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July and August Bookmarks: 12 New Books by Asian Diasporic Writers

This summer brings new Asian diasporic retellings of Antigone, the unlikely hero’s journey of an Asian American boy and his mecha, and a hybrid poetics of Japan’s violent history.

By Yasmin Majeed
Marginalia | bookmarks, new releases
August 24, 2017

Thousand Star Hotel
Thousand Star Hotel by Bao Phi

“I wonder / if I ever will find a language / to speak of the things / that haunt me the most,” writes Bao Phi in his latest collection, Thousand Star Hotel. It’s a difficult task, but Phi does not shy from the burdens of language, legacy and war in this “cutting collection of poems about growing up a refugee, becoming a father, feeling surrounded by police brutality and the invisibility of poor Asian-Americans.” (July 4, Coffee House Press)


A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause
A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause by Shawn Wen

Radio producer and writer Shawn Wen’s book-length essay on Marcel Marceau is part biography of the iconic French mime and a critical, poetic examination of miming. Interweaving excerpts from Marceau’s interviews and performances with her own writings on the silent art form, Wen “gorgeously captures the man whose body and life were inextricable from his art.” (July 11, Sarabande Books)

A Life of Adventure and Delight
A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

A Life of Adventure and Delight is fittingly titled – a dark, ironic statement for a collection of stories in the same tone. Written with a “wry humor and psychological complexity,” Sharma’s stories of lost and lonely Indian characters in the diaspora are amongst the writer’s best. (July 11, W. W. Norton)


Refuge by Dina Nayeri

Refuge follows the relationship between a woman and her father over the years and across oceans. When Niloo leaves Iran with her mother and brother at the age of eight, they leave behind her father, who refuses to leave his home. Growing up in America and eventually making a home for herself amongst the refugee and immigrant Iranian communities in Europe, Niloo often finds herself at odds with her father. “Richly imagined and frequently moving,” Refuge is Nayeri’s second novel. (July 11, Riverhead)

Goodbye, Vitamin
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

After breaking up with her fiance and quitting her job, Ruth Young, the relatable and charming narrator of ex-Lucky Peach editor Rachel Khong’s debut novel, moves back home with her parents to care for her aging father, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Heartbreaking and humorous, Khong documents a year of Ruth’s life as she and her family come to grips with their uncertain past and future together. Goodbye, Vitamin “sneaks up on you — just like life… and heartbreak. And love.” (July 11, Henry Holt & Co.)


Irradiated Cities
Irradiated Cities by Mariko Nagai

Selected by lê thi diem thúy as the winner of Les Figues Press’s NOS book contest, Irradiated Cities is a hybrid poetry work that connects the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. “This book, a sifting and circling, a calm and masterful layering of voices and vantage points, a slowly emerging portrait of four different Japanese cities and their inhabitants, resists any effort at arrivals or conclusions,” wrote thúy. (August 1, Les Figues Press)


The Last Lyric
The Last Lyric by Yu Xinqiao trans. Yunte Huang

“That’s why I am so sad beyond grief / For poetry cannot fix you,” writes Chinese poet Yu Xinqiao in this new bilingual edition of his collection The Last Lyric. Imprisoned for eight years in the 90’s after calling for a “Chinese Renaissance Movement,” Xinqiao remains a popular poet in China, and The Last Lyric is full of “poems to be savored again and again.” (August 1, Tinfish Press)


Sour Heart
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang’s highly anticipated debut story collection gathers together the interconnected coming of age stories of Chinese American girls growing up in New York City. Perverse, hilarious and heartfelt, Sour Heart was deemed a knockout in New York Magazine. Writes Christian Lorentzen: “Zhang has transformed her narcissism and nostalgia into that most American of genres, a virtuoso song of herself.(August 1, Lenny)


Mech Cadet Yu
Mech Cadet Yu by Greg Pak & Takeshi Miyazawa

The story, which has its roots in their contribution to the Jeff Chang-edited Asian American comics anthology Shattered, follows the hero’s journey of a young Asian American boy who teams up with a robot to defend Earth from alien invasion. After rave reviews and quickly selling out, the comic was upgraded from a limited run to an ongoing series. (August 2, Boom Studios)


Home Fire
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone, Shamsie’s seventh novel reimagines the Greek tragedy through a Pakistani British siblings caught between their personal ambitions and their family’s legacy. When Isma gets the chance to pursue her academic dreams in America, she leaves behind her sister Aneeka and brother Parvaiz, who disappeared to follow in the footsteps of their jihadist father. Home Fire was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. (August 15, Riverhead)


So Many Olympic Exertions
So Many Olympic Exertions by Anelise Chen

AAWW fiction editor Anelise Chen plays with auto-fiction, sports writing, and memoir in her debut novel from Kaya Press. So Many Olympic Exertions is about Athena Chen, a grad student whose academic ambitions are thwarted by a self-sabotaging tendency to procrastination. Athena’s life and career plans are disrupted when her ex-boyfriend-a brilliant academic-commits suicide. A darkly funny and introspective experimental novel that breaks down conventional narratives of success. You can watch Chen speak about and read from the book here. (August 22, Kaya Press)


Eastman Was Here
Eastman was Here by Alex Gilvarry

Alex Gilvarry, the author of From the Memories of a Non-Enemy Combatant, returns with a “a dark, riotously funny and audacious exploration of the sacred and the profane.” Set in 1973,Eastman Was Here is a send up of a Norman Mailer-esque writer whose glory days seem to be behind him. In order to revive his stalled career and find some sort of personal redemption, Alan Eastman travels to Vietnam on a ill-fated mission to write the definitive account of the war. (August 22, Viking)