In many ways, the women of East Asian literature are the prominent voices of their cultures today. In Japan and Korea especially, those writers who have the greatest clarity of mind and creative spirits are insightful, fascinating, and imaginative women.
Women who speak for the sidelined and the unrepresented, women who show us our lives and our cultures from an original perspective, women who can teach us love and pain and quiet introspection. These women are vital to their respective cultures.
It was hard to pick five and this list could easily have extended to ten and beyond.
Here are our top five female Asian writers:
An astonishingly powerful, and all the while humble and personal voice in Japanese literature, Yoshimoto considers issues with love and relationships, both familial and romantic.
She incorporates LGBTQ characters into her writing in a way that they always should be included: as people.
Celebrating and criticising the darker side of Japanese society in equal measure, she has become my favourite contemporary Japanese writer, and reading every one of her books is a journey, an honour, and a lesson.
Read our review of: Kitchen
Making waves in the world of literature right now, Han Kang delivers lessons on the more broken and fragile aspects of modern society, both Korean and otherwise.
Her writing is otherworldly, ethereal, at times, but grounded in the kind of problems you and I have either faced ourselves or at least heard about.
Each of her books is wildly unique and will affect each of us differently but in an equally personal way. In the world of Korean literature, Han Kang is inescapable, and that is a great thing.
Read our review of: The White Book
Much of contemporary Japanese fiction, in the realms of prose, manga, and anime, concerns itself with the ‘slice of life’, the consideration of each moment as both fleeting and astonishingly important. And no voice in this area speaks more affectingly than Hiromi Kawakami’s.
A writer who understands what it means to simply exist, with all of our flaws on glorious display.
Her writing affects quiet contemplation in the most meaningful moments of an ordinary day, and has the power to encourage the reader to reassess how they treat the simpler parts of our own quiet lives.
Read our review of: Strange Weather in Tokyo
An immigrant who has spent her life both in Korea and America, Krys Lee, with a phenomenal command of language and pacing, explores what it means to be Korean in a modern world of turbulent politics and fragile cultural and personal identity.
Questions of nationality and belonging are becoming increasingly difficult to answer, with migration being so commonplace, and so Krys Lee uses her seemingly bottomless well of imagination and writing prowess to probe these questions and wring them dry.
We recommend: Drifting House
Unafraid to criticise her native land of China, her adoptive land of America, her family, her culture, and herself, Yiyun Li is above all things honest.
A feminist, a linguist, a loud voice in the realm of mental health issues, and a passionate supporter of literature and its ability to move mountains, her writing is to be experienced.
A rare kind of writer, who has the power to simply spill her thoughts, anxieties, opinions, fears, and motives onto the page and be listened to without question.
Reading Li’s work is to contemplate so much that was once perhaps thought trivial or best avoided. Honesty is powerful. We thought we knew that already, but we didn’t. Not until we read Li’s writing do we know this entirely.
Read our review of: Dear Friend, from my life I Write to You in Your Life and her new book Where Reasons End
Thanks for reading and I hope you find your next favourite novel among the works of these wonderful women.
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Will predominantly writes about the books of Books and Bao, examining the literature of a place and how the authors have used the art of storytelling to reflect the world and the culture around them.