The First Annual Asian-Canadian Literature Challenge!

That’s right, I’m starting a reading challenge for next year, and I’m SO excited! I am pretty active over on bookstagram, and it’s been a great place to find recommendations for books written by Asian authors. As with most things related to media, American influence is extremely strong, and while I have enjoyed the books that I’ve read by Asian-American authors, I’m always trying to champion Canadian literature on my bookstagram account! I had a bit of a crisis in the middle of this year during which I felt like I wasn’t reading enough Asian-Canadian books, and so I’ve decided that in 2021, I will prioritize books written by Asian-Canadian authors!

Now that that whole preamble is finished, here are all the exciting details for this reading challenge. The only rule for this reading challenge is that the author must be Asian and Canadian (born, raised and/or living in Canada). I thought I’d share some of my picks for each prompt to help you get started! I’ll be sharing my picks all year on bookstagram, as well as sharing posts and stories from other accounts as well.

Here are the prompts:

A book about food

Asians have great food, so of course this had to be one of the prompts! One of the books that I absolutely loved last year was Chop Suey Nation. Reporter Ann Hui goes on a road trip from one coast of Canada to another, stopping in small towns along the way and eating at the Chinese restaurant that can inevitably be found there, no matter how tiny the town! I learned a lot about the role that Chinese restaurants played in helping Chinese immigrants adapt to the new communities in Canada that they’d moved to. Interspersed throughout these chapters on history was the story of Hui’s parents’ family-run restaurant as well.

One book that I will be reading in 2021 for this prompt is Mãn by Kim Thúy. (I just got it from the library earlier this week!) Mãn is set in the world of restaurants and I’m excited to just taste food through the pages! I am a huge fan of Thúy’s work – I’ve read both Ru and Vi, and both novels were quiet, simple, and poetic. I’m expecting Mãn to have a similar vibe!

A short story or essay collection

I’m not a huge fan of short stories – I feel like they’re too short for me to glean much meaning from! However, I keep picking them up because people keep raving about them! One book that would be great for this prompt is That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung. I enjoyed this book because all of the stories are interconnected; they’re told from the perspective of characters who all live in the same suburban Scarborough neighbourhood. I also appreciated this book a lot because June, one of the characters who is featured in many of the stories, is the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, just like me! One of the reasons why I want to read more Asian-Canadian authors is to see myself represented, although I often get distracted by the immense diversity of the extremely large continent of Asia. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa is another book that fits for this prompt. The collection of stories are all told from the perspective of immigrants and refugees from Laos, which is an admittedly underrepresented country when it comes to immigrant narratives in literature. This short story collection wasn’t quite for me, although my eyes were definitely opened to the everyday difficulties that some immigrants and refugees face in their new countries. However, this book won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize (a very fancy and prestigious award which celebrates Canadian fiction!), so clearly I know nothing!

A book published before you were born

From what I know, I’ve never read a book by an Asian-Canadian author that was published before I was born! The closest I’ve come so far is The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, which was published in 1995. For this prompt, I’ve got plans to read books by well-known authors such as Rohinton Mistry and Michael Ondaatje – people whose books have been celebrated for years and years! I chose this prompt because I wanted to show that Asian-Canadian literature is not a new trend; Asians have been in this country for a long time, and there are books to prove it! (In any case, this prompt will be easier the younger you are!)

A historical fiction novel

There is no shortage of historical fiction books written by Asian-Canadians! One book I read fairly recently which fits in this prompt is The Boat People by Sharon Bala. The Boat People weaves together several different histories: the civil war in Sri Lanka, Japanese-Canadian internment during the Second World War, as well as the continued cultural tensions that exist within the children of immigrants. The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy (which I mentioned earlier) is another historical fiction novel – basically a classic here in Canada! It tells the story of three siblings who live in Vancouver’s Chinatown at the dawn of World War Two.

A book that I am planning on reading for this prompt is The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan, which I stole from my school’s English department! Set during the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong during World War Two, I think this novel will be really interesting for me because all of my grandparents had to live through that particular experience.

A book set in an Asian country

Finally, the last prompt! (I’m so sorry, I really didn’t realize that this post would get so long!) While most books written by Asian-Canadian authors are immigrant narratives and are therefore set in Canada, there are plenty of books in which characters and protagonists return to the motherland! All of Us in Our Own Lives by Manjushree Thapa features a Nepali-born Canadian who returns to her country of birth to do humanitarian and development work. Vi by Kim Thúy has a similar premise (but a very different writing style); after coming to Canada as a refugee, Vi returns to southeast Asia (first Cambodia, and then Vietnam) with an aid organization. In a different vein, Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me is a graphic memoir by Lorina Mapa, a Filipina-Canadian who returns to the Philippines after the death of her father. Another memoir set partly in Asia is The Elephants in My Backyard by Rajiv Surendra, who travels to India for research as he vies for the role of Pi in the Life of Pi movie.

I’m really excited for these prompts because they let readers drift over both sides of the fiction/nonfiction divide! I have a bunch of other ideas for prompts for future editions of this reading challenge (am I getting too ahead of myself?!), but I decided to keep things simple and limit the challenge to only five prompts because I know we all have wayyyy too many books to read already!

Also, I recently made an account on the StoryGraph, which is similar to Goodreads but seems a lot more comprehensive! I’ve put the Asian-Canadian Literature Challenge up on there, so feel free to add it to your bookshelf if you have a StoryGraph account as well!

Let me know if you are planning on joining this reading challenge! Even if you read just one book by an Asian-Canadian author – I’d love to know!

2 thoughts on “The First Annual Asian-Canadian Literature Challenge!

  1. What a great idea! I will definitely participate in this. Kim Thuy was the first author I thought of when you said a book about food – did you know she has a cookbook too? I’ll have to look through my shelves and see what might fit for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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