A Reading List of Black Characters in Asia – Black Girl Nerds
Written by: Nyasha Oliver
For the average person, the only thing they know about Asia is what they’ve seen in the media. But when it comes to books, how many of us have read a book with worldwide recognition of a black character whose story is set in Asia?
I’ve been very interested in Asian pop culture and reading since I was young, so blending a black character whose story is set in Asia has been a dream to engage and read. There have been articles, blogs and vlogs but never enough books published.
In light of this, here is a selection of 15 books across East Asian countries. With topics ranging from dating in Taiwan to exploring reggae and dancehall music in Japan, there are bound to be more people wanting to read more books from Asia.
- black in asia by the Spill Stories writing community (various)
Although just released in 2020 in response to the BLM movement, black in asia was published by the Spill Stories writing community. It highlights the diverse voices of black people who have lived on the continent. Over 20 writers have a chapter in this anthology with their own stories of life in countries like Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore.
- The unexpected prospect by Carl Hill Jr. (Taiwan)
What started as an accidental placement at his college ended with Carl Hill Jr. eventually moving and living in Taiwan. The unexpected prospect documents Hill’s experiences living in the land known for bubble tea and takes people’s responses and reactions to share in this book.
- Eastern Babylon by Marvin D Sterling (Japan)
Eastern Babylon needs more recognition because of all the work of Marvin D Sterling. The book shows how Japan continues to be influenced by reggae, both culturally and musically. Jamaican culture is truly broadcast around the world from the author’s perspective, with sections of the book on fashion and dance in the Japanese reggae scene or body and soul touching people who have converted to Rastafarianism.
- Tokyo Firewall by Elizabeth Wilkerson (Japan)
An engaging cyber-thriller that maintains its suspense from start to finish, Tokyo Firewall by Elizabeth Wilkerson is a great novel set in the 1990s, when interest in the online world was still new and exciting. The book centers on Allison Crane, who follows her boyfriend to Japan out of work and is unable to adapt to Japanese culture. Desperate for company, Alison logs into a cyber chat room and meets a Japanese guy. However, a troll begins to threaten and harass her. She is forced to hold her own or face her identity and actions on display in real life.
- Fifty works for the rain by Asha Lemmie (Japan)
A coming-of-age bestseller in New York, fifty words for the rain is a dramatic yet stunning book set in Kyoto in 1948. From the first chapter, the reader is drawn to the protagonist, Noriko “Nori” Kamiza, a child of mixed African-American/Japanese descent born into a prominent but reprimanded for existing. like a hafu (mestizo/biracial in Japanese). A bit of joy is shown when she forms a band with her half-brother Akira, and Nori is motivated to fight to turn her life around.
- Playing in the Shadows: Fictions about Race and Darkness in Postwar Japanese Literatureand by William H. Bridges (Japan)
Playing in the Shadows: Fictions about Race and Darkness in Postwar Japanese Literature by William H. Bridges sheds light on how black characters have been written about in Japanese literature by authors and associations in the country who have stemmed depictions of black people as what Bridges considers “race fictions”. Bridges further expands on how the Japanese reinvented black people from the notion of literary blackness in the 1970s to the age of hip hop in the book’s chapters.
- Carry my Seoul by Taryn Blake (Korea)
This memoir has a nostalgic feel to anyone who has lived in Seoul or stayed there for a long time. Before BTS, the popularity of soju and clubs like nb2 or Octagon entered the mainstream wavelength, there was Taryn Blake Carry my Seoul. Blake writes a collection of entertaining essays about her life in the heart of the metropolis capital as a full-time teacher.
- Mio the beautiful by Kinota Braithwaite and Setsuko Miura (Japan)
There are not many children’s books in Japan that represent hafu children, but there is hope: Mio the beautiful, written by Kinota Braithwaite and translated by Setsuko Miura. Braithwaite was inspired to write this book to be an uplifting yet realistic story about the situation of his bullied young daughter in Japan. It’s a cute book to encourage local kids to be kind to anyone who seems different to them.
- Bed-Stuy in Beijing by Dr. Cherell Dossett (China)
In his book Bed-Stuy in Beijing, Dr. Cherell Dossett answers the question most ask before leaving their hometown: what is darkness in a foreign land? Although there is an answer, the book does not stray from the author’s experience of the chapters that explain some of her time as a foreign language doctoral student in Guangzhou and also why she did not not learn Mandarin in the seven years she has lived. in China, which might shock readers.
- Yellow black passenger taxis by Stefhen Bryan (Japan)
It’s a controversial book that caused a storm when it came out. Yellow black passenger taxis: exile and excess in Japan by Stefhen Bryan is an explicit exploration that tackles the issue of Western men’s infatuation with Asian women alongside the lingering issues of misogyny in Japanese culture. Bryan’s awareness of his own sex addiction, interracial relationships, and attempt to understand the male chauvinism of Japanese society is interesting to read.
- Professor Black: My Year in China by James Prescott-Kerr (China)
Want to get a glimpse of a teacher’s life in China? Look no further than Professor Black: My Year in China by James Prescott-Kerr. What immediately grabs the reader’s attention is the first part of the title, “Teacher Black”. It wasn’t a mistake but an intentional racial slur from his students (perhaps innocent because it was from children). The book follows Prescott-Kerr after graduation and how he decided to teach in China without any prior knowledge or research of life in the country.
- hollow men (The Windshine Chronicles) by Todd Sullivan (Korea)
If you are looking for an escape to fantasy, you must read hollow men, the first YA book of Todd Sullivan’s Windshine Chronicles. Set in an alternate ancient world of Korea, the story centers on Ha Jun, a teenage dark elf (a subtle metaphor for dark people) who goes on a journey with companions including Windshie, another elf with whom he has a romance, but also a link with a demon. Gore, magic, demons – the book has it all!