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Tag Archives: AAPI
Today, we are looking at another memoir of a woman who is grieving the loss of her mother. But unlike our last Spotlight, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy, Michelle Zauner’s relationship with her mother was tender and precocious despite their differences. Her memoir, Crying in H Mart, having spent 55 weeks on the New York Times’s bestseller list, is Zauner’s story of returning to her hometown of Eugene, Oregon, to be by her mother’s side as she succumbs to cancer. Her loss inspired Zauner’s debut studio album, Psychopomp. The album was highly praised, and since then, Zauner has reached commercial success, being named one of Time Magazine’s most influential innovators in 2022.
Michelle was always told that 25 would be an important year for her. After all, it is when her mother, Chongmi, met and married Michelle’s father, an American living in Korea for work. For Michelle, 25 was the year cancer slowly took her mother’s life. As a first-generation Korean-American, Michelle did not have the easiest time growing up. Between facing racism from her peers and pressure from her mother to be the perfect daughter, Michelle poured her heart into creative passions like music and writing. When Chongmi was diagnosed with cancer, Michelle was in a creative and financial rut. Her band at the time wasn’t reaching much success, and her day jobs consisted of whatever part-time gigs she could manage. So when the diagnosis came, she dropped everything to attend to her ailing mother, hoping to repair the bond between them and repay her for the unending love and care she didn’t cherish when she was younger. Throughout the memoir, Zauner attempts to nourish her and her mother’s relationship while nourishing their bodies through learning to cook Korean food.
Crying in H Mart explores the bonds between food, culture, and family. While a strict parent, Zauner’s mother expressed her love in subtle ways, such as preparing traditional meals. Having found comfort and safety in these meals, Zauner learns to cook them for her mother as a quiet way to repay her for the life she was given. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, her mother was Zauner’s only connection to her Korean side, so she finds herself inexplicably lost when she realizes there is no one left to help keep this half of herself alive. She contemplates how children of immigrants often feel a need to become Americanized to fit in, which leads to polarization or loss of the cultural heritage that their parents represent.
It’s not often that a book comes with a built-in soundtrack, and I highly recommend listening to Psychopomp for a whole reading experience. The album, named after entities that are said to shepherd souls to the afterlife, revolves around Zauner’s mother and her final days, featuring Chongmi on the album cover and her voice in the title song comforting Michelle. This multimedia experience is an excellent way for Book Club Groups to delve into the different ways we grieve, our interpersonal relationships, and how creativity and beauty can blossom from pain.
If you’re interested in requesting Crying in H Mart for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 5 copies available. (A librarian must request items)
Zauner, Michelle. Crying in H Mart. Vintage Books. 2021.
We’re diving right into celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by spotlighting The Namesake by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri! Raised in America by Bengali immigrants, Lahiri was expected to embrace her heritage from an early age. And Lahiri’s writing draws on her experiences as a first-generation Indian-American focusing on the immigration experience and the effect of cultural displacement. Mostly known for writing collections of short stories, The Namesake was her first novel and received the New Yorker Debut of the Year award and the PEN/Hemingway Award.
Spanning a total of 35 years, we open in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where newlywed and newly American immigrant Ashima Ganguli awaits for the birth of her son. She is nervous about giving birth in a foreign country, far away from her family in Calcutta. Even though Ashima’s arranged marriage to Ashoke Ganguli is going well, she is often left to navigate the unfamiliar world and culture on her own. Like most immigrant parents, Ashima and Ashoke raise their American-born children with the hope of keeping a piece of home alive through them. The family eats Indian food, celebrates Hindu holidays with other Bengali families, and takes yearly trips home to Calcutta. But Calcutta is not their children’s home, and it’s certainly not Gogol’s. As he grows, we follow their son, named after Russian writer Gogol, as he tries to find his place in the world, ideally independent of his Indian-American label. Despising the name its foreignness, he attempts to cut all ties with it and beings to go by the writer’s first name, Nikolai, instead. In changing his name to something less noticeable, he hopes to obfuscate his Indian upbringing and heritage. But his problems are more complex and follow him through young adulthood. When his father dies suddenly, Gogol, now legally Nikolai, has to reckon his love for his family and culture with his attempts to push it away and assimilate. He must find a way to reconcile both his cultural and self-identity together, honoring both but not letting either completely take over.
This family saga follows the Ganguli family, as each member experiences their immigrant experience differently in attempts to find that perfect balancing act between childhood and independence. Lahiri emphasizes this struggle in The Namesake through the meaning and strength we have in our names. She discusses how in India, each person has two names, a “pet name” the family uses and a “good name” fit for school and formal occasions. And how these family names can be a home and culture in themselves, making Gogol’s hatred of his name a dismissal of his parents’ culture and, to a lesser extent, themselves. A thoughtful read for any adult book club, Lahiri writes a beautiful and quiet portrait of the Indian immigrant experience in a way universally understood by anyone who has felt as if they have been pulled in two separate directions by what’s expected of him and what they aspire to become.
If you’re interested in requesting The Namesake for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 15 copies available (A librarian must request items)
To see more of our Asian American/ Pacific Islander Book Club Kits, visit the link here.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Mariner Books. 2004.
In today’s spotlight, we will continue our look back to the historic American frontier and the people who shaped it. If you, like me, grew up in the early 2000s, chances are you’ve read a book by Linda Sue Park. Her Newberry Award Winning novel, A Single Shard and Project Mulberry, were some of my absolute favorite books in middle school, and I was over the moon to learn that she is still writing! Our book today, Prairie Lotus, is a new addition to our collection and is the most recent in Linda Sue Park’s bibliography. Being a 2021-22 Golden Sower Novel Nominee, Prairie Lotus has also earned a Children’s Literature Award Honor from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. In addition to being an esteemed author, Park is the founder and curator of Allida Books (a HarperCollins imprint) and a board member for the non-profit We Need Diverse Books and the Rabbit hOle museum project.
At the beginning of Prairie Lotus, Hanna has three goals, graduate from school, become a dressmaker, and make a real friend. As pioneers, she and her father have been traveling across the west for quite some time when they end up in the small Dakota Territory town of LaForge. Hanna is especially excited to live in town so she can finally attend a real school, just like her late mother dreamed of her doing. But, unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Despite being intelligent and resourceful, Hanna is half-Chinese and faces a lot of discrimination from the white settlers who try to stop her from going to school or even running errands. Refusing to give in to their hate, Hanna now has to figure out how to still graduate from school, prepare for the opening of her father’s store, and keep up with her household chores, all the while dealing with the cruelty from the townsfolk. And she has the strong spirit of the American frontier and the strength of her mother in her corner.
Like The Birchbark House, Prairie Lotus is perfect for young (or adult) readers interested in reading about early American history from a fresh perspective. Exploring life in this pioneer community, we are shown the strength and daily life of the women who settled in the West, and the life of the local Indigenous women, specifically from the Ihanktonwan (Yankton Sioux) tribe. The story purposefully reads similarly to Little House on the Prairie and is heavily influenced by the series (you’ll even see some familiar faces). As a daughter of Korean immigrants, Park says, “Hanna’s story is in many respects a kind of ‘conversation’ with the iconic Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I spent hours imagining that I too lived on the frontier in the 1800s, and that I was Laura’s best friend”. And Park makes no mistake that she wrote the story as a way for her to come to terms with a story she loves while also challenging its more problematic history, which is discussed more in the Author’s Note at the end of the book.
More by Linda Sue Park:
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. There are 10 copies available (Items must be requested by a librarian)
Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus. Harper Collins. 2020
For our last spotlight of Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d bring a brand new addition to our Book Club Collection; The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent currently living in California, and her most recent novel, The Night Tiger, is a NYT bestseller and a Reese’s Book Club pick.
The Ghost Bride takes place in 1890s Malaya (now Malaysia), where people of all backgrounds intermingled under British rule. The Chinese population work to hold onto their ancient traditions, especially those involving death. According to these traditions, unpleased spirits, or those who had no death rites performed, linger in our world and can cause trouble for the living. When their son dies, the wealthy and powerful Lim family look to Lin Lan to placate his soul by asking her to be Lim Tian’s bride in a rare ghost marriage. Unfortunately for Li Lan, ghosts are real, and she must travel through the Chinese afterlife to rid herself of her specter and this marriage.
Perfect for a YA or an adult book club, the Ghost Bride is a coming-of-age novel that melds a murder mystery, historical fiction, fantasy, and a bit of supernatural romance. Throughout the story, readers learn about ancient Chinese traditions, how influences of the West changed their society, and the never ending bureaucracy of the afterlife. With the aid of the Notes section, readers can learn even more about the history of ghost marriages, Chinese notions of the afterlife, and other historical notes of life in Chinese in Southeast Asia. It was also recently adapted into a Malaysian-language Netflix series which looks incredible, and I will absolutely have to binge the it this weekend.
If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.
To see more of our Asian American/ Pacific Islander Book Club Kits, visit the link here.
In order to kick off Asian American & Pacific Islander month, I thought I’d spotlight The Henna Artist, written by Indian immigrant Alka Joshi. This story enraptured me completely, which is in no small part thanks to the incredible audiobook narrator, Sneha Mathan.
The Henna Artist, set in 1950’s Jaipur, India, is a story of run-away Lakshmi who fled her abusive marriage and is now a henna artist to the upper class. While she paints the ladies’ hands, she provides herbal remedies to both the men and women she services. Suddenly finding herself in charge of a 13-year-old sister she never knew she had, the life she worked so hard for comes to a crashing halt. Lakshmi’s story is fiction, but her perseverance, love for her family, and her culture’s art and medicine are far from the realm of fantasy. Here, Joshi presents a reimagining of what her mother’s life could have been if she had been given the opportunity to shape her own destiny.
No stranger to book clubs, this title was featured in Reese Witherspoon’s book club at its debut in 2020. Always an evergreen topic, body autonomy is at the heart of this novel, as well as a diverse and colorful portrait of Indian culture. This book is perfect for adults, and vivacious young adults who are ready to face these conversations head-on and talk about their own experiences and viewpoints.
If you’re worried about your knowledge of India going into this book, do not fret! Our copies at the commission all include a list of characters, a glossary of terms, information about the Caste System in India, the history of and recipe for Henna, and some food recipes! Or all of that information is available here.
If you’re interested in reading this book for your own book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here.
Joshi, Alka. The Henna Artist. Mira. 2020
May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage month! If you are looking for a book club selection that explores and honors AAPI experiences, we have added a genre category to our Book Club Kit page to make it easier. Simply choose “Asian & Pacific Islander Lives” in the Genre dropdown menu to see all the titles available for request.
In addition, new categories have been added for Native American Lives, Black Lives, and Latinx Lives. Our book club kit collection has over 1900 titles and growing, so there is something for every group. Is your preferred title checked out? Don’t forget to check our read-alike page for similar suggestions to tide you over while you wait.