📖No-No Boy: 🍸summer sake sangria

📖: John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957)
🍸: summer sake sangria

Why this book?

This novel was not well received when it was first published in 1957, and was almost completely forgotten until it was rediscovered in a used book store and then reissued. Now it’s become a classic in Asian American lit.

The title refers to two questions on the Leave Clearance Application Form, aka the loyalty questionnaire, that interned Japanese-American men were required to fill out in 1943:

  • Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?
  • Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?

These questions were confusing, and like a Catch-22. Would saying yes to question 1 mean you’d automatically get drafted? Would saying yes to question 2 imply that you were once loyal to the Japanese government?

In this novel, the protagonist answers no to both questions, and was imprisoned as a consequence. After WWII ends, he is released to return home and is seen as disloyal by his Japanese American community, but he can’t see himself as fully Japanese either. In a broader sense, as an Asian American, I resonated with the feeling of: Where can you belong when you don’t quite fully belong anywhere? This book calls out the brutal way in which racism in America traumatizes, erases, and gaslights whole communities and generations. Anti-Asian hate is not a new thing. It’s been embedded in this country’s history all along.


Why this drink?

With Memorial Day around the corner, I made a sake sangria to pair with this book, for the summer days to come.


summer sake sangria

ingredients:

4 oz sake
3/4 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 tbsp simple syrup
lemon, grapefruit, and nectarine slices
club soda

garnish:
sprig of mint

  1. Mix sake, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a mason jar. (If you’re making this in a large batch, use a lidded pitcher or carafe.)
  2. Soak fruit in mixture overnight.
  3. Top off with club soda and ice before serving.
  4. Enjoy with or without the soaked fruit. Garnish with mint.

*How to make simple syrup:
Heat 1 part water with 1 part sugar over the stovetop until boiling. Make sure the sugar is all evenly dissolved. Immediately remove from heat and let cool before serving. Any leftover syrup may be refrigerated.


Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Committed: 🍸the remedy

📖: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed (2021)
🍸: the remedy

Why this book?

In this sequel to The Sympathizer, we meet a traumatized version of the “man of two minds,” with a bullet lodged in his brain, scrambling his perspective of the world. Turning to philosophy and crime, the protagonist unpacks our problematic relationship with politics and power. This book is an incredible dive into the intellectual process of decolonizing one’s mind.

From the epic prologue to the epilogue, my mind was constantly blown as I followed the Captain’s thoughts. 🤯 He mulls over the love-hate relationship we have with our colonizers, the hypocrisy of revolutions, and the necessity of violence for “civilization.” So many dualities and paradoxes to deconstruct! As a former anthropology student, I appreciated the protagonist’s exploration of the dialectic to reconcile ideas that appear unreconcilable.

This book was equally evocative as it was provocative. As Francois Chau mentioned during The Committed book event on May 7th, the novel’s details immersed me in emotional memories of growing up Vietnamese: the food, drink, Tết celebrations, the Paris by Night inspired show. On the flip side, the book exposes the flawed parts of our culture, from over-romanticized cultural performances to Vietnamese manhood, and everything in between. Once again, no one is safe from the Captain’s scathing critique. Not our colonizers and certainly not us Vietnamese.

Click here for the replay of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed book event in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, featuring a lively conversation between the author and Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, Francois Chau, and Kim Ly. I’m grateful to be a part of this community that’s filled me with so much inspiration, self-love, and solidarity this year! 💖🥂


Why this drink?

For this pairing, I created THE REMEDY, which is a riff on The Penicillin cocktail, swapping out the whiskey for cognac — our protagonist’s drink of choice! 🥃 I hope this cognac-based drink will transport yourself to 1980’s Paris. 🇫🇷


the remedy

ingredients:

2 oz cognac
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz ginger honey syrup

garnish:
candied ginger and lemon peel

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker, and shake well.
  2. Strain the drink into a glass, over fresh ice. If you enjoy more spirit-forward drinks, you may also serve in a chilled coupe glass without ice.
  3. Garnish with candied ginger and lemon peel.

*How to make ginger honey syrup:
Heat 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup of thinly sliced or grated fresh ginger in a small saucepan over the stovetop until boiling. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. After turning off the heat, let the ginger steep until the mixture cools. Strain out the ginger before serving. Any leftover syrup may be refrigerated.


Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Things We Lost to the Water: 🍸the bayou

📖: Eric Nguyen’s Things We Lost to the Water (2021)
🍸: the bayou

Why this book?

This novel begins with Hương, a Vietnamese refugee who resettles alone in New Orleans with her two sons, after leaving Vietnam by boat. Before her escape, she and her husband Công had been running towards the ocean, hand-in-hand, to reach the vessel that would take them away, but she somehow loses hold of him and Công gets left behind. What happened to him?

The shadows of memories, questions, and secrets haunt Hương and her sons as the years pass without contact from Công. Hương protects Tuấn and Bình by telling them their father is gone, but each son, in his own way, keeps tracing a path back to finding Công and the home they lost.

One memorable moment in the book is when Hương encounters a young half-Vietnamese man in her nail salon near closing hours. He says he’s looking for his American father, who he thinks may still be somewhere in New Orleans – has Hương seen him?

Huong feels sorry for this man, thinking that “what is lost is perhaps best forgotten. The past is the past.” But is it truly? As a member of the diaspora, sometimes the past feels so much like the present and the future. So much so that looking backwards is the only way to move forward.

This book was deeply poignant in its exploration of how children can carry on the burden of loss and trauma of the generation that came before. And how this experience of post-memory can drive them to keep turning back to a past that their elders may want to forget. Cyclical in nature, this story ends where it begins – with water, displacement from home, and the loss of a father – and I was captivated the whole way through. This novel is a beautiful debut, and I look forward to reading whatever Eric Nguyen writes next!

Thank you to Knopf for sending me an ARC of this book!


Why this drink?

Eric Nguyen – this cocktail pairing was created for you as a gift from Michael Nguyen to celebrate the publication of your novel. It’s inspired by Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane cocktail from New Orleans. Congratulations and cheers to you on this very special #PubDay! 🥂


the bayou

ingredients:
2 oz black spiced rum
1.5 oz lite rum
1.5 oz passion fruit juice
1 oz blood orange juice
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz ginger syrup*

garnish:
Thai basil, blood orange slice, fresh longan fruit (if available)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  2. Strain into a glass packed with freshly crushed ice.
  3. Garnish with a leafy sprig of Thai basil, a blood orange wheel, and 1-2 peeled longan fruit, if available.

*How to make ginger syrup:
Heat 1 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger, 3/4 cup sugar, and 3/4 cup water on stovetop until boiling. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let the ginger seep until the syrup cools. Strain out the ginger. Store syrup in an airtight jar, and store in the fridge.


Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Klara and the Sun: 🍸klara’s sunset

📖: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (2021)
🍸: klara’s sunset

Why this book?

This is the kind of book raises more questions than answers about humanity, spirituality, social equity, illness, and mortality. What kind of world do we create with the technological capacity to avoid loneliness, transcend death, and give children a headstart in life?

In the world of this novel, AI beings have replaced workers, privileged children can receive (genetic) modifications, and climate change is a big threat. Enter Klara — one of many Artificial Friends, robots who serve as intelligent and caring companions for children.

Like Never Let Me Go, this story is told from a narrator whom society considers to be not fully human. By forcing us to observe and learn about the world through Klara’s eyes, the contradictions and complexities of human behaviors are laid bare before us, alongside the systemic inequities that we often accept as the status quo.

While I wished for more depth, texture, and resolution for some plot points and characters, I did appreciate the way the author explored dualities. For example, the novel gave me a lot to think about regarding the tension between opposing emotions, the thin line between human and machine, and the different choices parents make for their children out of the same sense of love. How much more do we destroy, rather than create, when we step from being a mere mortal into the role of playing god?


Why this drink?

Klara is a solar-powered machine. She even begins to make requests to the sun when it sets over the horizon, on behalf of Josie’s well-being — much like how a human would pray to a deity. For this cocktail pairing, here is my take on the tequila sunset with a smoky, ginger twist.


klara’s sunset

ingredients:
1.5 oz mezcal
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz grenadine
3-4 fresh ginger slices

garnish:
dried orange wheel

  1. Muddle ginger in shaker.
  2. Combine all other ingredients (except grenadine) on top of the muddled ginger in your shaker tin.
  3. Shake well with ice and strain into glass.
  4. Pour grenadine slowly down the side of your glass to create the “sunset” effect.
  5. Garnish with dried orange wheel for your sun ☀️


Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Love and Other Moods: 🍸sleepless in Shanghai

📖: Crystal Z. Lee’s Love and Other Moods (2020)
🍸: sleepless in Shanghai

Why this book?

This novel transported me across the world, following Naomi Kita-Fan to Shanghai. This is where Naomi moved to be with her fiancé, but finds herself suddenly single, learning how to navigate living in a new country, with some help from old and new friends who take her to exposition centers, glitzy restaurants, and architectural sites. During a time when we’re always at home, it helped me feel like I could get away for a little bit and live vicariously through these characters’ vibrant social lives!

I also enjoyed that this story put a spotlight on Asian characters in a non-US setting, all the while exploring some nuanced themes of identity and belonging — from the perspectives of “third-culture kids,” people who return to their home in Asia after spending time abroad, and indivduals who marry across nationalities despite familial expectations. As an Asian person who has only lived in the US, I found it very interesting to get a glimpse of these characters’ experiences in a very fast-paced and global city in Asia.

Thank you so much, Crystal Z. Lee, for gifting me a copy of your book!


Why this drink?

At one point in the novel, the characters go out to Party World for karaoke, where they have a drink that’s popular in Shanghai: whiskey mixed with iced green tea. Since I LOVE karaoke, I’m pairing this novel with a gingery, bubbly whiskey green tea drink, which has got me dreaming about future karaoke nights and all the songs that I can’t wait to sing again! 🤩🎤🎶


sleepless in Shanghai

ingredients:
2 oz whiskey
4 oz green tea
1/2 oz ginger syrup
1/2 oz lemon
oz seltzer water

garnish:
lemon wheel

  1. Add all ingredients (except for the seltzer water) in a shaker, and shake well with ice.
  2. Strain into a glass with fresh ice.
  3. Top off with seltzer water and garnish with lemon.


Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City (1943)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Interior Chinatown: 🍸lychee margarita-tini

📖: Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown (2020)
🍸: lychee margarita-tini

Why this book?

What does it mean to be Asian in America? Each of us will give a different answer because Asian Americans are not a monolithic group. And yet, we’re often treated as one. And throughout much of American history we’ve been seen as a threat. Not just in the 1880’s during the Chinese Exclusion Act, or during the WWII internment of Japanese communities. It’s happening right now, with COVID-related hate crimes against our Asian elders surging this past week. It’s been scary and devastating, during a time of year that’s otherwise celebratory for us who observe Lunar New Year.

Anti-Asian hate crimes aren’t new, but many go unreported because of systemic barriers that @_itslitbooks_ discusses in her recent IG post. The model minority myth also comes into play in this underreporting – to keep us quiet, to not rock the boat, to equate assimilation with the American Dream. This is white supremacy at work. It’s hurting not just our Asian communities, but all communities of color.

This week has been rough. Recent events keep bringing me back to Charles Yu’s INTERIOR CHINATOWN, which I think is an excellent exploration of the invisibility that often feels part of being Asian in America. Yu’s protagonist finds that no matter how much he advances in his acting career, he’s still trapped in a “show that doesn’t have a role for [him].” The novel brings up the idea that we also need to be aware of our complicity – whether it’s through internalized racism or when we fail to stand in solidarity with each other AND with black and brown communities who are also hurting. This is showing up in some responses to the hate crimes, with communities calling for more policing, a solution that’s rooted in anti-blackness.

Gifting and being in community with each other are important traditions for Lunar New Year. In honor of the year of the Ox, consider donating to orgs that do anti-racist work. Support your local Asian or Chinatown businesses. Speak up against race-related hate. Check in with Asian friends and neighbors.


Why this drink?

In Act I, we learn that this is the signature cocktail served at the Golden Palace restaurant where Willis Wu performs his role of Generic Asian Man.

(This recipe has been adapted from the Lemon Lychee Margarita, made by the Barrio in Chicago.)


lychee margarita-tini

ingredients:
1.5 oz golden tequila
1/2 oz Riesling
1/2 oz lemon juice
½ oz lychee syrup, from the can
4 canned lychees

garnish:
black lava salt and lychee

  1. Rim glass with black salt
  2. Muddle the canned lychees, and strain the juice into a shaker. (You should have ~3/4 oz of juice from the muddled fruit.)
  3. Add all other ingredients into shaker, and shake well with ice.
  4. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with lychee.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (2015)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖A Pho Love Story: 🍸little saigon

📖: Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story (2021)
🍸: little saigon

Why this book?

Two Vietnamese American teens. Two competing phở restaurants in Little Saigon, California. And lots of chả giò, bánh xèo, and cà phê sữa dá. The novel’s premise alone made my heart warm and stomach hungry.

Aside from all the delicious foods, I loved the inclusion of Vietnamese language in the dialogue. Sometimes a term of endearment was mixed in with English, and other times a full sentence! Through the characters, I could hear the voices of my own family members talk to me through the pages. Not all of the dialogue was fully translated, though. And as an #ownvoices reader, this made me feel like the book was written for me.

This is the young adult novel I wish I had growing up. Like Linh, I also wanted to pursue a creative path. Linh wants to become a painter, but in a family of Vietnamese immigrants, art is seen only as a hobby, not a living. Our parents survived and sacrificed for us so we can be free to choose our futures. So why does this feel so fraught? Can we honor both our parents and passions at the same time? The tenderness, empathy, and care that Loan Le lends to the exploration of this theme struck an emotional chord with me – especially when Linh’s father lovingly confronts her about this over a bowl of canh sườn bí.

Overall, there is so much more to this story than just romance. It is about love for our families, our culture, our community, and ourselves. It is about our inheritance as descendants of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, discovering our place in our family’s stories. And it is about standing in solidarity with one another to heal and reconcile, in the face of trauma and loss.


Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with a phở-inspired drink, with lime and Thai basil – from soup bowl to cocktail glass!

This recipe is adapted from abitwholesomely.com’s Lychee, Thai Basil and Ginger Limeade.


little saigon

ingredients:
2 oz vodka
4 canned lychees
4 slices of ginger
8 Thai basil leaves
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz ginger-infused simple syrup
1/4 oz lychee syrup (from can)
2 oz club soda

garnish:
lime, lychee, Thai basil

  1. Muddle the lychees, ginger, and basil leaves.
  2. Combine the muddled ingredients in a shaker with all other ingredients (except for club soda) and ice, and shake well.
  3. Strain over fresh ice.
  4. Top off with club soda.
  5. Garnish with lime, lychee, and Thai basil.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath (2016)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Never Let Me Go: 🍸the carer

📖: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)
🍸: the carer

Why this book?

Like Atonement, I saw the movie adaptation of Never Let Me Go before reading the book. The movie is really good at capturing the emotional depth of the book. But, if you haven’t read the novel yet, you must! Ishiguro’s craft and storytelling are excellent.

There’s not a lot I can say about this dystopian sci-fi story without spoiling it. It begins at a special school for children. Nothing about this place initially seems too out of the ordinary, but once you uncover the shocking truth that underpins Cathy, Tommy, and Ruth’s lives, you won’t want to let this book go until the last page.

In a way, the world that Ishiguro builds is not so different from ours, which makes it even more unsettling. The story explores themes around our own complicity in systems of social hierarchies. What does it mean to be “human”? Whose lives are most valuable? Are our fates predetermined by the circumstances we’re born into? And can the benefits of scientific advancement justify how we answer these questions?


Why this drink?

I made a Painkiller cocktail for this book because there’s a lot of pain in this novel — both physical and existential. The characters spend some time on a beach, though it’s not a tropical one to match this tropical drink. This story destroys me every time, so at least this beachy drink helps me pretend I’m in a brighter, happier place.


the carer

ingredients:
2 oz black spiced rum
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz cream of coconut
1 oz orange juice

garnish:
ground nutmeg
dried or fresh pineapple

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
  2. Strain over fresh ice.
  3. Add a dash of ground nutmeg on top.
  4. Garnish with pineapple.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Atonement: 🍸two figures by a fountain

📖: Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)
🍸: two figures by a fountain

Why this book?

I savored every word in this novel. The language is just as lush as the verdant grounds that surround the Tallis’ family estate. I thought the movie adaptation remained faithful to the tone and structure of the novel – translating McEwan’s richly textured narrative about love, war, class, and guilt into a film with an equally stunning soundtrack and cinematography. Both the film and novel are gorgeous pieces that can stand on their own, so I don’t think it matters if you see the movie first, then read the book, like I did. I still loved every bit of my reading experience.

The novel opens during the height of summer, in pre-WWII England, where 13-year-old Briony witnesses a surprising interaction between her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the son of their family’s cleaning lady – first at the fountain in front of their house, and then again in their library. Based on what she chooses to understand, Briony later makes an accusation that changes all their lives forever.

This story is so compelling in the way that it explores both the limitless and limiting power that writers have in constructing truth. Who benefits most from the act of revision? Is it the writer, her audience, or the characters in her story? For those of us who seek redemption and liberation, where do we find it – in fact or in fiction?

For all the Little Women (Gerwig adaptation) fans out there – you might like this one, with Saoirse Ronan in the role of Briony!


Why this drink?

For this pairing, I made a gimlet – a British cocktail for a British novel. I added a tiny bit of matcha to make the drink more green, like the Tallis’ English gardens and the emerald gown that Keira Knightley wears in the movie’s dinner scene.


two figures by a fountain

ingredients:
1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz lime
0.5 oz simple syrup
tiny dash of matcha powder

garnish:
lime wheel or mint leaf

  1. Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  3. Garnish with lime and/or a mint leaf.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Joy Luck Club: 🍸good intentions

📖: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989)
🍸: good intentions

Why this book?

Here’s the first of a line-up of pairings for book-to-film adaptations I love.

Amy Tan’s novel about four Chinese mothers and their Chinese American daughters feels so close to home. Although I am not an Own Voices reader, I am an American daughter of an Asian immigrant mother, so the hopes, fears, and challenges of these characters mirror how my mom and I felt growing up. One thing I especially loved about the novel is its exploration of who the mothers were before they became mothers, and the secrets and intentions they carried with them to America. It humanizes and complicates the way that I see my own mom.

I first came across Amy Tan’s book through a high school English class, and it was the first time I could see my own story reflected in literature. Shortly afterwards, I found a copy of the film at my local Blockbuster’s. (omg remember movie rentals?! 😂)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this film when I was younger. I think that goes to say how much I craved seeing other Asian American families like mine represented on screen. Twenty-five years passed between the release of this film and the next all-Asian casted movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Recently, I’ve been excited to see new films made for us and by us gain widespread attention and recognition – like The Farewell, Minari, and No Crying at the Dinner Table – and am hopeful that we won’t need to wait years for the next one.


Why this drink?

This recipe calls for Chinese oolong tea, and with grapefruit, the tea and citrus complement each other beautifully, just like the mothers and daughters in this novel.


good intentions

ingredients:
1.5 oz oolong tea infused vodka
1.5 oz grapefruit juice
2 tsp honey syrup
1 tsp lemon juice

garnish:
grapefruit slice

  1. Infuse vodka with oolong tea for 10 minutes.
  2. To make the honey syrup, heat 2 parts honey with 1 part water over a stovetop to make the syrup.
  3. Once the syrup cools, combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  4. Strain the drink over fresh crushed ice and garnish with grapefruit

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!