When the Emperpor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
Follows a Japanese American family who were incarcerated in the Utah desert during World War 2

Fox Girl, Nora Okja Keller
Three teenagers’ in America Town, the US military camp in South Korea in the 1960s, struggle to survive the impact of militarized intimacies, such as betrayal, violence, and prostitution

Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Childhood experience of a Vietnamese refugee in the US.

Internment, Samira Ahmed
Muslim Americans resisting in the internment camp they were forced to go to.

These descriptions are nothing but blurbs because there is so much to unpack. I hope you’ll approach these books with an open-mind – especially if Asian literature is a new genre for you. 

We live in a very visual world today. As I glance at the numerous books on an aisle, a book cover makes or breaks whether I pick up the story and flip over to read the description. When I got this list of books, they all seemed so unfamiliar – until I saw the book cover of Inside Out & Back Again. Whether it was at the library or in one of the scholastic catalogs, I was sure I saw it somewhere in the past and it just never piqued my interest. It gave me a similar vibe as Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen; both had a tree, at least one person, and a dreamy background. I enjoyed Flipped, but looking at the cover of Inside Out & Back Again, I probably thought it was a coming-of-age book about a white protagonist. Maybe if I had noticed how the author’s name is oddly “foreign,” I would’ve considered the possibility of a “foreign” protagonist. So I guess…don’t judge a book by its covers and a picture is worth a thousand words, right? If these books make you feel uncomfortable, then good. We can’t always live within the comfort of our bubble, and this discomfort has definitely been an enriching learning journey for me. 

Some questions to think about:

What do you know about war? How are these stories challenging your perceptions of war and of people? What are some of the messages the stories are saying? How are your experiences and knowledge influencing your interpretation? What is made visible and what is then rendered invisible? What are the dominant narratives that these stories challenge? Who is represented and who isn’t? Why? How? Is there an intended audience? Who? Why? 

If you have the chance, read these and have conversations with someone else 🙂