Reading books by authors from different backgrounds and countries is a fantastic way to expose yourself to new ideas and concepts. These books by Asian authors are both educational and simply fantastic reads.
1. Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco
When Crispin Salvador turns up dead in the Hudson River, his apprentice, Miguel, must travel to Manila to find Crispin’s last manuscript. Along the way, Miguel looks into the life of his mentor in order to unearth details of his death. In doing so, Miguel digs up a rich history of the Philippines dating back four generations. We are then inadvertently taken down a long journey through the history of the Philippines to modern day. Written in the style of a noir thriller, Miguel Syjuco also slips in a critique of Filipino society.
2. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry
The complicated nuances and taboos of the Indian caste system are laid bare in this romance by Cyrus Mistry. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer follows a young man as he falls in love with a corpse bearer. Thus begins a forbidden relationship between the boy, whose father is a priest, and a girl he’s not supposed to acknowledge. Normally invisible in Indian society, corpse bearers are treated very poorly. Mistry masterfully uses this story to explore the inequities of social norms in India and the damage they cause.
3. Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu
The Cultural Revolution was one of the brutal humanitarian tragedies in recent memory. Bi Feiyu explores the experiences of the common man, or in this case woman, in Three Sisters. Chronicling the journey of three women as they navigate the perils of the Chinese patriarchy, Feiyu perfectly captures the difficulties of surviving during the Cultural Revolution.
4. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The economic growth of India has lead to a struggle between cultural identity and a changing reality. Aravind Adiga seeks to explore this conflict through the story of a young man who works as a driver for a wealthy family. The driver, Balram Halwai, is used as a mechanism to explore the various contradictions in Indian society laid bare to him by his job. This international sensation does a great job of portraying the struggle for identity on an individual and national level in the modern era.
5. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Set in the aftermath of WWII and the beginning of the conflict between British forces and Chinese communists in Malaya, Tan Twan Eng crafts a story of two people recovering from their own scars of WWII. Yun Ling Teoh wants to memorialize her sister while imperial gardener Arimoto is in exile for unknown reasons. Eventually their pasts are laid bare as both characters attempt to free themselves of the guilt that haunts them.
6. Goat Days by Benyamin
Originally published in 2008, Goat Days still speaks to everyone 9 years later. The novel follows Najeeb as he strives to earn enough money to support his family, only to wind up tending to goats. Najeeb deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness that many far away from home will be able to relate to. This award winning novel also examines the state of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, and all its bitter realities.
7. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami blends surrealism with critiques of modern society in his trademark fashion with this modern classic. Murakami uses the story of Aomame and Tengo to complete an imaginative story arc. Murakami also explores the strange and tangled web that connects the two, mirroring the ways in which people in the real world are bound. In the tradition of George Orwell, Murakami gets the reader to question where we are in time and where society is headed.
8. Please Look After Mother by Shin Kyung-Sook
Normally when a mother becomes separated from her family after being disoriented on a train, a family worries a little bit, then meets up at the next station. In Shin Kyung-Sook’s Please Look After Mother, the titular mother’s disappearance sparks a series of self-reflections. As the family searches for her, they each must question how well they know each other. Kyung-Sook’s family tale is a fantastic exploration into the modern Korean family, and the challenges most families face today.
9. The Boat to Redemption by Su Tong
The higher you climb, the harder you fall. That is what Secretary Ku learns once everyone in town learns he is the son of a pirate and prostitute. Although he refuses to step down, he mocked by all in the village and is not respected the same way. Ku and his son both begin to shun public life to cope with the embarrassment. With this novel, Tong shows that these characters are imprisoned as much by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) as they are by society itself.
10. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
Jiang Rong explores a region of China often forgotten by many: the Mongolian Steppe. The novel follows the Chinese intellect Chen Zhen as he moves to the Steppe on a voluntary basis. There he discovers a place where man still maintains a spiritual relationship with nature and nature is more balanced. However, as China begins to modernize, he witnesses the destructive nature of the machine that is Chinese capitalism.
In this day and age it has become increasingly important that people be exposed to different voices and world views. Reading novels by these authors is a good start.
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Featured image via On The Other Side Of The Eye
h/t The Culture Trip