Best Asian American Books of 2008

December 30, 2008

Best Asian American Fiction Books of 2008
 Unaccustomed Earth (Alfred A. Knopf) by Jumpha Lahiri
Jumpha Lahiri's third book, and second collection of short stories, was definitely the most successful Asian American book of 2008. It made into the NY Times top five fiction picks, held down the No. 5 spot in Time's list, was on the Publishers Weekly list, No. 39 on Amazon's list and even had a high ranking in the member-voted GoodReads list. Personally, I find Lahiri's beautifully written stories to be a bit forgettable, but the collection's final linked trilogy make the book worth buying. 
• The Boat (Alfred A. Knopf) By Nam Le
Vietnamese Australian writer Nam Le's debut collection of short stories garnered a great deal of attention this year: mentioned on the Publishers Weekly list and the Library Journal list, along with making it to No. 29 on Amazon's Top 100. The majority of Le's collection pointedly refuses to be about the "Asian" experience, which makes the final title story even more crushing and beautiful. 
• The White Tiger (Free Press) By Aravind Adiga
Another Asian Australian, Arvind Adiga's Booker Win was a major surprise (and upset) this year for his debut novel about India's class struggles. The book is also No. 32 on the Amazon list, but didn't make it onto too many other lists, yet with the recent Mumbai terror attacks, the book's homicidal narrator could give some serious insight into the New India. 
• Sea of Poppies (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) by Amitav Ghosh
Much reviewed and Booker nominated, the first of a planned trilogy by Indian writer Amitav Ghosh has to do with a ship transporting laborers to the island of Mauritius. The book made it onto the Publishers Weekly list (and got a nod in Hyphen's Consumption Issue article on Asian American book covers.)
• My Revolutions (Dutton) by Hari Kunzru
The third novel by British writer Kunzru focuses on an ex-'60s radical who is thinking back on his revolutionary days. This book made it to No. 48 on the Amazon list, as well as to the Publishers Weekly list. 
Other Dope Fiction Books By Asians in 2008
Evening is the Whole Day By Preeta Samarsan (Hyphen Short Story Contest Winner and contributor!)
Personal Days by Ed Park 
The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
The Konkans by Tony D'Souza
Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi
A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
Ms Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Best Non-Fiction Books by Asian Americans in 2008
The Post American World (W.W. Norton) by Fareed Zakariah
Newsweek editor and pundit Zakariah tells it like it is about the future of America and the world, and it don't look too shabby. This book made it to the Publishers Week list and ensured Zakariah as a popular commentator on cable news shows. 
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Spiegel & Grau) By Leslie Chang
Former Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Chan followed two teenage girl factory workers over three years of life and hardship. Her book made it onto both Time's list and the Washington Post's.
Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China (Simon & Schuster) by Phillip Pan
Another Washington Post pick, this one was written by the Post's former Beijing bureau chief, and focuses on the stories of 10 or so people who are working to build a more tolerant China. Also mentioned on The Economist's list. 
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Knopf) by Pico Iyer
This intimate portrait of the Dalai Lama by Iyer, who has known him for over 30 years, was a starred review in several publications and made the Washington Post's list. 
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (Twelve) by Jennifer Lee
A book as much about Chinese American cuisine and cooking as about the mythology of the Fortune Cookie, Lee's book made it onto the Library Journal's list. (Lee told Hyphen where the best Chinese restaurants in the world are in the Hybrid Issue.)
Other Dope Non-Fiction Books by Asian Americans in 2008
Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India by Anita Jain
My Gunatanamo Diary: The Detainees and the Stories They Told Me by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan
Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
The Best Children's Book by an Asian American in 2008
Wave (Chronicle Books) by Suzy Lee
This picture book was mentioned on both the School Library Journal's list and the Publishers Weekly list, proving that powerful storytelling can be done without even a word.  

The Best Poetry Books by Asian Americans in 2008
Want (Sarabande Books) by Rick Barot
The Translator's Diary (New Issues Poetry and Prose) by Jon Pineda
The History of Anonymity (University of Georgia Press) by Jennifer Chang
The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga Press) by Neil Aitken



Thanks for this list Neela. I was just thinking that it was time to get some new books. Looks like I have a lot of reading to do!
Thanks for this list Neela. I've been wanting to pick up the new Salman Rushdie.I'd like to suggest one poetry title: DOVEGLION, by Jose Garcia Villa (Penguin Classics, 2008).xo, bjr
Barbara: Yes, we reviewed DOVEGLION in the most recent issue of Hyphen. Thanks for pointing it out!
Has anyone read the graphic novel Skim? It won a NY Times Best Illustrated Book Award and is by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, who contributed to an issue of Hyphen.
I have not, but I was wondering about that ... it was hard to tell which graphic novels were Asian American and which were from Japan. Anyone read any other graphic novels by Asian Americans this year that were especially noteworthy?
Artists these days must also be their own best publicists. Dwight Okita here. I am a third generation Japanese American in Chicago. My first novel THE PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL was notable in 2008. It made it to the Top 3 Novels out of 5,000 in's Breakthrough Novel contest. Its high ranking was the result of customer votes, and decisions by top editors at Penguin. PROSPECT tells of a time in the near future when the first baby will be allowed to preview the world before it decides to be born. Though I didn't win the publishing deal, I did get a talent manager who is actively representing my work. Stay tuned. You can read a chapter from the book on my website: