Cover Here are the best books by Asian authors to read this World Book Day (Art: Chesca Gamboa/Tatler Hong Kong)

In celebration of World Book Day on April 23, we’re putting the spotlight on some of the best books written by Asian authors—from Min Jin Lee to Viet Thanh Nguyen

This article was originally published on April 23, 2021 and was updated on April 20, 2022.


Looking for a new read this World Book Day? If you’re already read all the new titles we recommended for April, we’re listing even more books to read for today and beyond.

This time, we’re putting the spotlight on books written by Asian authors. Whether you’re looking for a charming read, a powerful story or one that blurs reality and dreams, we’ve got them all listed here.

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1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is set in the early 1900s and follows a teenage Sunja who, after getting pregnant by a married man, decides to accept an offer of marriage from an ailing minister on his way to Japan. Abandoning her home and family sets off a dramatic journey for the young woman.

Adapted into a series by Apple TV+, Pachinko tells a powerful story of love, sacrifice, ambition and loyalty spanning four generations.

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2. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Mieko Kawakami turned from a promising young writer for her debut work to a best-selling novelist for her sophomore work overnight. Kawakami was first a singer before winning the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for Breast and Eggs.

Her latest book released last year, Heaven was recently shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. The novel follows two 14-year-old students who have been subjected to continuous bullying. Amidst their suffering, they found comfort in one another.

With raw and sheer portrayals of bullying, Heaven cements itself as a powerful, profound novel that looks at the philosophical and religious debates concerning violence.

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3. The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Lisa Ko’s award-winning novel, The Leavers is about Deming’s search for his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who disappeared when he was just 11 years old. He is then adopted by a white family and with that comes a shift in his identity, moving states, to become the family's version of an “all-American boy”.

He continues to struggle with his new life and come to terms with his mother's disappearance. Ko’s stunning debut novel looks at belonging and identity, tapping into real-life experiences of families separated due to US immigration policies.

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4. That Man In Our Lives by Xu Xi

That Man In Our Lives by New York-Hong Kong author, Xu Xi looks at the lifelong friendship between three friends. When Gordon turned 50, he decides to give his wealth away. His friend and tax lawyer, Harold tells him to use this opportunity to write a book, chronicling his life up until this decision. Upon publication, the book becomes a minor cult success.

This sends Gordon into a self-imposed exile for several years, until he eventually decides to disappear during a flight delay in Hong Kong. It sent his friends, Harold and Larry into a cat-and-mouse game of finding him. Xu Xi, one of Hong Kong’s most well-known writers takes inspiration from John Adams’ opera, Nixon in China for this brilliant work.

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5. Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing is a coming-of-age story about grief and guilt set against the Philippines’ “war on drugs”. It follows Filipino American teenager, Jay Reguero who finds out that his cousin Jun, has been murdered as part of the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines.

To seek answers and uncover the truth, Jay travels to the Philippines. He soon discovers that there are many sides to his cousin that he never knew and that he may have played a part in his death.

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6. The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

The Mountains Sing marks Vietnamese writer, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s debut book in English and tells an intimate, multigenerational story of the Tran family during the Vietnam War, the same year that she was born.

The novel starts with Tran Dieu Lan, who had to leave her home with her six children at a critical point in Vietnam’s history. Years followed and her granddaughter, Hương comes of age. But despite the years that passed, conflict doesn’t leave the family or the country.

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7. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Last Night at the Telegraph Graph is the winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last year. The novel is a story of love and duty, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954. It follows 17-year-old Lily Hu as she discovers and comes to accept her attraction towards Kathleen Miller.

But it’s not safe for two girls to fall in love during that time, especially in Chinatown. The Red Scare paranoia is everywhere. Now, deportation looms for her father. The two girls must risk it all for their love to prevail.

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8. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

A Pulitzer Prize winner, The Sympathizer proves to be an extraordinary debut by Vietnamese American professor, Viet Thanh Nguyen. It’s already set for a TV adaptation helmed by renowned Korean director Park Chan-wook.

The story centres on an unnamed half-French and half-Vietnamese man who was a spy for the Communist forces during the Vietnam War. The readers follow as he lives through the final days of the war, then in exile in the US and finally moves around Southeast Asia.

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9. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Malaysian author and Tatler’s Culture List 2021 honouree, Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists is a winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. A haunting work about war and memory, the story is set in 1951 and follows Yun Ling Teoh, the lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp.

She escapes to the tea plantations of Cameron Highlands where she discovers the only Japanese garden in Malaya, Yugiri and its owner and creator, Aritomo who once worked as a gardener for the emperor of Japan. Seeking to create a garden in memory of her sister, Yuh Ling reasons with Aritomo until he accepts her as his apprentice.

Yuh Ling finds herself drawn to the gardener and his art after months together. But the peace is threatened when a guerilla war rages around them.

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10. A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning is another electrifying debut novel worth a read. Penned by Indian American writer, Megha Majumdar, the story is about three characters looking to rise, whether it's on the social ladder, gaining political power or stardom. But they soon find their lives entangled in a catastrophe that shakes contemporary India.

Packed with social commentary and political statements, A Burning presents complex themes that touch on class, fate, corruption, justice and dreams. Masterfully written, A Burning can easily be read in a single sitting but with messages that remain with you.

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11. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is the stunning debut novel from Ocean Vuong after numerous poetry collections. The book is written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read.

The writer, Little Dog, begins writing his letter in his late 20s and becomes a door for his mother to know parts of his life she’s never known. An author praised for his piercing words, Vuong’s debut explores healing without forgetting who we are.

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12. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Witty and heartwarming, Convenience Store Woman is the tale of a 36-year-old Tokyo resident, Keiko Furukura who works at a convenience store. Keiko started working at the “konbini” when she was 18 years old and becomes convinced that's her life’s calling.

Despite Keiko being content with her job, people around her remain dubious and continue pressuring her to find a husband or start a proper career until she eventually caves in and starts to take action. In this brilliant novel by Sayaka Murata, the convenience store is as much a character as Keiko, having a life of his own.

The novel looks at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, all backed by a charming and unforgettable heroine.

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13. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

In the Shadow of the Banyan showcases Vaddy Ratner’s gift for language, telling the story of human resilience. Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide and war refugee, taps into her own experiences for this semi-autographical work that follows seven-year-old Raami.

The young Raami hears news that the civil war has overwhelmed the streets of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Over the next four years, Raami deals with the deaths of family members, starvation and forced labour. Holding her together are the mythical legends and poems that her father used to tell her as she desperately fights to survive.

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14. A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year, Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North follows the journey of a young man into Sri Lanka’s war-torn north. Beginning with a telephone call, Krishnan makes his way from Colombo to the Northern Province by train to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

At the same time, he also received an email from Anjum, someone he fell in love with years ago while living in Delhi. This brings back memories and desires that he thought he abandoned long ago. The novel follows Krishnan as he attempts to come to terms with life and honour those we lost and what we’ve lost.

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15. Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny, translated by Anton Hur has been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize this year. The book is a collection of short stories, each blurring the lines between horror, magical realism and science fiction.

Chung’s clever use of the fantastic and surreal addresses real issues in society such as patriarchy and capitalism.

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