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Five Asian-Canadian Authors You Need to Read Now

A recommended reading list by the author of Reuniting with Strangers. 

Book Cover Reuniting With Strangers

Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio's unforgettable first novel, Reuniting with Strangers, follows the reunification of Filipino caregiver families over one Canadian winter—and the mysterious progress of Monolith, who appears and disappears in their lives. 


Book Cover The Jade Peony

The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy 

When I had to study The Jade Peony in grad school, it made me realize that while I’d spent years reading books by Asian-American authors, I’d never even considered that they could have Canadian counterparts. Reading Wayson’s words about Vancouver’s Chinatown was a revelation. The Jade Peony was incisive, historic, and authentic, and Wayson cemented its place in CanLit while telling hard truths in a memorable way. Years later, when I became Wayson’s assistant during the Humber School for Writers IFOA program, I was so touched by his generosity of spirit and his unwavering belief in me. Wayson is missed, but his work lives on in so many of us.


Book Cover Duran Duran Imelda Marcos and Me

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Lorina Mapa, by Lorina Mapa

Every time I present Filipino-Canadian literature recommendations through my school board consulting initiative, Filipino Talks, I dedicate multiple slides to this graphic memoir. When Lorina's father suddenly dies in the Philippines, she leaves her husband and children to rush back to Manila, where she experiences flashbacks of her coming-of-age moments during martial law. It is a story of a daughter’s grief, the power of memory, the fun of being a music-loving teenager in the 1980s, and a firsthand account of Filipino history during pivotal moments of the People Power Revolution. If you're seeking a graphic memoir for yourself, a classroom, or a library collection, definitely look into this one!

Book Cover How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife, by Souvankham Thammavongsa

When you’re from a diasporic community that isn’t exactly known for a love of literature, you often lose sleep wondering if they’ll want to read anything you write. Enter How to Pronounce Knife: the book that showed me the power of accessible language. In the midst of books that left readers muddling through winding sentences and abstract words, here was Souvankham with her searing stories of settlement, hardship, and belonging told in a beautifully taut, precise way that everyone could understand.

Book Cover Scarborough

Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez

The first time I ever saw a Filipino author present in a bookstore, it was Catherine Hernandez reading Scarborough at Glad Day Bookshop. This novel transports readers to Kingston/Galloway to reveal truths about child neglect, the poisoning impact of prejudice, the power of a loving parent, and so much more. As a community worker, I loved that through Ms. Hina’s story, Catherine showed readers the immense stress placed on frontline workers to make a difference within the confines of an unsympathetic system. (And it goes without saying, but Scarborough the film is terrific, too.)

Book Cover Hollow Bamboo

Hollow Bamboo, by William Ping

I’m the kind of traveller who often falls asleep on a plane before takeoff, but after I started Hollow Bamboo on a recent flight from Vancouver to Toronto, I couldn’t put it down. Told in a wonderfully creative way, this book is entertaining, educational, shocking, and addictive. I love learning about the origin stories of diasporas, and William Ping’s novel gives readers an immersive look at the incredible hardships faced by Newfoundland's first Chinese community. I wish the flight attendants had taken me seriously when I asked if I could stay on the plane and fly back to Vancouver with them so that I could finish this book in one sitting. 

And these are further consideration:

"I wish the flight attendants had taken me seriously when I asked if I could stay on the plane and fly back to Vancouver with them so that I could finish this book in one sitting." 


Book Cover Reuniting With Strangers

Learn more about Reuniting with Strangers

When five-year-old Monolith is taken from the Philippines to live with his mother in Canada, he immediately lashes out. Unable or unwilling to speak, he attacks her and destroys his new home.

Everyone wants to know why—and everyone has a theory. But unlike the solid certainty his name suggests, the answer isn’t so simple.

From a cliffside town in the Tagaytay highlands of the Philippines, to the Filipino communities in the desert of Osoyoos, the Arctic world of Iqaluit, the suburbs of southern Ontario, Sarnia's Chemical Valley, Montréal’s Côte-des-Neiges, and Toronto’s Little Manila, Austria-Bonifacio takes readers into the kaleidoscope of the Filipino diaspora, uncovering the displacement, estrangement, resilience and healing that happen behind closed doors.

As each chapter unfolds, truths are revealed in humorous, joyful, devastating and surprising ways: through an incisive caregiver's instruction manual, a custody battle over texts and e-mails, a disarmingly direct self-help guide, a series of desperate résumés, a kundiman songbook, and more.

Monolith appears again and again, as a misbehaving boy in a store, the subject of town gossip, a face in a fundraising campaign, a client in questionable care, a dying man’s beacon of hope—and an unlikely new friend.

Compellingly readable, incisive and resonant, Jennilee Austria-Bonifacio’s stunning debut opens a window into the homes and hearts of the Filipino-Canadian community.

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