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February Bookmarks: 11 New Books from Asian Writers

Li-Young Lee grapples with God, Kim Fu goes to summer camp, Krystal A. Sital uncovers family secrets, and more.

By Yasmin Adele Majeed

The Uncommon Feast by Eileen Chong

Composed of poetry, essays, and recipes, Asian Australian writer Eileen Chong’s The Uncommon Feast considers the cultural, political, and personal roles that food plays in her world. From Chinese mooncakes to congee, Chong writes about cooking “a creative act, like writing poetry.” Chong is the author of three previous poetry collections, Painting Red Orchids, Peony, and Burning Rice. (Recent Work Press, Feb 1)





Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Call Me Zebra’s mercurial, quick-witted heroine Bibi Abbas Abbas Hosseini is the last in a long line of “autodidacts, anarchists, atheists,” who sets off on a “grand tour of exile” after the death of her father where she falls in and out of love. “A bombastic homage to the metacriticism of Borges, the Romantic absurdity of Cervantes, and the punk-rock autofictions of Kathy Acker,” Call Me Zebra is Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel. She’ll be reading at AAWW on Wednesday, February 21 with Weike Wang and Madhu Kaza. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb 6)




Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater’s Ada is born “with one foot on the other side” and separate selves that inhabit her body. Volatile and coping with the trauma of sexual assault, Ada is left at the will of two of her inner selves: Asughara and Saint Vincent. Freshwater “weaves traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head.” You can see Emezi read at AAWW on Thursday, April 26 alongside Mira T. Lee and Tanwi Nandini Islam. (Grove Press, Feb 13)





The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu

Kim Fu’s new novel follows the repercussions of one night at summer camp in the Pacific Northwest on five girls into adulthood. Nita, Kayla, Isabel, Dina, and Siobhan meet at Camp Forevermore, where a summer of swimming, exploring, and friendship bracelets is interrupted by a fatal accident on an overnight camping trip that leaves the girls left to fend for themselves in the wild, with no adults to help them and no way home. A finalist for a Lambada Literary Award and the Pen/Hemingway Award, Fu is the author of the poetry collection How Festive the Ambulance and the novel For Today I Am a Boy. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 13)




Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad is remembered for her rebellious, feminist writing, art, and film, which she worked on until her unexpected death at the age of 32. Inspired by her life and work, Song of a Captive Bird looks at the life of the controversial, iconic poet against the backdrop of Iran’s Westernization to the budding revolution. (Ballantine Books, Feb 13)






Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh

Vandana Singh’s newest sci-fi story collection traverses time, space, and mythology. In these stories an 11th century Indian poet wakes up as an AI companion on a spaceship, a woman escapes the slums because she can see into the past, and another returns to Alaska to investigate the death of her aunt. “Ranging in scale from the smallest life to far-ranging interplanetary adventures,” Ambiguity Machines is Singh’s first collection to be published in the US. (Small Beer Press, Feb 13)





Bridled by Amy Meng

Bridled is poetry as slow-burn opera,” writes Jaswinder Bolina of Amy Meng’s debut poetry collection. A Kundiman fellow and the poetry editor at Bodega Magazine, Amy Meng troubles love and confronts loss and heartbreak in these poems. Bridled was the winner of the Lena-Miles Weaver Todd Prize for Poetry, and a finalist for the Kundiman Prize. (Pleiades Press; Feb 15)




All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva

The stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s collection of speculative fiction, All the Names They Used for God are “so rich they read like dreams.” Sachdeva explores divinity and humanity in turn, with stories that retell John Milton’s writing of Paradise Lost and reimagines the aftermath of the kidnapping of two Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. Explorers are pulled by strange obsession, and women are transformed irrevocably by genetic manipulation, in this “otherworldly debut.” (Spiegel & Grau, Feb 20)




Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad by Krystal A. Sital

“We are of Trinidad—my grandmother, my mother, and I,” begins Krystal A. Sital in her debut memoir in which she writes about the unraveling of her family when they leave their generational home in Trinidad for New Jersey. When her once proud, patriarchal grandfather lapses into a coma, the women of her family finally share the trauma and violence they’ve been keeping secret for years. Writes Nicole Dennis-Benn, Secrets We Kept is “a brilliant account of gender inequality and the burdens we bear as women in the Caribbean.” (WW Norton; Feb 20)




Asian Video Cultures

The Undressing by Li-Young Lee

“There are stories we tell ourselves, she says. / There are stories we tell others. / Then there’s the sum /of our hours / death will render legible.” Li-Young Lee returns with The Undressing, a collection of poems that grapple with God, desire, and loneliness. Drawing on his own biography and spiritual texts like the Dao De Jing, The Undressing is Lee’s sixth collection.  (WW Norton; Feb 20)





The Chinese Must Go
The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America by Beth Lew-Williams

In 1885 nearly thirty Chinese immigrant miners were killed and maimed by white miners in a now infamous massacre in Wyoming Territory. The Rock Springs massacre was the culmination of years of anti-Chinese sentiment, and set off a wave of racist violence and harassment throughout California and the Pacific Northwest. In The Chinese Must Go Beth Lew-Williams looks at the history of anti-Chinese racism in the US, and its relationship to immigration law and American relations with China. A “riveting, beautifully written new account of Chinese exclusion…that foregrounds Chinese voices and experiences,” The Chinese Must Go recasts the history of Chinese immigration to the US. (Harvard University Press; Feb 26)