Only a handful of Western women wrote about their love affairs with Chinese men (such as those I’ve recommended on this list). But I’ve found new women to call my Jiemei (that’s sisters in Chinese), thanks to the many memoirs I’ve discovered about Western women who found love in Asia (and beyond). In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8), I’d like to salute and recommend these literary sisters.
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 struggling artists and writers she meets, the monks who pull her out of dangerous situation one evening and send her home with crackers, the family in the countryside who helps her understand the state of family planning, her interview with Aung San Suu Kyi.
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. Much of the story also revolves around her conversion to and relationship with Islam, as well as her unique feminist perspective on living in the Middle East. Still, the book exudes a wisdom far beyond Willow’s youth and is definitely worth a read.
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.
The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam by Dana Sachs. 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.
Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After by Diane Farr. 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. This is a quick read, super-affordable at $2.99 (it’s an e-book), and one any yangxifu or yangxifu-hopeful will enjoy.
Married to Bhutan: How One Woman Got Lost, Said “I Do,” and Found Bliss by Linda Leaming. 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. Even better, the Kindle version only costs $1.79, which makes it one of the most affordable reads on this list (the best $1.79 I ever spent on a book).
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.
What memoirs did I miss? What would you recommend?