Hamlet. Gatsby. Odysseus.
If you’ve grown up in the American education system, these are all names that you’re probably very familiar with. After all, we spent our high school years learning about characters and authors of European, American, and Greek roots. And while we are forever thankful for Morison, Twain and Fitzgerald, there are times when we wish there was more variety to what our minds soaked up during those pivotal four years of education.
For instance, for every 5 books read, there is an Asian writer who has a story of civil unrest, assimilation, modernity, or sacrifice that would only benefit a literature syllabus. Keep reading to discover 5 Asian writers who should be taught in every high school.
1. Haruki Murakami
John Updike described Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as a “real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”
Murakami should be taught in school because he is accessible (in the sense that his mention of shamanism and classical music don’t feel foreign to the average reader), he’s funny, and he explores themes such as family versus independence and society versus solitude in a way that makes it easy to think about, write about, and talk about.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri
Indian-American author Juhmpa Lahiri wrote her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, in 2000 and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Lahiri should be taught in school because her language is “plain” but powerful. She navigates fields such as immigration (a topic important to all students in schools, not just students who are children of immigrants) and immigrant psychology.
3. Gish Jen
In Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land, Mona Chang moves with her newly prosperous family to Scarshill, New York in 1968, where the Chinese have become “the new Jews.” She attends temple “rap” sessions and falls in love (with a nice Jewish boy who lives in a tepee).
Jen should be introduced in school because her fiction is not what a high school student would expect to read, and yet it’s what one would relate to the most. Mona is charming, sassy, organized. This is not a quiet novel whose wisdom surfaces after much discussion (though that’s rewarding in its own right). It is, however, authentic in the experience it presents.
4. Aravind Adiga
The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, and is a sharp look at India’s class struggle.
Adiga should be taught in school because he has a dark humor that introduces the way money, class, education, and corruption is viewed after a culture has been colonized. The voice of the underclass is captured not in emotional images of disturbing occurrences, but in someone trying to be something they’re not, and succeeding.
5. Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day also won the Man Book Prize, and speaks to the post-World War I era.
Ishiguro should be taught in school because he examines three things that are so outrightly spelled out in pre-university education: dignity, memory, and perspective. He does not write in a way that glorifies the three, but speaks of the sharp parts of it: how dignity lets things go unnoticed and how memory and perspective can determine everything.