This week, we are talking about Books Not Set in or Inspired by the Western World.
(I tried for a wittier title but my brain is not working right now.)
Here’s the thing, I read a lot of Japanese fiction. These are books by Japanese authors translated into English. They can be manga, light novels, or full length novels. So obviously, majority of them are in a non-Western setting, both in location and tradition. This is where pretty much all of the “diversity” in my reading is coming from: Asian authors writing in an Asian setting. So this won’t be much of a challenge, right? I can just fill up the spots with my favorite Japanese novels, right?
But where’s the fun in that?! Surely, I’ve read other stuff set in other non-Western places by non-Japanese authors. However, “non-Western” is sort of tricky to define so I’ll just go with what I know. It’s actually safer to just stay in the Asian setting and avoid the whole English-speaking regions all together. However, many of these books eventually find themselves out West within the story. Either the main character immigrates or works in the US/UK but tells the story in flashback, thus having majority of the book set in their non-Western home country. I’m thinking about this too much. XD
Anyway, here’s my list. Surely all the Japanese fiction books I’ve read are good candidates but I won’t bore you with that. If you’re interested in my Japanese lit collection, here’s my GoodReads shelf for that.
The Flowers of War by Geling Yan.
This is a novella about the Rape of Nanjing where Japanese troops did unspeakable acts of massacre and rape to the residents of Nanjing, China in 1937-1938. I have never read a more powerful, a more moving piece of literature about war and what it does to those in that situation. In not so many pages, this book horrified and saddened me. But it was so rich in emotion. It’s a tough read but it needs to be read.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.
Here’s another quick yet poignant read. This book reminds me of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom but set in Japan. An elderly professor with a failing memory hires a housekeeper. Eventually, their relationship grows into a more familial one through Math, of all things, and the housekeeper’s son. I listened to an audio book version and I absolutely loved it. It was so touching and real and funny… all the feelz.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
I don’t remember this book having a happy ending for anyone. This is one of the heaviest reads ever. We follow two characters, one stays in Afghanistan while the other finds a better life in the United States. They go through a lot and man, it’s one tragedy after another. I don’t know how I got through this book without sinking deeper into depression.
Eon and Eona duology by Alison Goodman.
This is set in a fictionalized China, I think, taking from the dragon lore and some nomenclature. Sort of Mulan-esque because Eon is really Eona. She dresses up as a boy so she could enter a competition only open to boys, trying to capture the powers of a dragon. I loved this duology so much.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang.
This is one twisted book. This is sort of a collection of short stories about a Korean family and how they deal with one of their family members becoming vegetarian. But don’t take this as a light and fluffy read based on that description. It’s anything but light and fluffy.
I realize that I stayed firmly in Asia for this list. Hey, to be safe. 🙂 I could’ve stayed within Japan for a list of 20 but variety is the spice of life.
Random question: What is your favorite Asian food?