Jodie Chiemi Ching
This summer, why not treat yourself to reading a variety of Asian American literary and nonfiction books? Even though Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month ended in May, you can hold your own mini-celebration of the diversity of Hawai‘i and the rest of the Land of the Free. I dug up a few of my favorite Japanese American titles – local and from the U.S. mainland. Here’s a little something for everyone: two novels, a humorous illustrated memoir and guide into adulthood and a modern book about wellness (with some healthy recipes) centered around Japanese traditions and values.
by Candice Kumai
In “Kintsugi Wellness” Candice Kumai shares how her Japanese heritage influences wellness in the areas of mind, body and spirit. “Kintsugi” is an art and a metaphor for life as defined by Kumai in her book:
The practice of kintsugi — repairing broken vessels by sealing the cracks with lacquer and carefully dusting them with gold powder — is a remarkable art. The Japanese believe the golden cracks make the piece even more precious and valuable.
It’s beautiful to think of this practice as a metaphor for your life, to see the broken, difficult or painful parts of you as radiating light, gold and beauty. Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than before. When you think you are broken, you can pick up the pieces, put them back together, and learn to embrace the cracks.
Why I love this book: I was inspired by the intimate way Kumai embraces her pain to heal and create inner strength for herself. In order to write this book, Kumai travels to Japan to connect to her roots and put her broken self back together stronger, becoming more resilient. Like the golden repair of kintsugi this book teaches us to celebrate our imperfections. She says, “It teaches us that we are more beautiful for our flaws, battle scars [and] our lessons learned.”
The photographs in the book are a mix of traditional Japan, Kumai’s family photos and thoughtful food presentations.
She addresses wellness from all aspects. Part One is about her personal emotional-healing journey and how it was influenced by the philosophy of kintsugi. Part Two includes recipes, like okayu (rice porridge), miso avocado toast, tempura, matcha scones, umeboshi potatoes and more, to nourish the body. I have tried the recipe for her matcha chocolate chip pancakes – it’s a winner!
In Part Three and Four, Kumai introduces the traditional values of gambatte (perseverance), shikata ga nai (literally “it cannot be helped,” interpreted as letting go of difficult situations) and kansha (gratitude), to name a few. This part taught me that in order to have a good relationship with others you must have a good relationship with yourself.
This book is a heartwarming and healing trip to Japan bound in 298 pages.
by Mari Andrew
“Am I There Yet?” is Mari Andrew’s whimsical, illustrated guide to adulthood. Some of the stops on her “zigzagging” life journey include “Moving to a New City,” “Travel: Expectations vs. Reality,” “Anatomy of the Guy to Avoid,” “Prescriptions for a Broken Heart,” “Resilience,” “Finding Yourself = Creating Yourself,” and more.
This book was born out of Andrew’s brilliant Instagram postings about the emotional and comical growing pains and joys of being a twenty-something.
Why I love this book: Andrew’s 189-page book is good for busy women who might not have the time to commit to a novel. You can instead just open up any random page for humor, healing or inspiration. The colorful art will uplift you when life becomes overwhelming.
by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
“Behold the Many” is the eerily beautiful story of three young sisters, Anah, Aki and Leah. In 1913, they are sent away from their family, for treatment of tuberculosis, to an orphanage in Hawai‘i’s Kalihi Valley. Of the three, two will die there, in spite of the nuns’ best efforts to save them, and only Anah, the eldest, will grow to adulthood.
But the ghosts of the dead children are afraid to leave the grounds of St. Joseph’s, which is the only place they have known as home, and as Anah prepares to begin married life away from the orphanage, these ghost children grow angry. Desperate for the love of this girl who has communicated with them since her childhood, jealous of her ability to live in the physical world, and terrified of losing her, the ghosts are determined to thwart Anah’s happiness. One of them places a curse on her that will reverberate through her future and that of her new family. As Anah struggles to appease the dead and to quiet her own guilt for living, it becomes apparent that only through one of her own daughters can redemption be attained.
Why I love this book: When I am looking for a novel to read, I check out the first page. If I am not intrigued, I’m not taking it home. “Behold the Many” sucked me in from the first sentence: “The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain,” painting Kalihi Valley as beautiful, sensual and maternal. I devoured this 337-page tale about love, mourning loss, jealousy and anger in two days. I think it’s the book that made me a Yamanaka fan for life due to her poetic voice. Reading “Behold the Many” for me was like binge-watching Netflix; I just couldn’t stop turning the pages.
by Scott Kikkawa
The protagonist of “Kona Winds” is Honolulu Police Department Detective Sgt. Frankie “The Sheik” Yoshikawa, a Nisei veteran of World War II. He is assigned to a case of a young local Japanese female whose body was found in Honolulu Harbor.
The investigation leads Yoshikawa to uncover the dark motives tied to a recent dock and sugar strike and a forbidden relationship between the heir to a prominent kama‘äina haole family and a young woman from a growing immigrant community. Yoshikawa is haunted by the memories of war and has a bit of an alcohol habit, but is able to follow his gut feelings toward a resolution.
Why I love this book: If you are into mysteries, consider “Kona Winds.” In this book, Kikkawa paints a dark yet nostalgic picture of Honolulu. Readers encounter an unseen part of Hawai‘i where power struggles are uncovered in a story that opens with, “It began with a corpse.” Also, there are layers within the novel making it even more delectable: a mystery, some history, a love story and a tale of honor. For me, it also painted a picture of tales I heard of old Hawai‘i from my Nisei grandparents and Sansei parents about Kaimukï and downtown Honolulu. Take a trip down memory lane while trying to figure out “whodunnit.”