A Little Look at Asian Literature
I am so excited about this week's blog because after much cajoling, periodic prodding, and repeated requests, my sister finally relented and wrote a guest blog. For those that may be first-timers to Pretty Literate, my sister Lynda is a faithful commenter on both this blog & our social sites, a frequent guest on Pretty Literate Live, a longtime member of our Virtual Book Club (3rd Thursday of every month at 7pm), one of the Founding Members of The Classics Community, and someone I have personally looked up to my entire life - not because she was a reader (though that admiration has recently begun to blossom), but because she embodied the essence of cool when I was in school.
Need some proof?
She was living large as a rock star, traveling the globe, experiencing new cultures, and doing the things most of us only dream about.
So last month when I shared that Lisa See's The Island of Sea Women was the first Asian cultured book I'd read and that I wanted more, Lynda came to my rescue. In addition to being well traveled, Lynda is also the most widely-read person I've ever met in real life and was quick to suggest titles that my readers and I might enjoy in the comments.
It's her superpower.
So I asked her if she would expound upon her comments for an upcoming blog. This blog.
Imagine my shock when she finally answered yes!
So sit back, sip a cup of chai tea, and take A Little Look at Asian Literature with my well-traveled, well-read sister Lynda.
I should begin by confessing that I am a lifelong reader.
I am curious about pretty much everything, and I usually read anything I can get my hands on which included the back of the cereal box when I was younger. As a result, my reading material has varied widely across a spectrum of interests. Today I am sharing one of those interests - Asian culture. In sharing my excitement in exploring this fascinating subject with you, I hope your curiosity will be piqued and a few of my favorites will become yours.
Shogun by James Clavell
Shogun by James Clavell is a saga about feudal Japan that follows the story of John Blackthorne, the first Englishman to reach Japan in the 1600s. The ship he piloted was blown ashore and he and 10 other survivors were taken captive. The story continues with Blackthorne experiencing the Japanese culture, the reader experiencing it right alongside him. Clavell begins the story from an outsider’s point of view (POV) and later the reader sees many of the same occurrences through the Japanese POV.
Shogun contains stunning beauty, intrigue, drama, sudden violence, action, romance and everything that makes a story unforgettable. If you only read one book about Asian culture, this should be the one.
The Sano Ichiro Series by Laura Joh Rowland
Laura Joh Rowland is best known for her Sano Ichiro series, of which there are 18 installments (which I just found out so I am way behind!). I have read three: Shinju, The Samurai’s Wife, and The Dragon King’s Palace. All of these novels take place during the latter part of the 1600s in Japan. They feature a samurai who is a minor chief official and is tasked with solving a murder. By the 10th book he has been promoted to a very high office as a result of his intelligence and sense of honor and having to not only serve his master well and the cause of Justice, but following the code of bushido as a samurai. Not least of his problems is the fact that he faces death if he displeases his master.
To add to the mix, his wife also begins to join him in his investigations, something literally unheard of in that time. Think: Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache or Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot in a very different time and place.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Amy Tan wrote The Joy Luck Club, a novel about four Chinese immigrant mothers and their four Chinese American daughters. Set in modern-day San Francisco (20th century), the mother-daughter duos form The Joy Luck Club after meeting one another, a club in which they gather to play mahjong, feast, and be social.
The book is cleverly set up along the lines of mahjong, with 4 sections, and each section has 4 chapters so there are 16 pieces total. Each mother/daughter duo has their own stories told about their lives, both past and present.
The Joy Luck Club has wonderful stories of perseverance and familial love alongside the challenges they face in having come to America to start new lives, as well as heartbreak, pain and determination. There are parts that had me literally sobbing, but don’t let that keep you from reading it.
My takeaway was not how different our cultures are, but how alike our feelings toward life and our families are, and what we would do for the love of them.
A few more suggestions that would make for wonderful reading:
- Hawaii by James Michener
- Snow in Viet Nam by Amy M. Le
- Snow in Seattle by Amy M. Le
- Snow's Kitchen: a Novella and Cookbook by Amy M. Le
I hope my suggestions give you some food for thought. If you haven’t experienced the Asian culture through the pages of a book yet, these titles are wonderful places to begin exploring.
What do you think?
Have you read any of the books Lynda recommended? What are your thoughts on them?
What books would you recommend that center around Asian cultures?
Note: The links included in this blog are affiliate links. They do not affect your experience, but are there to let Amazon know that you arrived at their site because it was linked from this blog. If you choose to buy one of the books, Amazon will thank us for the referral with a few cents - all of which I am collecting to hopefully one day buy my I.T. guy that cup o' coffee I've been promising him.
Many years ago I read The Joy Luck Club, I enjoyed it but it was so long ago, I can’t remember much about it except I enjoyed it. I will add the other books to my “to read soon” list. Thank you so much for this insightful and enjoyable blog. May 11, 2022
These books sound interesting. I will say I saw the mini series Shogun with Tom Cruise and loved it! I had no idea there was a book, though. Guess I know what I will be getting. Lol
As a South Asian author, this post was a pleasure to read. I have read Joy Luck Club, and have added the others to my TBR.
There are tons I could list, but I’d recommend Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, (multi-generational epic historical novel), A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, (literary novel shortlisted for the Booker prize), The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (NYT bestseller made into a movie).
I have read the Joy Luck Club years ago but don’t remember alot about it. I’m going to have to read it again! Tha ks for the info Lynda!!
I have read all the books Lynda reviewed and the bonus book suggestions, too! Yes, I am being quite “cheeky” 😂 The “Snow” trilogy would also be a wonderful Mother’s Day gift, as it outlines a mother’s struggle through the fall of Saigon, abandonment, trying to care for and protect an infant daughter through persecutions, refugee camps, becoming a part of the “boat people” and finally immigration to the Seattle area to build a new life for herself and her daughter. These are written by my friend and author Amy M. Le and are based on her mother. Highly recommended reading!