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4 terrific fiction debuts by Asian-American women, including a Chicago writer

This summer brings electric fiction debuts from 4 Asian-American women, including Chicago's Crystal Hana Kim.

This summer brings electric fiction debuts from 4 Asian-American women, including Chicago's Crystal Hana Kim. | Provided photo

This summer brings electric debuts from four Asian-American women whose fiction transcends time and place, from San Francisco’s Chinatown to a dystopian world set in the remains of New Orleans. Here’s why all four deserve a place on your reading list.

“If You Leave Me” (William Morrow, $26.99)

Author Crystal Hana Kim, who lives in Chicago, seamlessly maneuvers between narrators in this intergenerational saga about the Korean War of the 1950s and the lives caught in it.

The first storyteller is Haemi, who sets aside her defiant nature and love for her childhood best friend Kyunghwan to marry his cousin Jisoo, who promises financial safety for Haemi and her sickly brother, a difficult guarantee to make in wartime. Kim follows this family through the years with heartrending prose, detailing the anguish of star-crossed love and familial duty.

“If You Leave Me” is about how insidious war can be, how it can continue to fracture a family a generation after the fighting. It’s a stunning feat of lyricism, an enthralling, tragic novel brimming with angst and remorse.

Kim will be at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 and at The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka, at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13.

Vanessa Hua.

Vanessa Hua. | Provided photo

“A River of Stars” (Ballantine, $27)

There’s no telling what Scarlett Chen will do next. The quick-witted heroine of author Vanessa Hua’s “A River of Stars” steals a van to escape from the luxurious, Los Angeles-based maternity center where dozens of pregnant Chinese women, hooked on the promise of American citizenship for their unborn children, await C-sections thousand of miles from their native country.

Reluctant to let her fate be decided by her ex-boss-turned-lover, Scarlett runs away with another soon-to-be mother, Daisy, with gas in the tank and their hearts set on San Francisco. Though a little directionless at times, the story written by Hua, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, spins with wild fervor, with charming protagonists fiercely motivated by maternal and survival instincts.

“A River of Stars” is a migrant narrative tenderly constructed around Scarlett’s quest to carve a life for her daughter and herself at the risk of deportation.

 “The Book of M” (William Morrow, $26.99)

“The Book of M” — an apocalyptic thriller with heart written by Peng Shepherd — tracks the tormenting effects of a global phenomenon that blurs the lines between magic and science.

One day, a man in a market in India loses his shadow, and soon his memory goes with it. Very quickly, more and more follow, and entire countries collapse as the new “shadowless” forget their families, their names and their ability to perform basic functions, such as eating.

Peng Shepherd.

Peng Shepherd. | Provided photo

Shepherd examines the lengths afflicted loved ones will go to stay together — or split apart. “The Book of M” is devastating and inventive, packing in imaginative twists as Shepherd examines the value of memory.

“Half Gods” (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $25)

The Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) serves as both backdrop and catalyst for Akil Kumarasamy’s debut, a short-story collection flooded with inspired detail. Kumarasamy writes with precision, crafting prose with the grace of poetry.

Akil Kumarasamy.

Akil Kumarasamy. | Provided photo

Initially, these stories might seem loosely linked, spanning borders and generations. We visit an entomologist relentlessly searching for his son, a refugee stunned by violence but anchored by his daughter, and a girl who writes disturbing myths of babies cursed with pencil-thin limbs or reptilian wings — babies destined for sadness.

The first story of “Half Gods” centers on two brothers named after demigods. Then, the collection moves through time, a testament to Kumarasamy’s talent for finding the most tender spots of the human soul.