The COVID-19 pandemic is still far from over, yet there is a new “virus” that currently plagues the United States: anti-Asian and anti–Asian American hate. It is so widespread that many blame Asian people for the ongoing health crisis. Multiple violent attacks towards the Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in different parts of the U.S. were also reported during the pandemic, and the attacks don’t cease in 2021. Here are five 2021 books for AAPI Heritage Month this May to explore AAPI culture and fight anti-Asian racism:
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
The novel may feel like the usual romcom, but it really is a cozy mystery. Lila Macapagal returns home following a horrible breakup after her fiancé Sam cheated on her. She is now tasked with managing her Tita Rosie’s struggling restaurant, but a former boyfriend named Derek enters the scene. However, Derek is intent on destroying the restaurant’s reputation by becoming a food critic and picking holes in the dishes it serves.
When Derek tries a dish that Lila herself offers him, he dies, and the Macapagals are blamed for it. Afraid of going to jail, Lila conducts her own investigation into what really happened.
Arsenic and Adobo is a refreshing mix of romance and mystery. Readers will get a glimpse of the family-centered Filipino culture. The audiobook, which is narrated by Danice Cabanela, is a must-listen.
The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol
Winner of the Philippine National Book Award, The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata finally makes its U.S. debut after more than a decade since its first release.
Just like in the ingenious Insurrecto, Apostol pushes the boundaries of storytelling as fact and fiction collide. The novel is presented as a fictional memoir of Raymundo Mata, a half-blind bookworm, and explores the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. But the fun doesn’t stop there as three characters with different backgrounds scrutinize Mata’s memoir.
An obra maestra written in Spanish, English, and some Philippine languages, the book got a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
This debut novel by Vo is a reimagining of the American classic The Great Gatsby, except that it leans toward fantasy.
Vo makes Fitzgerald’s world more appealing and lively. Jordan Baker, adopted, queer, and Vietnamese, is the star here. Though the book extensively makes use of Fitzgerald’s characters and world, it also explores Asian identity and acts as a social commentary. It’s clever and imaginative.
“If you love Fitzgerald, but have felt excluded by his narratives, here is a fantastical vision…that will come for your heart,” said the book’s editor Ruoxi Chen.
Radar Girls by Sara Ackerman
Set in Hawaii circa 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy, this historical fiction novel is empowering. Radar Girls follows Daisy Wilder, a horse trainer who joins the Women’s Air Raid Defense (WARD), an all-female civilian organization that provided aid during the World War II, after the Pearl Harbor attack. It explores the bonds between the women.
Deliciously visceral, readers will be transported into the dreamy Hawaiian backdrop.
Calabash Stories by Jeffrey J. Higa
Higa writes a stimulating collection of stories that centers around Hawaiian heritage and culture. Calabash Stories takes inspiration from the traditional Hawaiian calabash — a large serving bowl usually placed in the “middle of the dining table” — where the “stories invite their reader to a family table.”
The book, which is Higa’s debut, is the winner of the 2020 Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose. For book club discussions, you can download the readers’ guide to talk about the stories.
Do you need more books to delve deeper into the topic? Here are last year’s “5 Great Books for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.”