cultural Revolution — at a time when impropriety in love could mean the loss of everything you had. A touching story that will help you understand some Chinese perspectives about love, romance and marriage.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: Stories by Yiyun Li
Chinese fiction like you’ve never read before. The gay unmarried son, a bisexual Peking Opera singer, a couple with a daughter they hide, and more.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa
Jamie’s story in many respects echoes my own circuitous route to China. Against the wishes of her family (including her grandfather), she heads to Bhutan to teach and soon believes she made a horrible mistake. But her initial culture shock and fears eventually give way to a love affair with an incredibly unique corner of Asia — including her life-changing romance with a local.
Burmese Lessons: A true love story by Karen Connelly
When Karen went to Burma in 1996 for research on the conditions of Burmese political prisoners, love wasn’t on her mind — until she met Maung, a sexy young Burmese revolutionary leader. But this isn’t just a love story, as she beautifully captures her entire experience in this country.
The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson
You might think I’m stretching to mention Willow’s book, which in part captures her love affair and eventual marriage to an Egyptian Sufi Muslim (definitely not Asian). But she had to overcome cultural hurdles and even stereotypes about Arab men (misogynists, sound familiar?) that reminded me of my own journey towards love in China.
Henna for the Broken-hearted by Sharell Cook
When Sharell’s seemingly perfect life in Australia crumbles, she ends up in India as a volunteer worker. It’s rough going initially for her in this new foreign country, until she meets a man who changes the course of her life forever. It’s not just a love story with an Indian man; it’s a love story with India itself.
At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman’s Journey of Discovery by Rebecca Otowa
What comes after “Happily Ever After?” That’s the heart of Rebecca’s book, which explores her 30 years as the foreign housewife of a Japanese man in their 350-year-old farmhouse in Japan’s countryside, a home that you might argue is one of the most important characters in the story. She shares everything from her daily life and family to how the experience has helped her forge a new identity.
Dana truly followed her heart in moving to Vietnam when, in the course of learning the language and later teaching, she landed into an unlikely relationship with a local Vietnamese man. She writes about it with honesty and vulnerability, which made her a delightful narrator, but also captures so much of life in Vietnam that the book also reads like her personal Valentine to the country.
Think gorgeous girls don’t go for Asian men? Then you haven’t met actress and celebrity Diane Farr, who married a Korean-American man and shared her story — and those of many others who crossed racial/cultural/ethnic lines in the name of love — in this humorous read.
Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband by Wendy Tokunaga
I connected so much with the experiences of the women interviewed by Wendy that I almost thought it could have been “Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Chinese Husband.” (Sorry, John.) It’s not one memoir, but more like a collection brought together.
Linda discovered her bliss — and later, her Bhutanese husband — in this oft-overlooked Himalayan country. This magical tale of her relationship with her future husband and his country is filled with moments that will have you laughing out loud.
Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy
Miranda learned that proper women in India ride their scooters sideways — a realization that echoes the heart of her book, an exploration of the many cultural rules and norms that govern women’s lives there, especially love, marriage and family. She dates some Indian men along the way, but reveals so much more through the Indian women she comes to know throughout the story. Her writing also drop-kicks you straight into the hustle and bustle of Indian life and makes for an enjoyable ride.