Looking for a good read? We compiled a list of five must-read books by Asian authors

Looking for a good read? We compiled a list of five must-read books by Asian authors

There is something for everyone and authors from all over Asia, from China to Pakistan.
17 Feb, 2024

A slow, lazy weekend really poses the question of what one should get up to. The answer? There is no better activity than reading — putting aside the multitude of screens for a while and immersing yourself in another universe.

We went through some of the books we’ve read (and some still on our long, long to-read lists) and picked out five books by Asian authors that everyone should definitely read.

1. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

 . Photo: Fable Books

This historical novel by critically acclaimed author Ishiguro is narrated by Masuji Ono, an ageing artist, who reflects on his life and how he has lived while trying to get his daughter married in post-World War II Japan. The protagonist reckons with his past as a propaganda artist for the Japanese military, something that a lot of young people feel very resentful towards as they blame the propaganda machine for putting them into an unwinnable and unnecessary war that is causing everyone hardship.

Like several other Ishiguro books, Ono is an unreliable narrator who is in denial about his role in the war and gradually the reader pieces together what he did and the impact it had.

People who enjoy slow-paced books, detail-oriented books will definitely love this.

This book can be purchased here.

2. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Photo: Goodreads

The Three-Body Problem is the first novel in the science-fiction trilogy the Remembrance of Earth’s Past. According to Goodreads, the book is “set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens”. The signal is captured by an alien civilisation on the brink of destruction who then plan to invade Earth. On planet Earth, various factions start forming, planning to “either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion.” The alien takeover is supported by a group akin to a doomsday cult that starts its preparation by eliminating the world’s leading scientists.

The New York Times cited The Three-Body Problem as having helped to popularise Chinese science fiction internationally, and maintained that the book was endorsed by former US president Barack Obama, Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg and Game of Thrones author George RR Martin.

Fans of sci-fi will absolutely love this pick, and it has now been made into a Netflix series of the same name.

The book can be bought here.

3. The Night in Her Hair by Huma Agha Abbas and Taiba Abbas

Photo: Liberty Books

This collection of stories is a modern retelling of nine great romances and folktales from Pakistan, including famous and beloved ones such as Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiban, Sassi Punhun, Habba Khatoon, and Umar Marvi. It also includes lesser-known tales such as Kash Kash Jinn, Himal Nagrai, and Adam Khan Dur Khanai. The stories span the vast and variegated land from the foothills of the Himalayas to the sand deserts of the south.

In the words of author Osama Siddique:

The book is an excellent, modern tie to stories that are a big part of local culture and have Pakistani roots.

It is available for purchase here.

4. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

 . Photo: Liberty Books

Roy is a master of her art, and her work is consistently captivating. In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, she skilfully knits together stories of individuals navigating some of the most violent episodes of modern Indian history. The eminence of this book emerges from its myriad of characters, each from different walks of Indian society. From Anjum, a khawajasira [intersex individual] shunned from her own house and eventually finding her own guest house, to her hakim [doctor of herbal medicine] father, to Zainab, the three-year-old rescued by Anjum, to an architecture student estranged from her Syrian-Christian mother.

According to The Guardian: “its patchwork of narratives, painful, funny, sexy, violent, earthy, otherworldly, its recurring images of lost and recovered children, individual sacrifice and self-denial, and its depiction of the constant battle toward self-assertion in a society still held in thrall to the taxonomy of caste and class, make for a disturbing and memorable return to the land of make-believe”.

If there is one piece of South Asian literature you should read, let it be this one. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is available here.

5. The Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sahkawat Hossain

Photo: Amazon

The Sultana’s Dream is a short story by Bengali author and feminist Begum Rokeya. Though this isn’t a full book, it is one of our favourite pieces of South Asian literature, so we absolutely had to include it in the list. This feminist utopian story centres around a female narrator — the sultana — who falls asleep and dreams of a women-ruled city that shuns violence and, through a reversal of roles, men are limited to the indoors, similar to the zenana [women’s area] in the real world.

The story deals with stereotypes such as men are stronger than women, and maintains: “a lion is stronger than a man, but it does not enable him to dominate the human race”.

Within the utopian city, led and ruled by women, the women have learned to control the weather, invented flying cars and harnessed solar power for daily activities like cooking. The ruler of this kingdom also details how women, led by the principal of a university, won a war when the men failed to, and maintained peace with the men of their own city.

For a story written in 1905, The Sultana’s Dream is quite ahead of its time. It is available to read online for free here.


M. Emad Feb 17, 2024 05:06pm
'The Sultana’s Dream' written by Rangpur, Bangladesh-born feminist writer Rokeya Sahkawat Hossain (Begum Rokeya) in 1905.
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M. Emad Feb 17, 2024 05:32pm
Begum Rokeya (Rokeya Sahkawat Hossain) is considered as the pioneer feminist of Bengal. Universities, public buildings and a National Award has been named after her in Bangladesh. Rokeya is an inspiration for many later generation female authors including Taslima Nasreen and others. 9 December is celebrated as the 'Rokeya Day' in Bangladesh. On 9 December 2017, Google celebrated her 137th birthday, honoring her with a Google Doodle.
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Taj Ahmad Feb 17, 2024 06:17pm
Knowledge is power, thanks for sharing nice books.
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Ehsan Feb 17, 2024 09:46pm
Nice list
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Naseem Feb 17, 2024 10:28pm
Please also indicate whether the books are available in different languages. Thank you
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