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Cal Culture

10 Berkeley AAPI Books that You Must Read

As we enter Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, look for these titles from some of our AAPI Golden Bears writers.

May 4, 2022
by Amanda Chiu

A wide variety of Asian American Pacific Islander authors have emerged from UC Berkeley. The result: memoirs, comic books, novels, and more that reflect different facets of Asian identity and experience, both in and outside of the United States.

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown (2020) by Charles Yu ’97

Following the “Generic Asian Man” Willis Wu, Charles Yu’s novel that borders on a screenplay explores Asian American tropes with humor and insight. UC Berkeley also selected Interior Chinatown to be its 2022 book for the On The Same Page program, the campus-wide book-in-common program for undergraduate students.

Front Desk

Front Desk (2018) by Kelly Yang ’02

What if you: lived in a motel and wanted to be a writer while your parents hid immigrants in said motel? That’s the premise of Kelly Yang’s award-winning children’s book, Front Desk.

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer (2015) by Viet Thanh Nguyen ’92, Ph.D. ’97

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Viet Thanh Nguyen weaves satire and history together in the wry narration of a nameless Vietnam War double-agent.

Desert Exile

Desert Exile (2015) by Yoshiko Uchida ’42

Yoshiko Uchida shares her autobiographical account of being interned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese (2006) by Gene Luen Yang ’90

A modern-day fable, Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel tells the story of three seemingly unrelated characters—the legendary Monkey King, a lonely Chinese-American middle schooler, and a not-so-comical personification of Chinese stereotypes.

This year, UC Berkeley awarded Yang the 2022 Campanile Excellence in Achievement Award in recognition of his “professional achievements that reflect the excellence of a Berkeley education”. Among his many accomplishments: co-creating the DC Comics’ hero the Monkey Prince as part of AAPI Heritage month in 2021.

Bank of America
Perfume Dreams

Perfume Dreams (2005) by Andrew Lam ’86

Journalist and NPR commentator Andrew Lam reflects on being a Viet Kieu, a Vietnamese national living abroad, after the Vietnam War.

Sacred Games

Sacred Games (2006) by Vikram Chandra, UC Berkeley English Professor

This page-turner focuses on Inspector Sartaj Singh as he plunges into the criminal underworld of India. (Fun fact: Professor Vikram Chandra used a program called Granthika to double-check the 60-year timeline of his book.)

The Joy Luck Club

Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy Tan, Former doctoral student

Amy Tan’s modern classic explores the deep, sometimes painful, bonds between four immigrant women and their American-born daughters.

The Middleman

The Middleman (1988) by Bharati Mukherjee, UC Berkeley English Professor

A collection of short stories, The Middleman follows the lives of immigrants, expatriates, and returnees.

The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior (1976) by Maxine Hong Kingston ’62 

When Maxine Hong Kingston wrote The Woman Warrior, she created her own meld of autobiography and mythology. Her portrayal of culture, immigration, and identity is now considered a classic.