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January Bookmarks: 20 New Books by Asian Writers

Queer Palestinian poetry, assassins of Seoul crime fiction, a history of post-1949 Chinese exile, fantastical Afghani-American fables, and the poetics of Filipino American food.


In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

Set on a council estate during a forty-eight hour period, Booker Prize-longlisted In Our Mad and Furious Cityetches a rich picture of contemporary London and the recurring, historically rooted racial tensions that dominate it.”(MCD x FSG Originals, December 11)






99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

“A romp, a poem, a prayer, a song of childhood”: This debut novel from Jamil Jan Kochai begins with a young boy’s return to his familial home in Logar, Afghanistan in 2005. On Marwand’s very first day back, the tip of his finger is bitten off by a guard dog, setting him and his cousins out on a fantastical 99 day-long journey through memory, Afghanistan at war, and family history. (Viking; January 22)




Invasive species by Marwa Helal

Taking place “in cars, airports, waiting rooms; in dreams and songs; and in inventively reworked immigration documents,” Marwa Helal’s Invasive species draws on June Jordan, DJ Khaled, and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets to address histories of U.S. imperialism and her family’s immigration from Egypt. You can watch Marwa read some of her work on AAWW TV at our “Personal in the Political” event, and come to her launch of Invasive species on Wednesday, January 23. (Nightboat Books, Jan 1)




McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh’s award-winning debut novella is being published in a new edition this month. The winner of the Believer Book Award, McGlue begins in Salem, Massachusetts in 1851, where the forgetful drunk sailor McGlue is in the hold, accused of killing a man in this “potent, peculiar, and hallucinatory anti-romance.”(Penguin Books; January 8)





Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media is Changing Social Protest and Power by An Xiao Mina

Digital media scholar An Xiao Mina explores the relationship between political dissent and the circulation of memes, and the journey from viral image to becoming a symbol of protest and the guiding icon of political movements. (Beacon Press, January 8)





The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai by Ha Jin

Ha Jin’s latest is a biography of the influential eighth century Daoist poet Li Bai, also known as Li Po in the West. Jin follows Bai from his travels as a young man to his involvement in a military rebellion in his later years. The circumstances of Bai’s death are surrounded by myth, which Jin parses in this “rich, moving and titillating account of the poet’s life.” (Pantheon, January 8)




An Indefinite Sentence by Siddarth Dube

Siddarth Dube’s memoir of growing up as a gay man in India is a both a document of his own personal story, and his work as an activist working to decriminalize same-sex relations and sex work in India, and his critiques of imperalist US anti-prostitution laws. Neel Mukherjee calls An Indefinite Sentence “intransigent in its truth-telling, eye-opening in its revelations, and capacious in its compassion.” (Atria Books, January 8)




The Specimen’s Apology by George Abraham, art by Leila Abdelrazaq

“From the first, devastating poem, George Abraham’s poems bristle with alchemy, a narrative of love, history, family, and Palestine that pulses with longing,” writes Hala Alyan of George Abraham’s new chapbook, made in collaboration with illustrator Leila Abdelrazaq. The Specimen’s Apology includes poems on displacement, Bioshock: Infinite, trauma, and translation. Read more of Abraham’s poetry on The Margins. (Sibling Rivalry Press, January 18)




To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari

Rabeah Ghaffari’s debut novel To Keep the Sun Alive follows the family of Bibi-Khanoom, who runs her family’s fruit orchard in a northeastern city in Iran. As aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews fall in and out of love, come into conflict, and get caught up in political debates and zealotry, the Iranian Revolution approaches in the background, forcing them to weigh their allegiances to family and political beliefs. (Catapult, Jan 15)




The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

“Equal parts love story, war story, and family intrigue,” The Far Field follows the journey of Shalini, a young woman from Bangalore, who sets out for a remote village in Kashmir in search of a mysterious man from her childhood who she thinks is connected to her mother’s death. But upon arrival, Shalini finds herself confronted with political violence. (Grove Atlantic, January 15)





Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

This modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice re-situates the story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in Pakistan, where Alys Binat’s steadfast decision to never marry changes upon a chance encounter with Mr. Darsee, the brusque friend of the man who is pursuing her sister. Crackling with witty dialogue, family tensions, humor, and rich details of life in contemporary Pakistan, it tells an entirely new story about love, luck, and literature,” writes Balli Kaur Jaswal of Unmarriageable. (Ballantine Books; January 15)




Adèle by Leila Slimani, trans. Sam Taylor

In the wake of the international success of Leila Slimani’s second novel, The Perfect Nanny, comes a new translation of her debut novel, Adèle. It follows a sex-obsessed woman who is unsatisfied with her seemingly perfect life with her husband, young son, and career as a journalist. Driven by her insatiable need to be wanted, Adèle puts her whole self at risk in this “unflinching exploration of female self-sacrifice and the elusive nature of satisfaction.” (Penguin Books, Jan 15)




Oculus by Sally Wen Mao

“In Oculus, [Sally Wen] Mao has workshopped and revitalized the ways we think about visibility and its inverse, along with the mercurial self and its embodiments,” writes Jenny Xie of the new collection from Mao. Anna May Wong, Afong Moy, Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop, and other visions of Asian American femininity and futurity are excavated in Oculus. Read an interview with Sally and poems from Oculus on The Margins. (Graywolf Press, January 15)



Ornamentalism by Anne Anlin Cheng

Anne Anlin Cheng maps the connections between the formation of Asian femininity and the history of synthetic personhood in the West in her latest book, Ornamentalism. Considering the conflation between the “oriental” and the “ornamental,” Cheng offers a “sustained theory of Asiatic feminism, filling a glaring absence in critical theory.” (Oxford University Press, January 18)




Where I Have Never Been: Migration, Melancholia, and Memory in Asian American Narratives of Return by Patricia P. Chu

Patricia Chu explores the trope of ‘return’ in Asian American literature and how it relates to anxieties about cultural loss and the erasure of family history. Looking at the work of May-lee Chai, Ruth Ozeki, Lisa See, and more, Chu “addresses themes of racial melancholia, flexible citizenship, and post- or counter-memory in beautiful and clear prose.” (Temple University Press, January 4)





Loves You by Sarah Gambito

Sarah Gambito brings together poetry and the recipe form in her newest collection Loves You, and considers the ways food and cooking tell the story of Filipino America. “There’s a jittery, wisecracking wisdom to these meditations on the immigrant’s haunted inheritance, powered by equal parts shame, nostalgia, and a barely-camouflaged anger,” writes Ligaya Mishan of the collection. (Persea Books, January 22)





Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia

Trailblazing Asian American activist Helen Zia returns with a narrative history of a generation of exiles who fled Shanghai after the 1949 Communist revolution. Zia brings together the stories of four young Shanghai residents who left their home and families, and sought refuge in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S. (Random House, January 22)






The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

Hala Alyan’s twenty-ninth year is a year of change. Moving from Palestine to Oklahoma to Brooklyn, Alyan’s latest collection “blends forms, tangles modes, travels through time and space and leaps from the intensely personal to the acerbically political…with scathing wit, fierce self-examination, and challenging syntax.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 29)





The Plotters by Un-Su Kim trans. Sora Kim-Russell

Celebrated Korean novelist Un-Su Kim makes his English-language debut with The Plotters, a darkly comic crime novel set in an alternate Seoul run by the criminal machinations of anonymous assassins. Raised as an assassin by master killer Old Raccoon, Reseng’s loyalty is tested when he comes across the strange, extraordinary criminal plot of three quirky young women. (Doubleday, Jan 29)





May We Borrow Your Country by The Whole Kahani

“A wry sideways look at individuals who cross borders, adapt to new cultures and select a self-identity, within their country or a foreign land,” May We Borrow Your Country collects the work of British Asian writers Radhika Kapur, CG Menon, Kavita A. Jindal, and Preti Taneja. (Linen Press, Jan 29)