There's something magical about reading a book of that country while traveling through it. It gives me a deeper connection to the characters.
I had a surreal moment reading Factory Girls while traveling on an overnight train from Hong Kong to Wenzhou. It was my first time visiting my birthplace since I left 10 years ago.
I became so emotional on the train because it was the first time I saw myself as the protagonist. The author captured my angst of feeling invalid in both China and the USA. It gave me a reality check of what my life could have been if my parents did not escape the Communist regime.
I didn't know a book could do that to me.
School, media, and society have been shoving me stories of victorious white men. I need to unlearn this biased narrative and balance it out with books written by women who are portrayed beyond that one single story. Now, I consciously seek out novels, written by women, that are smart, witty, powerful, and honest.
Here are 11 books written by Women of Color that gave me all the feels.
1. I went on a binge and read Adichie's Half the Yellow Sky, Purple Hibiscus, and The Thing Around Your Neck in a week. They were all so good!
Americanah is more than just a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze who departs military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Ifemelu heads to the USA to study and learns what it means to be black for the first time. Whereas, Obinza ends up as an undocumented immigrant in London.
This story is so real about being an immigrant. I can relate to it with my stance of not Americanizing my name to the microaggressions I get from strangers when they "compliment" on my good English.
2. Parable of the Sower is a Sci-fi novel in the most technical terms.
It is set in the future. The government is corrupt and social services are non-existent. Everyone is out for themselves. Only the rich have resources to fight off gangs of addicts who rape, kill, and rob from innocent people.
It follows Lauren, a hyperempath who can feel the pain of others, and her story of escape from her gated community.
She goes on a journey to create her philosophy and sets up her own religion.
3. My favorite autographical novel with black and white artwork.
Persepolis beautifully connects Marjane Satrapi's daily, and sometimes humorous, moments in her home life to the horror of war during the political transition of the Iranian Revolution.
Marjane grew up in a liberal family which leads her to form her own ideas on the madness that's happening around her.
They made this book into a movie which is equally captivating!
4. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is about two stories crisscrossing in time between Rashimi and her great-great-grandmother, Shehika. They both face the same struggles even if the story is 100 years apart in Afghanistan.
Rashimi doesn't have a brother and her drug addict father is useless. So, she becomes a bacha posh in which she dresses and acts as a boy in the family. She is allowed to have freedom of movement like no other girls.
The story focuses on gender inequality, rape, child bride, oppression, and the strongest hope.
5. When the Elephants Dance tells a tale of World War II with the Japanese and the USA forces trying to occupy the Philippines.
The Karangalan family and their neighbors hide in a cellar.
They give each other hope through the stories they share about love and courage with the history of the Philippines, Spanish colonization, and Mestizo culture.
The only downside is it gets confusing because there are many characters to keep track.
6. Amy Tan has a way of starting the book that becomes impossible to put down. After reading Tan’s books, stories of mother and daughter relationship, cultural folklore, and relatable characters become almost formulaic. But, it is towards the second part that makes the book so good.
Ruth, first- generation Chinese American, is struggling to care for her mother, Luling, who is diagnosed with dementia. Her mother starts to reveal more truth than ever before.
The Bonesetter's Daughter is about forgiving your parents and ancestors no matter how much pain they cost you.
7. China has the largest migration in the human story. I experienced that when I took the train from Hong Kong to Wenzhou. It was chaotically organized yet flooded with people going home for Chinese New Years.
Like some of my cousins who did not move to the USA, they told me their stories of working in electronic factories in Shenzhen. It made it all more relatable to read the stories of young female migrant workers in the assembly lines of Dongguan. I question my fortunes living in America where I can get an education and a job. It's also scary to think that I could have been like one of the migrant workers.
8. When Broken Glass Floats is not your summer feel good book. I read this book on an overnight bus from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat, Cambodia. It gave me a haunting story of the genocide by the Khmer Rouge.
I saw remnants of the painful past as it had on the country with many beggars, amputated performers, and aggressive vendors selling food to drugs to tourists.
The Khmer Rough came into power in 1975. It follows a young girl, Him Chanrithy, and her family going through the terrors of the Killings Field.
9. Don’t do what I did. Read this right after When the Broken Glass Floats while witnessing first hand of the struggle of the people in Cambodia. It’s heavy and makes me question what is anything in life.
First they Killed my Father is told from a 5-years old perspective on living and dying during the Pol Pot’s cleansing project.
Loung is the daughter of a high-ranking official, the people that Pol Pot hates. She and her family tries to flee but is placed in the labor camps. It gets worse as they are separated from each other and face the worst of humanity.
10. Isabel Allende tells the story of three generations of the Trueba Family with history, magical realism, and political unrest in Chile from the early 20th century to the military coup.
The House of the Spirits is narrated by three characters. Esteban is a self-made rags to riches man and powerful landowner. Clara is his wife and a clairvoyant. Their granddaughter, Alba, is a strong supporter of the revolution.
She describes the struggle of two classes, the aristocracy and the peasants, and the powerful women making subtle but long-lasting changes.
11. The Invisible Mountain takes me on a journey that celebrates familial love, the drive to survive in the most hopeless circumstances, and the powerful bond between mother and daughter.
It is a story of the rise and fall of the fortunes of the three women with conjunction to the rise and fall of Uruguay.
Similar to the House of Spirits, it follows three generations of a family in the times of Uruguay's tumultuous 20th century.
It is difficult to define who women of color are in Central and South America. According to Wikipedia, it is any person who is not white. However, authors like Isabel Allende and Carolina de Reobertis get confusing because they could be ethically latina but racially white.
Talking to a Chilean history professor, he thought Allende uses magic realism as a way to sell Latin American culture to the USA and Europe. Do you agreed? I like the magic realism element (maybe because it catered to my western taste).
Nonetheless, I included them because their novels tell a powerful tale of women in South America.
I don't have a definite answer for this so I would love for you to pitch in your thoughts in the comment box below.
MY WISH LIST
I saw the Antiprincesas series sold in every newspaper stand in Buenos Aires. It has been my regret for not getting it.
Antiprincesas is my answer to never ever feeding my future child about the degrading, weak, and hopeless role models standardized by the Disney Princesses.
There are two books about Frida Kahlo and Violeta Parra. They are strong female role models that I want my future kids to emulate. Plus, they can learn Spanish too!
What are your favorite books written by women of color? Share your must-read books in the comment box below!