Novelist, translator, and writing professor Heinz Insu Fenkl is the author of Memories of My Ghost Brother, a widely taught autobiographical novel. His new prequel, Skull Water, follows a boy named Insu who seeks a cure rooted in ancient Korean myth.
The Secret of Zen by Ardent Hollingsworth (2021)
This recent book is not the typical feel-good New Age Buddhist memoir. It's a portrait of a spiritual quest carried out with uncompromising integrity. Hollingsworth's story is not only edifying, it also exposes the hypocrisy of Buddhist masters and the West's (perhaps willful) misinterpretation of Buddhism's fundamental truths. Buy it here.
Fourth Uncle in the Mountain: A Memoir of a Barefoot Doctor in Vietnam by Quang Van Nguyen and Marjorie Pivar (2004)
For those who know Vietnam only in connection with the Vietnam War, this remarkable memoir will be eye-opening. Nguyen, revisiting his life from 1950 to 1986, describes his spiritual initiation, his ordeals, healing practices, and his conflicts with the dark forces of a seductive spirit world. Buy it here.
Obasan by Joy Kogawa (1981)
Obasan is a heartbreaking glimpse into the Canadian internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and also a poignant autobiographical story of a girl surviving terrible personal and familial traumas. It forever changed my idea of what a novel could or should be. Buy it here.
Boy Genius by Yongsoo Park (2002)
Park's frenetic coming-of-age novel is a kind of hallucinatory allegory, a narrative of identity, displacement, and postmodern synthesis. There's nothing else like it in the Korean-American canon. It also made me, as someone who also grew up under the shadow of dictator Park Chung-hee, feel uncomfortably at home. Buy it here.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)
Silko read a terrible genre story I wrote as a sophomore in college, and her advice was, "If you're going to write a vampire story, make it the best vampire story." I cherish that advice to this day. Ceremony — a vivid, poetic, and magical tale about a half-Pueblo combat veteran and his struggle with PTSD after World War II — is certainly one of the best of its kind. Buy it here.
The Guide by R.K. Narayan (1958)
The Guide is Narayan's literary response and counterpoint to Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. Raju, a con man released from prison after many years, camps out in an abandoned temple and is mistaken for a holy man. This is the story of his accidental journey to becoming a true guru, despite himself. Buy it here.
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