I hear you. Didn’t we just celebrate the New Year? Well, I’m talking about the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival in many parts of Asia. A major holiday outside the U.S., it follows the lunar calendar, usually arrives at the end of January and middle of February, after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and before Valentine’s Day.

In my memories as a kid growing up in China, this is the best time of the year. It was the time for a reunion dinner: Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, all sat at a large round table, enjoying a large meal with endless dim sum, dishes of fried fish, roasted duck, spicy pork slices, tender garlic shrimp, steamy greens and juicy beef. We didn’t eat like that for one day; we ate for two weeks. For adults, the holiday meant visiting the elders of the family and catching up with friends and relatives they hadn’t seen for a year. For children, it meant new clothes and receiving Red Envelopes — with money from the adults inside. 

In the U.S., you might get a taste of the Asian tradition by watching dazzling dragon dances and parades with energetic drummers, cymbal players and parasol-carrying women garbed in red or gold. But if you’re invited to a Lunar New Year party and want some books to talk about, I have a list of eight books for you. (Because — you know it — eight is a good number in China.)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee | Grand Central Publishing

A novel of a Korean family struggling to make a living — and also to make peace with themselves — in Japan. It begins on a remote, pristine island in Korea under the Japanese occupation in the early 1900s, moves through the tumultuous times of World War II and ends in modern-day Japan. The story tells the saga of multiple generations, starting with Sunja’s parents, a crippled fisherman and a dutiful housewife and innkeeper; Sunja’s relationship with a rich but morally questionable gangster and a poor but devout priest; Sunja’s struggle in Japan as an immigrant; and the survival of her children and grandchildren in a country that despises Koreans. This book deserves all the accolades, and I can see why Obama recommended it. (Confession: Halfway into the novel, this writer, who knew little of Korean immigrants in Japan, asked aloud, “What does pachinko mean exactly?” Silly me. I was sure it meant a type of fish, or a lost kingdom, or an unknown princess who fiercely fought a battle against sea monsters. Pachinko, sadly, is more like a cursed career for the hardworking Korean immigrants. Hear Lee read an excerpt of her novel and talk about her writing process here.

Island of Sea Woman by Lisa See | Scribner

Also about Korean women, See’s novel takes a different approach with a focus on female divers. Ever seen the sea urchins, abalone and seaweeds in a Korean grocery? Yup. For generations, the women on Jeju Island in Korea have supported their families by fetching those from the sea. Called Haenyeo, the divers are able to sink into the depth of the sea, holding their breath for up to three minutes. Told in past and present narratives, the novel centers on two friends, Mi-ja, daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and Young-sook, daughter of a Haenyeo leader, and the grueling tests they face during a tumultuous time in their country.

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang | William Morrow

In Shanghai, 1908, seven-year-old Jialing was an illegitimate child, a Eurasian despised by Chinese and Europeans alike. She was raised in a courtyard in secret by her mother, not allowed to see the world outside the once-lavish mansion. When her mother, her only protection, abandons her, she befriends a benevolent fox spirit who answered her prayers. But her real challenge begins with the arrival of the mansion’s new owner, who must decide her fate. This novel is quiet, exquisite and flows smoothly like the jasmine tea I enjoyed in Shanghai. The fact that I used to walk by the Dragon Springs Road that Chang describes also brings smile to my face. Read Tif Marcelo’s Tall Poppy review of this novel here.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok | William Morrow

Amy and Sylvie are daughters of Chinese immigrants in America. Amy is an average girl, outgoing, has no job, and has no problem with who she is. Sylvie, an Ivy League graduate, is smart, an overachiever, a successful attorney with a rich white husband; she grew up in Amsterdam with her grandmother. Sylvie can be a Chinese, an American, or a Dutch, but she feels like no one. When Sylvie goes to Amsterdam to see her grandmother on her death bed, she vanishes. It’s up to Amy, the only person Sylvie loves and cares for deeply, to find out why. Read Jennifer Blankfein’s review of the book and interview with the author here.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo | Flatiron Books

You don’t need to lift a finger to do this errand; all you need to do is find it. I mean the finger; yes, THE finger. Sounds terrifying? Maybe. Challenging? Very. Intriguing? Absolutely. This novel transports you to colonial Malaysia in the 1930s, unfolds a colorful world of dance halls, stark hospital storage rooms and dark, narrow streets peopled by houseboys, European masters, ordinary men and possibly tigers-who-used-to-be-men. Steeped in myth, mystery and old-fashioned Chinese superstition, the novel features a dual narrative of a dutiful dancehall girl, Ji Lin, who accidentally steals a severed finger from her dance partner, and an eleven-year-old boy who must find the finger of his dead master and bury it with his body before his soul leaves its body. 

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev | William Morrow

You can tell it from the title. Yes, this is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Dr. Trisha Rajes, a top neurosurgeon in San Francisco, is the descendant from royals in India; as a member of her Indian immigrant family, she does her best to follow her royal-immigrant family’s rules, but she can’t help being a bit prejudiced, while Chef DJ Caine, who has a humble beginning, has too much pride. They are forced to face each other when DJ Caine’s sister is in danger of losing her sight, and only Dr. Rajes can save her. Both people make assumptions about each other and their fights are no less delicious and spicy than the food DJ Caine makes. Read Nicole Baart’s Tall Poppy review here.

The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns | Park Row

After World War II, U.S. forces established strong military presence all over the Japanese islands, and many American sailors found their way to Japan, leaving untold stories. This novel was inspired by Johns’ father’s sojourn in Japan and it took Johns six years to write. Told in dual narratives, the novel begins with a monologue of Naoko Nakamura, in 1957, a woman with another name in the past, and Tori Kovac caring for her dying father in a hospital in present. Naoko’s story in 1957 is emotional and filled with Japanese aphorisms I absolutely adore, while Tori discovers a letter that will change her life. 

 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong | Penguin Press

For the poet in you. For the poetry we need in life. Even if you don’t care for epistolary novels, read this one for the beauty of the language. Little Dog is the son of a Vietnamese mother who does manicures for a living. Since he was little, he was abused by his bad-tempered mother who has been traumatized by war and struggles to feed him. Vuong’s portrayal of this mother and son relationship might be a paradox of pain and forgiveness, yet it all makes sense because we know that the wounds of war may heal but the scars never disappear. Vuong’s stunning prose is powerful as a gun; it’s vociferous, purposeful and leaves long echos. Read Jessica McEntee’s review here.