This International Women’s Day, we pay homage to the fairer sex by compiling some of the best, most intriguing books by female Asian authors. From Southeast Asian novelists to Asian-Americans, these books aren’t only entertaining. Still, they also offer an insight into the world laced with Asian cultures and customs only we would understand.
1. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
Yolk breaks into the story of sisters Jayne and June Baek, who are nothing alike yet share an extremely close bond since their childhood. However, it all changes when they move from Seoul to America together. Their lives soon go their separate ways, and they want nothing to do with each other—until June gets cancer. With Jayne being the only person in the world who can help her, their lives soon converge again. Unwillingly brought together by a myriad of incidences beyond their control—housing woes, family secrets, and more—this funny yet poignant book explores familial relationships bound by Asian family values.
2. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
We celebrate female Asian authors, especially one who writes about traditional customs so beautifully. The story of The Ghost Bride revolves around Li Lan, a daughter of a family on the verge of bankruptcy during the colonial era in Malacca. She became a “ghost bride” for a wealthy family whose only son recently died under mysterious circumstances. It is all to save her family from financial ruin.
Being a ghost bride is a traditional Chinese custom where a living person weds a spirit to ease its restless nature. Now, Li Lan is guaranteed a home to live in while her family is taken care of. We read about her ghostly encounters at night, from her wandering into the spirit world to her attraction to the new heir at her in-laws.
More than a story about spiritual encounters, it also gives readers insight into the Peranakan culture and its deep-rooted traditions and superstitions. Netflix since has turned the book into a beautiful series worth watching.
3. Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P Manansala
This is the first book in a series of crime and comedic mishaps in the life of Lila Macapagal. She moves home after a bad breakup and is tasked to save her aunt’s dying restaurant. What feels like a classic rom-com setup soon takes a dark turn when an ex-boyfriend, a food critic, drops dead after a confrontation with Lila. She isn’t guilty, but all evidence points towards her being the culprit, and she has no choice but to conduct her own investigation. We love how the book also introduces homey Filipino food, its culture, and the Tagalog language.
4. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
Inspired by her own family history and Sri Lankan heritage, The Rice Mother is one of our selected female Asian authors, Rani Manicka’s first novel. It won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2003. The book begins with the story of Lakshmi, a 14-year-old Sri Lankan girl married off to a supposedly wealthy man in Malaysia with the promise of a better life. Upon her arrival in the country, she soon realises that it is untrue—Ayah, the man she marries, is neither rich nor reliable.
Still, she stays with him and even raises six children through World War II and the Japanese occupation with her own strength. These deep-seated traumas the family faces are passed on from generation to generation, ending with Lakshmi’s great-granddaughter researching her family history.
5. Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
It’s a story that’s quite like The Princess Diaries but Asian and created by one of our selected female Asian authors of course. Young Californian Izumi Tanaka discovers that her biological father is, in fact, the Crown Prince of Japan. Growing up in her suburban Californian town where the population is mainly white, Izumi always felt that she never entirely fit in. To add to the problem, Izumi and her mother were constantly at each other’s throats. Imagine her surprise when it was revealed that her father was royalty, making her a literal princess?
Naturally, becoming a princess isn’t quite all that. Izumi discovers this upon travelling to Japan to meet her father and the country. From culturally-different practices to traditional customs to learn, she finds herself caught between two worlds: one where she isn’t American enough and one where she isn’t Japanese enough. Will she have a happily ever after?
6. The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur
The year is 1426 in Korea during the Joseon era. Hwani and her sister liie unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene after they were reported missing. This event would soon tear the family apart and estrange the two sisters. However, years later, similar events occur and their father, Detective Min, goes missing in the forest after searching for 13 girls who also disappeared in the same forest.
This time, Hwani is determined to set things straight and look for her father. In her search, she finds that her sister is doing the same thing—and they both realise that the answer could be hidden within the realms of their consciousness.
7. Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian
This is a classic coming-of-age story of a minority person-of-colour in America. Neil Narayan is a second-generation teenager growing up in the Atlanta suburbs. He’s intelligent and funny but still bears the weight of his family’s high expectations and their minority community—and he’s in love with his neighbour, Anita Dayal.
However, Anita has her own secrets. She and her mother have been brewing an ancient potion made from stolen gold, which, when consumed, harnesses the ambitions of the jewellery’s original owner. However, Anita has never been able to utilise the potion, as her mother only favours sons. When Neil discovers the potion, he uses it to get ahead of his ambitions.
Ten years later, Neil is a Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. He and Anita reunite and together they start brewing the potion once again to help Anita’s mother, who is in danger. This book will soon become a series produced by Mindy Kaling.