When Chinese-Hawaiian American author Cecily Wong was a child, she came upon her mother crying after a phone conversation arguing with her own mother in Hawaii. She didn’t understand her mother’s turmoil then, but resolved that one day she would write her mother’s story. A decade later, the beginnings of her debut novel, Diamond Head, were in place. But as Wong investigated deeper into her family’s past – from turn-of-the-century China to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii – she discovered that the story of one girl was just the beginning. With her misunderstood father’s tragic demise, 18-year-old Theresa, pregnant, alone and heir apparent to the Leong fortune – and misfortunes – must uncover secrets long held by her ancestors. What is revealed are the echoes of the steps and missteps of her ancestors that would reverberate for generations, each wife and mother leaving a legacy of the heart that would break, or inspire, her daughters.
Details Hardcover, $25.99, cecilywong.com.
THE GRACE OF KINGS
When one begins The Grace of Kings, Chinese American author Ken Liu‘s epic fantasy novel debut, one cannot help but think Game of Thrones – with a slight Asian Pacific bent. After all, the saga takes places on an archipelago with geographical names like Big Island, Tunoa, Haan and Mount Kiji; and characters with “long, straight black hair” and “eyes, long and narrow” dine on pork dumplings in plum paste. And while there are also seven kingdoms, it is the story of two unlikely heroes – Kuni Garu, whom everyone bemoans has failed to live up to his potential, and Mata Zyndu, the last son of a disgraced noble family – that leads the charge. Liu, whose fantasy short stories and novellas have received every major award in the field, creates a world that is complex and utterly engrossing in this first novel in the Dandelion Dynasty series.
Details Hardcover, $27.99, sagapress.com.
UNDER THE SAME SKY
Joseph Kim‘s 2013 TED talk is riveting – not only because he had learned English only seven years earlier, after immigrating to the States at the age of 16 (giving a TED talk would be intimidating even for a native speaker!) but because of his topic: his escape from North Korea as an adolescent. He didn’t have help from anyone or any organization; he simply gathered as much information from the street as he could about crossing the frozen Tumen River into China – and made a run for it one clear winter afternoon. Call it luck or grace, but he made it, and eventually with the help of a Christian woman and underground activists, Kim became one of the few North Koreans to be given refugee status in the U.S. In Under the Same Sky, Kim details his life as an abandoned, starving street kid in North Korea, whose persistence and intelligence led to his ultimate salvation.
Details Hardcover, $28, hmhco.com.
British-born Rana Dasgupta, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book for his debut novel, Solo, in 2010, offers a fascinating insight into the rapid transformation of the Indian city of Delhi in this work of nonfiction. Through eye-opening interviews and encounters with billionaires, bureaucrats and slum dwellers, as well as his own lyrically insightful perceptions, Dasgupta unflinchingly reveals the best and the ugliest sides of his adopted hometown.
Details Paper, $18, penguin.com.
This story was originally published in our Summer 2015 issue. Get your copy here.