10 Notable Asian American Books of 2011

December 14, 2011

Our Hyphen books section writers read everything. Seriously. And if the book is calling Asian America's name, we are so on it. So it should come as no surprise that we are the last word on the most notable Asian American books of 2011. Skeptical? Go ahead and get your hands on the books below. Read 'em, gift 'em, and prove us right. Or prove us wrong by adding your comments and picking your own faves. Go ahead, we double-dog dare you. 


Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

A raucous tale of a Hawaiian pageant
runner-up who wins an all-expenses paid trip to the Philippines. Full review here.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie

 An exquisitely lyrical narrative
that follows the lives of Japanese picture brides from their San Francisco
arrival to their banishment to internment camps in 1942. Full review here.

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park

A doomed love story set in 1960s
Korea that ponders the roads not taken. Full review here.



The Origins of Political Order: From
Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
by Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama draws from a vast number of
fields to produce an expansively-researched yet accessible history of political
systems over the past 10,000 years. Gathering examples from ancient China,
India, the Muslim world and Christian Europe leading to the American and French
Revolutions, the book inquires into why certain governments adopted by certain
civilizations failed and why others succeeded. Fukuyama observes that a well-functioning
modern political order results from a combination of a strong state, rule of
law, and accountable government. He warns that while the US currently
balances all three aspects successfully, its demise may still eventually occur
as a result of rigidity and failure to adjust to changing circumstances.
Interestingly, the book holds bipartisan views, extolling a conservative
capitalism alongside the liberal support of strong government.

A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl
Lu-Lien Tan 

A poignant and humorous reflection on food, family, and
home. Full review here.

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

In the most comprehensive account of
the painter’s life yet, Naifeh and Smith enrich Van Gough’s reputation beyond mere
madman genius and explore in great depth the development of his rich artistic
and personal life. Mining the 6-volume edition of 900 letters recently released
by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the authors proffer several new speculations
regarding the artist’s brief 37 years, from why he cut off his ear
after a falling out with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, to how he might have died
(not by suicide but by a bullying teenager’s gunshot). Also included are
analyses of Van Gogh’s works, along with a finely traced history of an artist hungrily
determined to expand his knowledge and reach, as the book charts his learning
from pointillism, Japanese prints and symbolism, to his reading of writers as
varied as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Eliot. 



Dhaka Dust by Dilruba Ahmed

A cosmopolitan examination of
multiple states of belonging. Full review here.



Zahra's Paradise by Amir &

A scathing political commentary on
the state of Iran after the 2009 protests, featuring a mother and brother search
of a missing university student. Full review here.

Vietnamerica by GB Tran

A moving, full-color memoir about
the artist's recovery of family roots in Vietnam. Full review here.



Inside Out & Back Again by
Thanhha Lai

Hà’s life faces upheaval when her family is forced to flee Vietnam at the close
of the war as the Communists take over. Inside
Out & Back Again
, a novel-in-verse which won the National Book Award for
Young People’s Literature, charts the year-long course that Hà, her mother, and
three older brothers traverse as they live out their last idyllic days in Saigon,
travel by sea to a refugee camp in Guam, and adjust to their new home in
Alabama. Lai creates a delightful character in intelligent, precocious Hà who
keenly senses and describes the turmoil around her in direct, matter-of-fact
speech which resists pity or sentimentality. A true poet, Lai’s love and talent
for language are matched only by her deft rendering of the complexity within a
child’s thoughts and feelings. A great read for everyone, both kids and adults. 



Abigail Licad


Abigail Licad is one big FOB and damn proud of it. She grew up in the Philippines and immigrated to San Leandro, CA at age 13.  She has a BA from University of California, Berkeley and a master's degree in literature from Oxford University. Her poetry and book reviews have appeared in Calyx, Borderlands, The Critical Flame, and the LA Times, among othersShe has formerly served as Hyphen's editor in chief.



Um, Francis Fukuyama? RIRRY??
Chicagoan Dwight Okita's debut novel THE PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL was published just months ago. So it may not have appeared yet on Asian American radars. Okita is also known as a poet. This somewhat sci-fi book is about a human embryo allowed to preview the world before deciding whether to be born. http://amzn.to/ozbXC4 Below is a review from Joni Rodgers, author of Bald in the Land of Big Hair and Hurricane Lover, New York Times bestselling author: One of my favorite reads of 2011: Dwight Okita's strange and wonderful The Prospect of My Arrival. I loved this book. The premise is genius, and the beautiful writing totally delivered the goods. I was intrigued when I saw the trailer. This book is...quirky and delicious. Like ice cream with bacon. But it's also profoundly uncomfortable in places. One moment two loving parents are tucking their child in under a magical lit up ferris wheel mural, the next moment something incredibly dark unfolds. What keeps you reading is the austerely lovely writing and a compulsion to find out what Prospects decision will be when he's presented with the choice to live - or not - in this world that weaves magical realism with dystopian surrealism. One particular passage that, for me, perfectly sums up THE PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL: Prospect asks his mother what happens in the Tunnel of Love, and she says, "It's just a sweet little ride that takes you to a dark place. After a while you get so turned around, you forget what's happening in the world around you. But eventually you come out into the bright light again. The cars are shaped like big swans." Yeah. What she said. Dwight Okita has committed a valiant act of poetry here, and yes, he pulls it off.