Our Hyphen books section writers read everything. Seriously. And if the book is calling Asian America's name, we are so on it. So it should come as no surprise that we are the last word on the most notable Asian American books of 2011. Skeptical? Go ahead and get your hands on the books below. Read 'em, gift 'em, and prove us right. Or prove us wrong by adding your comments and picking your own faves. Go ahead, we double-dog dare you.
Leche by R. Zamora Linmark
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
An exquisitely lyrical narrative that follows the lives of Japanese picture brides from their San Francisco arrival to their banishment to internment camps in 1942. Full review here.
This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
A doomed love story set in 1960s Korea that ponders the roads not taken. Full review here.
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
Fukuyama draws from a vast number of fields to produce an expansively-researched yet accessible history of political systems over the past 10,000 years. Gathering examples from ancient China, India, the Muslim world and Christian Europe leading to the American and French Revolutions, the book inquires into why certain governments adopted by certain civilizations failed and why others succeeded. Fukuyama observes that a well-functioning modern political order results from a combination of a strong state, rule of law, and accountable government. He warns that while the US currently balances all three aspects successfully, its demise may still eventually occur as a result of rigidity and failure to adjust to changing circumstances. Interestingly, the book holds bipartisan views, extolling a conservative capitalism alongside the liberal support of strong government.
A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
A poignant and humorous reflection on food, family, and home. Full review here.
Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
In the most comprehensive account of the painter’s life yet, Naifeh and Smith enrich Van Gough’s reputation beyond mere madman genius and explore in great depth the development of his rich artistic and personal life. Mining the 6-volume edition of 900 letters recently released by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the authors proffer several new speculations regarding the artist’s brief 37 years, from why he cut off his ear after a falling out with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, to how he might have died (not by suicide but by a bullying teenager’s gunshot). Also included are analyses of Van Gogh’s works, along with a finely traced history of an artist hungrily determined to expand his knowledge and reach, as the book charts his learning from pointillism, Japanese prints and symbolism, to his reading of writers as varied as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Eliot.
Dhaka Dust by Dilruba Ahmed
A cosmopolitan examination of
multiple states of belonging. Full review here.
Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil
A scathing political commentary on the state of Iran after the 2009 protests, featuring a mother and brother search of a missing university student. Full review here.
Vietnamerica by GB Tran
A moving, full-color memoir about the artist's recovery of family roots in Vietnam. Full review here.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Ten-year-old Hà’s life faces upheaval when her family is forced to flee Vietnam at the close of the war as the Communists take over. Inside Out & Back Again, a novel-in-verse which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, charts the year-long course that Hà, her mother, and three older brothers traverse as they live out their last idyllic days in Saigon, travel by sea to a refugee camp in Guam, and adjust to their new home in Alabama. Lai creates a delightful character in intelligent, precocious Hà who keenly senses and describes the turmoil around her in direct, matter-of-fact speech which resists pity or sentimentality. A true poet, Lai’s love and talent for language are matched only by her deft rendering of the complexity within a child’s thoughts and feelings. A great read for everyone, both kids and adults.