With Christmas in mind – both the gift of giving and beach-towel reads – the Asia Media Centre asked our friends at Unity Books Wellington for their top 10 best-selling books of 2019 by Asian authors in both New Zealand and overseas. We’ve added in a brief synopsis and a one-line review. Enjoy!
1) All Who Live on Islands by Rose Lu (Essays, New Zealand) – VUP, $30
Wellington-based writer Rose Lu gained her Masters of Arts in Creative Writing in 2018. Her anthology of memoirs, All Who Live On Islands, introduces a bold new literary voice, as the reader share’s Lu’s personal history, from a shopping trip wither her Shanghai grandparents, to an arduous hike in the Himalaya.
The reviews: “Poignant and insightful . . . [revealing] the struggles of immigrants, the daily abuse they encounter and the wall of ignorance and indifference we erect between Kiwis and newcomers.” – Stuff
2) Brain Connections: How to Sleep Better, Worry Less & Feel Happier by Giresh Kanji (Medicine, New Zealand) – Pain Publications, $36
Dr Giresh Kanji is a musculoskeletal pain specialist and researcher, who spent four-and-a-half years researching the science of insomnia, anxiety and depression. His book explores the role of childhood trauma, stress, and the links between stress-related symptoms and fatigue, concentration and dementia. Kanji outlines the five habits that reduce the activity of the stress brain and improve insomnia, anxiety and depression.
The reviews: “An astonishing book . . . A must read for both laypeople and health professionals.” – Bruce Arroll, Professor of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland and Director of the Goodfellow Institute.
3) Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Fiction, Japan) – Granta, $23
The English-language debut of an exciting young voice in international fiction, selling 660,000 copies in Japan alone, Convenience Store Woman is a bewitching portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits in to the rigidity of its work culture only too well.
The reviews: “This deadpan Japanese tale of an oddball shop assistant possesses a strange beauty . . . It’s the novel’s cumulative, idiosyncratic poetry that lingers.” – The Guardian
4) Sodden Downstream by Brannavan Gnanalingam (Fiction, New Zealand) – Lawrence & Gibson, $29
Thousands flee central Wellington as a far too-common ‘once in a century’ storm descends. Roads are closed and all rail is halted. For their own safety, city workers are told they must go home early. Sita is a Tamil Sri Lankan refugee living in the Hutt Valley. She’s just had a call from her boss: If she doesn’t get to her cleaning job in the city she’ll lose her contract. The novel charts the help and hindrances that make for a long, damp evening. But the book also highlights the kinds of care and solidarity that come out in times of need.
The reviews: “Longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, this novel is a gem. Sita is a gentle, endearing vessel for the themes of social injustice, and her determination and optimism should qualify her as one of fiction’s great heroines. Highly recommended.” – Noted
5) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Fiction, Vietnamese-American) – Jonathan Cape, $34
Vogue magazine says everything that needs to be said about On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel by Vietnamese-American novelist and poet Ocean Young: “Set against quixotic hopes of the American Dream and the devastation of the opioid crisis. Vuong’s deeply felt work might just be the first great fiction of this modern, homegrown travesty, but it’s also a story that is enriched by both the beautiful and the ugly currents of American history.”
The reviews: “Vuong is a mightily gifted observer . . . moving and rarely less than excellent.” – The New York Times
6) Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Fiction, British Pakistani) – Bloomsbury, $22
Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London – or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream: to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
The reviews: “I very much enjoyed and admired Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, a politically and psychologically acute novel modelled on Sophocles’s Antigone – but reworked as the story of two British Muslim sisters and their jihadist brother.” – New Statesman, ‘Books of the Year’
7) Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang (History, China) – Jonathan Cape, $38
The best-known modern Chinese fairy tale is the story of three sisters from Shanghai, who for most of the twentieth century were at the centre of power in China. It was sometimes said that ‘One loved money, one loved power and one loved her country’, but there was far more to the Soong sisters than these caricatures. As China battled through 100 years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, each sister played an important, sometimes critical role, and left an indelible mark on history.
The reviews: “Utterly engrossing… It stars a trio of extraordinary women… Their gripping collective story reads like Wild Swans meets the Mitfords; and the history feels remarkably close to our own times too.” – The Bookseller
8) Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Fiction, Japan) – Vintage, $26
In Killing Commendatore, a thirty-something portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist,. A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby – Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.
The reviews: “[Murakami’s] pace remains easy and unhurried. His prose is warm, conversational and studded with quiet profundities. He’s eminently good company; that most precious of qualities that we look for in an author.” – The Guardian
9) The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga (Philosophy/Self-Help, Japan) – Allen & Unwin, $26
The Courage to be Disliked shows you how to unlock the power within yourself to become your best and truest self, change your future and find lasting happiness. Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of 19th century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, the authors explain how we are all free to determine our own future free of the shackles of past experiences, doubts and the expectations of others.
The reviews: “The Japanese phenomenon that teaches us the simple yet profound lessons required to liberate our real selves and find lasting happiness. The result is a book that is both highly accessible and profound in its importance.” – Book Depository
10) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Fiction, Korean American) – Head of Zeus, $25
Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlours of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters – strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis – survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.
The reviews: “A vivid, immersive multi-generational saga about life for Koreans in Japan is a tale of resilience and poignant emotional conflict.” – The Guardian
– Asia Media Centre
Author: Mark Russell