8 Novels about Asia you should read in 2014

If you are anything like me, you never read enough fiction.
Whenever I force myself to sit down with a good piece of fiction I almost always enjoy myself, and I wonder “Why don’t I do this more often?”
I read a lot of non-fiction about Asia – at least ten or so new books each year about some aspect of religion, philosophy, economics, history or anthropology. I have always been fascinated by Asia, and like to educate myself as much as possible about the various rich and complex cultures across this region. While reading the books on this list I was reminded that often a fiction writer can you take you that little bit deeper, can reveal different things that a work of non-fiction ever can. So here are the novels about Asia that I think are essential reading in 2014:

1.    Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan – A fascinating look at the super rich of Singapore and China, Kevin Kwan’s campy romp is actually incredibly insightful and offers an insider view into worlds that most Western readers don’t even know exist. I loved his subtle observations about the function of religion in Chinese high-society. Kevin knows what he’s talking about, and he’s a very charming man to boot.

2.    The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie – Set in 17th century India, The Pagoda Tree offers lashings of fascinating information about colonial-era India, the intricacies of Shiva worship in Southern India and the intriguing world of the Devadasi, young women consecrated as brides of the Gods and destined for a life of temple dancing. A fantastic read that sweeps you along. Claire is the author of the legendary travel memoir Last Seen in Lhasa.

3.    On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee – Though set in a dystopian futire in America, On Such a Full Sea is really about Chinese neo-colonialism, the shifts of global populations and questions of race and belonging and is quite unique. If you have never read Lee before you are in for a treat.

4.    The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness – Japanese folklore meets modern romance, The Crane Wife was a revelation for me, and quite magical. It’s complex and quite mysterious, but its unusual structure never jars. An interesting use of a Japanese aesthetic.

5.    Pearl of China by Anchee Min – I love Anchee Min’s work, and find her books immensely engaging and terrific reads. I have recommended her to hundreds of people, and have never had a single person tell me they didn’t like her. Pearl of China is about that most fascinating sinophile Pearl S. Buck, whose reputation has been so unexpectedly resurrected. This time the story is told from the point of view of a Chinese girl. Anything Min touches is gold, and this book is no different.

6.    Tiger Girl by May-lee Chai – This is a book about the Asian-American experience, a YA novel about a young Cambodian-American trying to reconnect with her mysterious father. Ostensibly a sequel to Chai’s earlier YA masterpiece Dragon Chica, the story of Tiger Girl is so refreshingly new and unique, presenting a vision of Cambodian-Chinese life in regional America that reads as utterly true and completely compelling.

7.    Small Indiscretions by Felicity Castagna – I have reviewed this book elsewhere, but I think it deserves to be read by all readers, but particularly Australian ones. Castagna’s lonely women narrators experience small and bewildering moments in a series of short stories set in various parts of Asia. A truly pan-Asian backpacking chronicle of real literary worth, it is honest, brave and constantly surprising.

8.    Fishing for Tigers by Emily Maguire – Another one I have reviewed more fully elsewhere, this offers a unique insight into expat life in Hanoi in the 21st century. Another surprising perspective that is also occasionally quite sexy, Maguire’s voice adds to the myriad of Western voices exploring the interactions between idealistic (and more than occasionally lost) travelers seeking to reinvent themselves in Asia, and the puzzled, uncomprehending locals they encounter.


Karin said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Walter! I've already read (and enjoyed) a couple of these, but as a fellow Asia-phile have now put the rest of them in my wish list. May I also recommend anything by Shamini Flint (a Singapore-based crime writer), if you're a fan of mystery novels?

All the best for 2014!

Walter Mason said...

Karin - thank you so much for your recommendation - I will definitely look up Shamini Flint - love discovering someone new!

Many blessings to you - hope this year is filled with fabulous things!

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