Asia Society Switzerland's Book Recommendations

Winter 2017/2018

With the arrival of winter, we were thinking of ways to make this cold season as cozy as possible and what is better than reading a good book?

We decided to ask the members of Asia Society Switzerland as well as our colleagues at the Asia Society Centres around the world to tell us what their favourite book (fiction and/or non-fiction) from or about Asia is.

We have gathered the following selection of recommendations which hopefully will get you covered for this winter season:

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)
“The story of the Vietnam War and its aftermath is not often told through the eyes of those who fought for South Vietnam. The novel's motif is the state of suspension between a place of belonging --as a spy, as an Asian-American, as someone of mixed heritage.” – John H. (Asia Society NY)


Easternisation, War and Peace in the Asian Century by Gideon Rachman (2016)
“Easternisation is the defining trend of our age – the growing wealth of Asian nations is transforming the international balance of power. This shift to the East is shaping the lives of people all over the world, the fate of nations and the great questions of war and peace.” –; As recommended by Daniel W. (Member of Asia Society Switzerland)

Asian Saga Series

Asian Saga Series by James Clavell (1962-1993)
"A series of six novels written between 1962 and 1993. The novels all center on Europeans in Asia, and together explore the impact on East and West of the meeting of these two distinct civilizations." – Wikipedia; As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


No good men among the living

No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes by Anand Gopal (2014)
“I re-read this recently and it is a brilliantly researched collection of interviews weaved into a narrative of Afghanistan that is worth reading, especially as the conflict continues to drag on. While the war in Afghanistan has evolved over time (the book focuses on the re-birth of the Taliban following the U.S. invasion immediately after OEF), some of the root problems are still applicable to today.” – John H. (Asia Society NY)

Home fire

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2017)
"The story of Antigone plays out in the modern world, in this Man Booker-longlisted exploration of the clash between society, family and religious faith. " – The Guardian; As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


Midnight's children

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
“A fantastic classic of magical realism taking place mostly in India, that transports you into a strange and dangerous world where all the characters are strange and have very dramatic emotions” – Kaitlyn E. (Asia Society TX)


A suitable boy

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (1993)
“Seth weaves a grand tapestry of characters and events with this gigantic novel about modern India. This is novel writing in the grand Victorian style and it's compelling. (India)” – Anne K. (Asia Society NY)


The white tiger

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008)
"The debut novel provides a darkly humorous perspective of India's class struggle in a globalized world as told through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy." – Wikipedia; As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


The argumentative Indian

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen (2005)
“A very personal, in-depth, yet critical analysis of India's past and present through a scientific lens on argumentation” – Elias S. (Member of Asia Society Switzerland)



Chef by Jaspreet Singh (2010)
“Involving the disputed area between Pakistan and India.” – As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


sea of poppies

Sea of Poppies (Ibis Trilogy I), Amitav Ghosh (2008)
“A book about the opium trade spanning China and India - we enjoyed it thoroughly!” – As recommended by Members of Asia Society Switzerland



India in 50 Incarnations by Sunil Khilnani (2016)
“For all of India's myths, its sea of stories and moral epics, Indian history remains a curiously unpeopled place. Sunil Khilnani's Incarnations fills that space: recapturing the human dimension of how the world's largest democracy came to be.” –; As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland

A tale for the time being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)
“It takes place in the U.S. and Japan, and it's a beautifully mysterious book that keeps you guessing throughout.” – Kaitlyn E. (Asia Society TX)


A thousand years of good prayers

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li (2005)
“This collection of stories features mostly Chinese and Chinese-Americans, and it feels like everything Yiyun Li writes, even when it ends up happy, is also deeply tragic.” – Kaitlyn E.(Asia Society TX)



When the Dead Pause The Japanese Say Goodbye by Marie Mutsuki Mockett (2016)
“Part memoir, part essay about traditions of Japanese mourning this is a moving and insightful book, especially following the Fukushima disaster. (Japan/USA)” – Anne K. (Asia Society NY)


Into the silence

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis (2011)
“Non-fiction history in which the author is not just retelling an "adventure story" but addresses how differently Europeans and the Tibetans viewed this endeavor.” – Anne K. (Asia Society NY)


Wealth + Power

Wealth + Power by Orville Schell (2013)
“A highly comprehensive study of China's history by looking at centuries through a personal story of leaders; highlights the importance of individual thought and action, even in China)” – Elias S. (Member of Asia Society Switzerland)

Rich people problems

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan (2017)
“Funny and entertaining - but not high literature.” – As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


China's dream

China‘s Asian Dream by Tom Miller (2017)
“A must-read for those interested in whether President Xi‘s reincarnated Silk Road will succeed in restoring the grandeur of the Middle Kingdom (James Kynge)” – As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


Journey to Java

My Journey from Paris to Java by Honoré de Balzac, Ed. Didier Millet (2010)
“This short story is a testament to the dreams of a distant model paradise with its extraordinary exotic charisma. It describes the longing for sweet and cruel adventures imagined by an armchair traveler and popular in the early 19. c. salons in Paris. Balzac wrote the piece in 1831/32 after informing himself - he had never visited Java - through written and oral accounts of contemporaries, but he transformed the absorbed knowledge with wit and self-reflection. The edition comes with a preface and afterword which highlight lots of information. The booklet is a nice companion while traveling to Asia, best to South- or Southeast Asia, to the continents which still today offer us mysteries we need for our dreams.” – Ildegarda S. (Member of Asia Society Switzerland)

smaller and smaller circles

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan (2002)
“This is one of the first Filipino crime novels, if not the first. This is a different take on serial killer/murder/mystery genre as this also incorporates the influence of politics, bureaucracy, and the church in the search for the truth.”  – As recommended by a colleague at Asia Society  

The descartes

The Descartes Highlands by Eric Gamalinda (2014)
“A sophisticated and complex novel about the Philippines and the disturbing legacy of the Marcos era. (Philippines/USA). Finally - for you mountain dwellers!” – Anne K. (Asia Society NY)



Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)
"This book was selected as one of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2017" – The New York Times
"This sweeping novel follows several generations of Korean immigrants living in Japan.” – Juan M. (Asia Society NY)

nothing to envy

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009)
“Not exactly a cozy holiday read, but an absolutely riveting collection of harrowing non-fiction accounts of life in North Korea from six North Korean defectors.” – As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


lost names

Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood by Richard Kim (1970)
“Seven vivid scenes from a boyhood and early adolescence in Korea at the height of the Japanese occupation, 1932 to 1945.” –; As recommended by a Member of Asia Society Switzerland


the real north korea

The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia by Andrei Lankov (2013)
“Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding.“ –; As recommended by a colleague at Asia Society


Meeting with My Brother by Yi Mun-Yol (2002)
“I actually read this book quite a while ago, but it's one I've always enjoyed and there's not a great deal of translated literature from Korea, even now. An Appointment with My Brother is a short story but published as a stand-alone book by Jimoondang Publishing Company. The protagonist is the son of a man who defected to North Korea during the Korean War. Upon learning of his father's passing and that his father had married a second time in North Korea, the protagonist arranges a meeting with his younger brother (he never knew he had) in China's autonomous Korean area (Yanji).” – Anne H. (Asia Society NY)


The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi (2016)
The Accusation is an insight on one of the most secretive countries in the world and provides seven selected stories of ordinary men and women facing the daily life in North Korea. Each story is based on a factual situation and the characters range from collective farm laborers to the Pyongyang elite. This is our pick for the Book Club on January 11, 2018.

Share your book recommendations!

We would love to know which is your favourite book (fiction and/or non-fiction) from or about Asia that you’d warmly recommend others to read. Reach out to!

We will happily share the list that we’ll gather from the submissions with you and hope that with all the new recommendations we’ll get you covered for your next reading occasion.

Thank you very much in advance for your recommendations!

We wish you relaxing holidays and a Happy New Year 2018!