We first learn to swim in the womb, Bonnie Tsui writes, and while “not everyone is a swimmer … everyone has a swimming story to tell.”
Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff was born in 1905 into one of Baku’s wealthiest families: her peasant-born great-grandfather had discovered oil on his land. She left in 1923, after the Revolution, for Istanbul and then Paris, whence she never returned. Days in the Caucasus, originally published in Paris in 1945, is her memoir of those years.
As it does to our lives at present, death—virulent, episodic, unbidden—haunts Yan Lianke’s memoir Three Brothers. First published in 2009, and rendered into English by translator and Sinologist Carlos Rojas, it is an elegiac homage to the people and places no longer present for Yan (at least not physically), who has spent the better part of his life oscillating (both physically and emotionally) between city and countryside in search of home.
Perhaps because it transcends language and even thought, there is something about food that both reinforces and crosses culture. Food has been a cultural and emotional touchstone for Nina Mingya Powles since her earliest days.
Rated R Boy: Growing Up Korean in 1980s Queens is a memoir of one family’s move from South Korea to the United States. Told by its child narrator, it describes life in mid-1970s Korea and compares it to life in America, where he is exposed to things that challenge what he’d held to be sacrosanct.
When Sophie Cairns’s parents announced they were leaving Hong Kong, where she was born and raised, she vowed to return. A teenager, biracial and fluent in Cantonese, she never felt like she belonged in the UK, and longed for the Hong Kong of her childhood.
When Emily Clements finds herself alone in Vietnam after her best friend suddenly departs for Australia, she tries to make the best of her opportunity to see Southeast Asia. Only nineteen, Clements quickly picks up the language and goes out of her way to meet Hanoians. This memoir of her year in Vietnam is not, however, a typical expat book about immersing oneself into another culture. Instead, it centers on the way women are conditioned to put our feelings last.