Here is a short list of some of the most exciting Asian fiction to check out and read right now. You can also find full reviews of many of these books, as well as bigger and more specific lists, across this site.
The Last Children of Tokyo
Written by Yoko Tawada | Translated by Margaret Mitsutani
Author of the well-received ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear‘, Tawada’s next novel centres around Yoshiro, a retired author who has surpassed his one-hundredth birthday.
In a dystopian Japan where children are born old and frail and are unlikely to reach adulthood, life has changed considerably from the Japan we know today.
But with Japan’s economy suffering from an ageing population, it’s easy to see the very real fears nestled close within this frightening concept.
In a Black Mirror-esqe way, Japan has been the product of its own downfall as pollution, over-consumption, and natural disaster has led to a future that doesn’t seem too far removed from the story this brilliant book lays out.
Unlike, other forms of dystopian media, however, Tawada delicately strikes the tone focusing instead on filial love and hope as a secret organisation (hoping to find a cure for this affliction on the young) finds that Yoshiro’s great-grandson might be what they’re looking for.
Convenience Store Woman
Written by Sayaka Murata | Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
This novel has made waves in Japan, not only by being a best-seller but by winning the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. This is Sayaka Murata’s first translated novel but has garnered her a strong voice in Japan, where she has been hailed as the most exciting new voice of her generation.
It’s immediately obvious why.
Murata succeeds in giving a voice to the kind of person we often don’t think about at all.
Spending time living in several parts of Asia, I’ve visited (note: survived by) my fair share of Family Marts, GS25s, and 7-Elevens, and they’re undoubtedly an integral part of modern life in Asia.
But what about the people working at these stores? What about the stigma that comes along with simply working at a store in a society that prizes success above all else? And, as a woman, with the increasingly popular choice to reject the traditional husband and child scenario, this book begs the question: what if you’re happy where you are?
The protagonist Keiko speaks for a whole generation of young Asian people who find themselves not fitting the mould, not feeling normal, and not ready for the pressures such a rigid society can place upon the individual.
Keiko takes a job at the convenience store to appease her family and finds peace in the purpose it gives her, the interactions she has with people, and the routine tasks that often give us comfort. In short, she’s very happy as she is.
But, this doesn’t work for Keiko’s social circle and family. They can’t understand why she isn’t striving for a husband or a ‘better’ job. Ultimately, a choice that likely wouldn’t make her happy.
Keiko is left needing to take desperate action. This novel contains a foreword by Hiromi Kawakami, author of Strange Weather in Tokyo.
Scales of Injustice
The next book from the the wonderful Honford Star (check our review of Sweet Potato here)
Lōa Hô (also Lai He, 1894-1943) was a pioneering writer from Taiwan, and has often been called the ‘father of New Taiwanese Literature’.
As a doctor during the colonial period in Taiwan, Loa witnessed the cruelty of Japanese rule and wrote stories which displayed both his sense of justice and his social insight.
His writing often utilised irony and satire to criticise the status quo, and his work provides a fascinating window into the struggle for Taiwanese self-determination during the early twentieth century.
Scales of Injustice contains the complete fiction of Loa Hô, with an expert introduction from Pei-yin Lin and explanatory notes by translator Darryl Sterk (translator of Man Booker nominated The Stolen Bicycle).
Check out our full review here.
The Good Son
Written by You-Jeong Jeong | Translated by Chi-Young Kim
From the award-winning author of four novels, this is You-Jeong Jeong’s first book to be available in English.
Perfect for fans of the psychological thriller, South Korea’s lead crime writer brings a gripping tale with an element of depth that is often found to be missing in this genre.
The book revolves around Yu-jin a twenty-six year old who suffers with seizures and memory loss. Waking up in their stylish Seoul apartment, he finds his mother lying in a pool of blood; he vaguely remembers her calling to him but his memory is hazy. And so ensues a frantic three-day search to find out what exactly happened to her.
The Good Son explores the mysteries of mind and memory, and the twisted relationship between a mother and son, with incredible urgency.”
Translated by the award-winning translator of the Man Asian Literary Prize-winning and bestselling novel Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.
The Good Son is published by Penguin Random House.
The Chilli Bean Paste Clan
Written By Yan Ge | Translated by Nicky Harman
Winner of the English Pen Award, this new novel gives us a slice of modern life centering around a dysfunctional family in West China.
This is the story of the Duan-Xue family, who own a lucrative chili bean paste factory. Their formidable head of the family, ‘Gran’, is about to celebrate her eightieth birthday so the family come together to make preparations.
>As dysfunctional as they are, and in the way of families in general, these preparations lead to sibling rivalries flaring up, intense arguments, and family secrets being revealed.
Shengqiang, the protagonist, struggles with the demands of his wife, his mistress, and the preparations for the party before Gran adds her own surprise.
The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is published by Balestier Press.