As we celebrate Asian Heritage month in Canada this May, we’re shining a light on some of the Asian Canadian women whose words inspire, enlighten and enliven us. From recent releases to much-loved tomes from the past few years, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite books — from novels to story collections to poetry books and more — written by Asian Canadian women.
See also: 10 inspirational Asian Canadian women you need to know.
‘How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun?’ by Doretta Lau
Vancouver-based journalist and writer Doretta Lau’s 2014 debut collection of short stories, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun?, strays from stereotypes to present an array of whimsical, addictive tales that capture the feeling of being young, Canadian and Asian — and make it fun.
“While it might be dramatic to say that this slim volume of stories changed my life, it absolutely did,” says Slice editor, Sharon Miki Chan. “Growing up as an Asian Canadian in the ‘90s and early 2000s, I rarely saw myself reflected in stories. I read tales of young Asians and young Canadians, but a part of me always felt like I was an outsider even during my bookworm times. How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun? made me feel seen.”
Some of the stories are heartbreakingly realistic, while others are charmingly speculative (think: a dating story about a woman who decides to date the ghost of Glenn Gould) — but they’re all must reads.
How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun? by Doretta Lau, Indigo, $20.
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‘Mistakes To Run With: A Memoir’ by Yasuko Thanh
When we think of books by Canadian women that inspire us to be our best selves, this “devastatingly frank” 2019 memoir by Canadian writer and musician Yasuko Thanh immediately comes to mind.
Detailing Thanh’s journey from an evangelical religious childhood to teenage rebellion (from substance use to a stint in jail) to sex work to becoming an award-winning writer, Mistakes To Run With is a treatise on how our circumstances and choices in the past impact the person who we will become.
Mistakes To Run With: A Memoir by Yasuko Thanh, Indigo, $25.
‘The Sun and Her Flowers’ by Rupi Kaur
Indian-born Canadian poet Rupi Kaur rose to fame on social media for her words — becoming one of the most famous “Instapoets” on the platform, and for good reason. Kaur’s poetry is minimalist and feels intimate, confessional and very now. It brings the evocative and reflective power of poetry to the Instagram generation.
Released in 2017, Kaur’s second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, is a particular favourite for Slice staff. In Kaur’s signature style, the poetry collection — which is illustrated by Kaur — touches on themes that feel familiar, like growth, healing and even burnout. These feelings, for many of us are at once universal and terrifying, as Kaur captures in the poem “Timeless.”
“i feel as though i just left the womb / my twenties are the warm-up / for what i’m really about to do / wait till you see me in my thirties / now that will be a proper introduction / to the nasty, wild, woman in me…”
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, Indigo, $20.
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‘Shadow Life’ by Hiromi Goto, illustrated by Ann Xu
How long can we avoid fate? In the 2021 graphic novel, Shadow Life, Hiromi Goto explores this question in wry, engaging and absorbing style (the book is beautifully, and a touch hauntingly, illustrated by Ann Xu). Telling the story of an elderly woman who flees an assisted living home for an independent lifestyle — and who then has to escape Death’s shadow — the novel is a mix of literary fiction and magical realism that can’t be put down.
Goto — a Japanese-Canadian poet, editor and novelist — is an acclaimed BC-based writer with an acclaimed career of prose work, and this is the first graphic novel from the writer.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto, illustrated by Ann Xu, Indigo, $34.
‘One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays’ by Scaachi Koul
Born and raised in Calgary, Canadian culture writer Scaachi Koul brings a hard-to-find mix of honesty, humour and wit to her work — and her 2018 collection of autobiographical essays, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, is the perfect showcase.
Covering a range of subjects like family, race, love and growing up as the child of Indian immigrants in Canada, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter broaches important subject matter in an approachable, straightforward and yet fresh and relatable way. As Slice Assistant Editor Natalie Harmsen has said of the collection, “Each story acquaints readers with the all-too-familiar challenges felt by women of colour.”
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays by Scaachi Koul, Indigo, $20.
See also: We need to acknowledge BIPOC mental health during times of crisis.
‘Where the Silver River Ends’ by Anna Quon
Described as “[l]yrical realism meets family drama meets sparkling global folktale,” Where the Silver River Ends is the latest captivating novel by Dartmoth poet, novelist and writing workshop facilitator Anna Quon.
Set in Europe, Where the Silver River Ends tells the story of a half-Chinese English conversation teacher who strikes a friendship with a Roma teenager and a traveler on a journey to put her dead mother to rest. Released just this spring, Where the Silver River Ends explores what it’s like to be an outsider, mixed-race identity and family.
Where the Silver River Ends by Anna Quon, Indigo, $23.
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‘Chop Suey Nation’ by Ann Hui
Food unites us all, but it’s also easy to take its power — and the stories, culture and family history that dishes and recipes often hold — for granted. In 2019’s Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants, reporter Ann Hui explores the stories of Chinese restaurant owners (including that of her own family) across the nation.
Through these stories, the book blends memoir, cultural commentary and a glimpse into a slice of Canadian history that is often overlooked.
Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants by Ann Hui, Indigo, $25.
Related: Lisa Ling seeks out hidden gems of Asian cuisine in America in new HBO Max show.
‘How To Pronounce Knife: Stories’ by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Sometimes, the most impactful stories can be found not in the lives of the rich and famous, but in the regular people who surround us.
In her Giller Prize-winning 2020 collection, How to Pronounce Knife, Laotian Canadian poet and fiction writer Souvankham Thammavongsa crafts stories around these characters. From a woman learning English from soap operas to a man painting nails at a salon, the characters in Thammavongsa’s stories are truly unforgettable.
How To Pronounce Knife: Stories by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Indigo, $25.