Matthew Salesses' 6 favorite Asian American novels

The novelist recommends works by Ruth Ozeki, Kirstin Chen, and more

Matthew Salesses.
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Novelist and Columbia University writing professor Matthew Salesses is the author of the 2021 best-seller Craft in the Real World. His new novel, The Sense of Wonder, follows an Asian American NBA point guard during his unlikely breakout season.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)

Kingston's blend of memoir and mythology is probably the book I have re-read the most. Each time I find it has grown with me. It has had something to say to me in each stage of my life. The Woman Warrior is a novel, yet won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. Buy it here.

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I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (2010)

The Great Asian American Novel, if I had to pick only one. How does this book, set in San Francisco's Chinatown, manage to fit into its pages so much of Asian American history, and of love and life and activism and community and, and, and ...? I Hotel was a finalist for a National Book Award. Buy it here.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung (2019)

My favorite novel by one of my favorite writers. A decorated mathematician raised in the Midwest in the 1950s looks back at her relationships and long career, and the choices she made to follow one versus the other. Chung knows how to make you care. Buy it here.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)

Ozeki's novel is a tale for any time. A character who shares the author's first name finds a Japanese diary washed up on shore and forms a bond with its teenage writer from another time and place. Metafiction and parallel universes and climate change and Zen Buddhism — this book has so much to appeal. Buy it here.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen (2022)

Chen's novel is about a straitlaced heroine pulled into a counterfeit-handbag scheme. But it's also a book about the model-minority myth and how Asian Americans can turn cultural stereotypes against the system that tries to limit their opportunities. Buy it here.

The Hanging on Union Square: An American Epic by H.T. Tsiang (1935)

This is an early Asian American classic. Tsiang — who was also an actor with a long list of film and TV credits to his name — lived an incredibly interesting life trying to make art and survive in a time when few people wanted him to do either. This satirical novel has a lot to tell us about how our country has and hasn't changed. Buy it here.

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