In September 2022, a multi-narrative novel showed how Vietnamese women emerge victorious, even if the world is against them. An ancestor cursed by a fearsome witch for daring to leave her marriage for true love; a current descendant who knows this curse well: women of this family would never find love or happiness, and would only give birth to daughters. This debut has been praised as “sharp, smart, and gloriously extra” by Nancy Jooyoun Kim (The Last Story of Mina Lee). Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to have Carolyn Huynh, author of The Fortunes of Jaded Women, share her favourite Asian books that explore a mother-daughter dynamic. To view more such posts by women authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, Women for the Win. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Carolyn Huynh recommends:
In honor of all the success of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, I wanted to highlight some AAPI mother-daughter stories which have stayed with me. My own debut, The Fortunes of Jaded Women, also tackles complicated, mother-daughter relationships and is about an estranged Vietnamese American family living in Orange County who has to deal with the chaos after a famous psychic makes three predictions for them. It’s chock full of women (over fourteen point-of-views!) —from the mothers, the daughters, the aunties, and the cousins— I wanted to provide a snapshot into the contemporary, modern lives of Vietnamese American women today.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh
Everyone in Orange County’s Little Saigon knew that the Duong sisters were cursed.
It started with their ancestor Oanh who dared to leave her marriage for true love—so a fearsome Vietnamese witch cursed Oanh and her descendants so that they would never find love or happiness, and the Duong women would give birth to daughters, never sons.
Oanh’s current descendant Mai Nguyen knows this curse well. She’s divorced, and after an explosive disagreement a decade ago, she’s estranged from her younger sisters, Minh Pham (the middle and the mediator) and Khuyen Lam (the youngest who swears she just runs humble coffee shops and nail salons, not Little Saigon’s underground). Though Mai’s three adult daughters, Priscilla, Thuy, and Thao, are successful in their careers (one of them is John Cho’s dermatologist!), the same can’t be said for their love life. Mai is convinced they might drive her to an early grave.
Desperate for guidance, she consults Auntie Hua, her trusted psychic in Hawaii, who delivers an unexpected prediction: this year, her family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son. This prophecy will reunite estranged mothers, daughters, aunts, and cousins—for better or for worse.
Buy now: Amazon US | Bookshop UK
Here are some of my favorite books so far which touches on complicated mother-daughter relationships.
Daughters of the New Year, E.M. Tran
A lively, spellbinding tale about the extraordinary women within a Vietnamese immigrant family—and the ancient zodiac legend that binds them together.
What does the future hold for those born in the years of the Dragon, Tiger, and Goat?
In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.
As the three sisters begin to encounter strange glimpses of long-buried secrets from the ancestors they never knew, the story of the Trung women unfurls to reveal the dramatic events that brought them to America. Moving backwards in time, E.M. Tran takes us into the high school classrooms of New Orleans, to Saigon beauty pageants, to twentieth century rubber plantations, traversing a century as the Trungs are both estranged and united by the ghosts of their tumultuous history.
This story moves backwards in time starting with the first generation of daughters. It’s rich, beautiful, and I loved the unique timeline it was told in.
The Last Story of Mina Lee, Nancy Jouyoon Kim
Riveting and unconventional, this debut novel traces the far-reaching consequences of secrets in the lives of a Korean immigrant mother and her daughter.
Margot Lee’s mother is ignoring her calls. Margot can’t understand why, until she makes a surprise trip home to Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. Determined to discover the truth, Margot unravels her single mother’s past as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother, Mina.
Thirty years earlier, Mina Lee steps off a plane to take a chance on a new life in America. Stacking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing she expects is to fall in love. But that moment leads to repercussions for Mina that echo through the decades, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
A really stunning, beautiful story about a daughter trying to understand her mother’s life after her death while also grieving.
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories.
In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue.
With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.
I know, I know, everyone has read this at some point in their lives, but I used to watch the movie with my mother once a year around the holidays and in my mind, it’s one of the definitive stories of all time about mother-daughter relationships in the diaspora. I reread the book recently and it holds up.
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, Nicole Chung
What does it means to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?
Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life, that forever feeling slightly out of place was her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as Nicole grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.
A moving memoir about Chung’s search for her biological Korean family. It touches a lot on motherhood, race, and lost identity.
The School for Good Mothers, Jessamine Chan
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
Speculative, horrifying, and dystopian that’s too close for comfort. I couldn’t put it down, a lot of commentary on race, motherhood, and what kind of mother society approves of.
Carolyn Huynh grew up in Orange County, California, not appreciating the weather enough. She has a BA in journalism from Seattle University and a MS in human centered design from the University of Washington. The youngest daughter of Vietnamese refugees, her writing focuses on her mother’s tall-tales, superstitions, the diaspora, and memory (both real and imaginary). She especially loves stories about messy Asian women who never learn from their mistakes. After living up and down the West Coast, she currently resides in Los Angeles with her rabbit and dog. She still doesn’t appreciate the weather enough. When she’s not writing, Carolyn daydreams about having iced coffee on a rooftop in Saigon. Follow her on Twitter @CarolynKHuynh.
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Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.
3 replies on “Carolyn Huynh (The Fortunes of Jaded Women) Recommends Five Asian Books That Explore A Mother-Daughter Dynamic”
Thanks for bringing these books to my attention. I will check them out.
NBFDBGHBHBD ALL OF THESE SOUND SO SO GOOD I MUST ABSOLUTELY READ THEM ALL?? see mother daughter relationships are one of the best ever to read about so this post?? was the best thing ever. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR IT AND ALL THE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!!!