Joanna’s Picks for Asian Heritage Month
By Joanna Chiu author of China Unbound: A New World Disorder
JOANNA CHIU is an internationally recognized authority on China. For seven years she was based in China as a foreign correspondent, reporting for top news outlets such as Agence France-Presse, The Economist, and Foreign Policy. She is the founder and chair of the NüVoices editorial collective, which celebrates the work of women and non-binary researchers and creatives on the subject of China. She is currently a senior journalist covering global affairs for the Toronto Star. Her first book, China Unbound, is the winner of the 2022 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
House of Anansi’s wide range of books by authors of Asian heritage prioritize substance over stereotypes. As a journalist writing on the hot-button topic of China’s political system and foreign interference, it was a dream to work with Anansi on a book that centered the voices of people of Chinese heritage.
Publishing and translating works with authors of various backgrounds isn’t about checking boxes for diversity; it’s about making sure that a rich array of perspectives are represented on our bookshelves.
While it seems obvious that reading work by those of Asian heritage is a great way to understand countries and cultures that account for 60 percent of the world’s population, in Canada and the U.S., people of Asian heritage are less than 5 percent of published writers.
That’s what a group I volunteer with, NüVoices, is trying to change. Through our podcasts, online magazine, mentorship programs and international events, we celebrate the work of women, non-binary and BIPOC researchers and creatives on the broad subject of China. We’re so grateful that Anansi is partnering with us during Asian heritage month and donating 10 percent of online book sales to our cause.
Here are my picks of books by Anansi authors of East Asian heritage.
Don’t forget to order through the Anansi website in the month of May if you’d like to support two non-profits, NüVoices and the South Asian Women’s Centre in Toronto. (See Anuja Varghese’s picks of South Asian diaspora literature here.)
WE TWO ALONE BY JACK WANG - Set on five continents and spanning nearly a century, this is a masterfully written story collection tracing the long arc and evolution of the Chinese immigrant experience. I found each story deeply moving and engaging, while Wang’s meticulous research means the collection is also a great way to learn about key moments in history.
THE ACCUSATION BY BANDI - Authored by an anonymous writer and smuggled out of North Korea, this is one of the best books I have read on North Korea. Though the vivid stories of ordinary people over the past several decades read like fiction, they also provide a startlingly clear window into life under a totalitarian regime.
KIM JIYOUNG, BORN 1982 BY CHO NAM-JOO - The bestseller that has sold over one million copies internationally, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is widely considered the most important novel to have come out of South Korea since Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. In evoking a lifetime of misogyny, the book sparked a feminist wave in South Korea. Anansi also published the English translation of Cho Nam-Joo’s gripping dystopian mystery, SAHA.
OWLISH BY DOROTHY TSE - A new release this month, Owlish is a fantastically eerie debut novel by the Hong Konger winner of the 2021 PEN/Heim Translation grant. It tells the story of a frustrated literature professor who embarks on an all-consuming love affair in a secret world of an alternate Hong Kong.
For young and young adult readers:
GRANDMOTHER’S VISIT BY BETTY QUAN, ILLUSTRATED BY CARMEN MOK - I was a mess after reading this storybook. The beautiful words and illustrations show the love between a little girl and her grandmother who grew up in China. It’s sure to resonate with anyone who has lost a loved one, while being age-appropriate for kids 4 and up.
RED LAND, YELLOW RIVER BY ANGE ZHANG - This extraordinary and innovatively presented illustrated autobiography for young readers 8 and up tells the amazing true story of artist Ange Zhang as he came of age during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) in China. It’s the only book I’ve found that manages to delicately educate young readers about a harrowing period of time in China. I would recommend it for adults who want an accessible entry to learn about this time period, too, as doing so is crucial for understanding modern Chinese politics and society. Ange’s follow-up, A SONG FOR CHINA, tells the story of his father as a young Chinese author and militant during the period of China’s struggle against Japanese invasion and during World War II.
NOBODY KNOWS BY SHELLEY TANAKA - Based on the award-winning film by Kore-eda Hirokazu, this is a sparsely written and moving novel about four children who are abandoned by their mother in Tokyo and become invisible to almost everyone in their community.