20 Travel Books by Asian and Pacific Islander Authors to Read This AAPI Heritage Month and Beyond
Travel is a fundamental part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience. That's due in large part to the fact that so much of the community arrived in the U.S. after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which did away with prior quotas based on national origin that severely restricted immigrants from Asia for decades. Approximately 57% of Asian Americans were born outside the U.S., meaning the majority traveled here from somewhere else, or their parents or grandparents did. We're used to looking at our surroundings from a different perspective, and that makes for compelling storytelling.
Here are 20 books by Asian and Pacific Islander authors that center on travel or evoke a strong sense of place.
1. "Hiroshima in the Morning" by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
In the months before 9/11, author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto went to Japan in search of a deeper understanding of her war-torn heritage. Woven into the story of her awakening are the tales of Hiroshima in the survivors' own words, exploring the role of memory in our lives.
For more information: rahnareikorizzuto.com
2. "Almost American Girl" by Robin Ha
A vacation to Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation for Seoul-raised teen Robin. The graphic novel is a profoundly moving memoir about immigration, belonging, and how art can save a life.
For more information: robinha81.wixsite.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $12
3. "Crying in H-Mart" by Michelle Zauner
A beautiful story of family, food, grief, and endurance, the indie-rock star known as Japanese Breakfast tells of growing up as one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon, and of treasured months spent in her grandmother's tiny apartment in Seoul. It's an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing one's mother, and forging an identity.
4. "Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes" by Christine Mari Inzer
In 2013, the summer before turning 16, author Christine Mari Inzer returned to Tokyo, taking a solo journey to get reacquainted with her birthplace. The resulting graphic novel is a unique look at modern-day Japan through a young woman's eyes.
For more information: christinemari.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $14
5. "Two Trees Make a Forest" by Jessica J. Lee
A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads British-Canadian writer Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. This memoir incorporates history, travel, and nature to show how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.
For more information: jessicajleewrites.com
6. "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home" by Kim Sunée
Born in South Korea and adopted and raised in New Orleans, Kim Sunée finds herself living in France at age 22. This memoir follows her as she cooks her way into many makeshift homes and discovers that familiar flavors are the antidote to a lifetime of wandering.
For more information: kimsunee.com
7. "My Year Abroad" by Chang-Rae Lee
A Chinese American entrepreneur brings an average American college student along on a boisterous trip across Asia, pulling him into a series of extreme and eye-opening experiences that shape his world view. It's an exuberant, provocative story about a young American life transformed by an Asian adventure.
8. "Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago" by Luis H. Francia
Cross-cutting between Luis Francia's recollections of the Philippines of his youth and accounts of his travels through the archipelago over two decades, this is a vivid and detailed portrait of the terror, beauty, and insistent humanity of the country.
For more information: kaya.com
9. "If I Had Your Face" by Frances Cha
This debut novel set in contemporary Seoul focuses on four young women making their way in a world defined by impossible beauty standards, after-hours room salons catering to wealthy men, ruthless social hierarchies, and K-pop mania. It's a potent and provocative rendering of contemporary South Korean society.
For more information: francescha.com
10. "You Bring the Distant Near" by Mitali Perkins
This multigenerational story trails five women as they move from India to England to America, navigating their racial identity, cultural differences, and familial duty in a new world.
For more information: mitaliperkins.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $10
11. "Things We Lost to the Water" by Eric Nguyen
This impressive debut novel spans three decades in the life of a Vietnamese immigrant family who settles in New Orleans and struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped.
For more information: ericpnguyen.com
12. "The Marvelous Mirza Girls" by Sheba Karim
To cure her post-senior year slump, Noreen decides to follow her mom on a gap-year trip to New Delhi in this thoughtful and hilarious new novel about a teen facing family expectations, relationship complications, and hidden secrets in a new country.
For more information: shebakarim.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $17
13. "Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel Owners and the American Dream" by Pawan Dhingra
Indian Americans own about half of all the motels in the United States, and this book explains the intriguing fact that most of these motel owners come from the same region in India and 70% of them share the surname Patel (though they are not all related). Amherst College professor Pawan Dhingra questions whether these motel owners are symbols of the American dream or of persistent discrimination and inequity.
For more information: pawanhdhingra.com
14. "The Gangster We Are All Looking For" by Lê Thi Diem Thúy
In 1978, six refugees — a girl, her father, and four so-called uncles — were pulled from the sea to begin a new life in San Diego. This acclaimed novel reveals the life of a Vietnamese family in America through the knowing eyes of a child finding her place and voice in a new country.
15. "Afterland" by Mai Der Vang
"Afterland" is a powerful collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang tells the story of her own family and, in the process, provides an essential history of the Hmong culture's ongoing resilience in exile.
For more information: maidervang.com
16. "Insurrecto" by Gina Apostol
Two women, a Filipino translator and an American filmmaker, go on a road trip in Duterte's Philippines, collaborating and clashing in writing a film script about a massacre during the Philippine-American War. Within the spiraling voices and narrative layers of "Insurrecto" are stories of women finding their way to their truths and histories.
For more information: ginaapostol.com
17. "This Is Paradise: Stories" by Kristiana Kahakauwila
Kristiana Kahakauwila's debut short story collection travels the islands of Hawaii, exploring the deep tensions between locals and tourists, tradition and expectation, and façade and authentic self.
For more information: kristianakahakauwila.com
18. "Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei" by David Mura
Award-winning poet David Mura's critically acclaimed memoir chronicles how a year in Japan transformed his sense of self and pulled into sharp focus his complicated inheritance. It's a classic meditation on difference and assimilation, and a valuable window into life in Japan.
For more information: davidmura.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $13
19. "96 Words for Love" by Rachel Roy and Ava Dash
Raya decides to spend her summer before college at the Indian ashram where her grandparents fell in love — and where she hopes to find answers to her future — in this modern retelling of a romantic Indian legend.
For more information: lbyr.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $18
20. "The Reeducation of Cherry Truong" by Aimee Phan
Twenty-one-year-old Cherry travels from Southern California to Vietnam to reunite with her brother and uncovers her family's decades-old secrets along the way. Set in Vietnam, France, and the United States, this sweeping debut novel reveals a family still yearning for reconciliation, redemption, and a place to call home.
For more information: us.macmillan.com
To buy: bookshop.org, $21
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