Discover the Wonders of Asia and India With These 10 Books

by | Nov 10, 2022

Beautiful temple in Bangkok

Featured image: An ornate temple in Bangkok, Thailand | Photo by oneinchpunchphotos on Envato

Books with a strong sense of place, from Afghanistan to Thailand 

By Tina Hartas, Founder, TripFiction

Asia and India, together, cover around 30% (44.5% + million square kilometres) of the world’s land mass, and the peoples and cultures are as broad and diverse as anywhere in the world. 

These 10 books, which criss-cross India, Asia and places in between, cover a variety of genres, offer women travellers an introductory taste of cultures and stories to learn and immerse onself in these disparate nations. 

Books About Asia and India Map

Please note: When you purchase a book using the links below we receive a small commission from the bookseller, at no cost to you. This helps us maintain our website and book club. Thank you!

India

1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Compassionate realism and narrative are vividly captured in this masterpiece. It is 1975 and India is in a state of flux, the location is an unnamed city by the sea – actually Mumbai. A state of emergency has just been declared and the lives of three characters are thrown together – a spirited widow, and two tailors from a hill station – living in a tiny apartment with an uncertain future.

10 books to inspire travel  

A Fine Balance Book Cover

China

2. Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family – the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother and the daughter herself – Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China’s twentieth century.

Wild Swans Books Cover

The Philippines

3. The Betrayed by Reine Arcache Melvin

The Betrayed tells the story of two sisters who love the same man. As dictatorship and political upheaval ravage the Philippines, the sister’s conflicting passions threaten to lead them to betray not only each other, but all that their father stood for.

Shy, idealistic Pilar initially resolves to carry on her father’s fight against the regime, while her flamboyant older sister Lali reacts by marrying the enemy – Arturo, the dictator’s godson. Each tries to find their place in this violent world, but can they withstand the corruption of politics and the relentless pull of their own desires?

Taking in the Philippines’ troubled history from the Marcos dictatorship to the establishment of the present totalitarian regime, and expertly layering the many aspects of the human condition, The Betrayed is a complex and luminous novel.

The Betrayal Book Cover

Kazakhstan

4. The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov, Translated by Andrew Bromfield

A haunting tale about the environmental legacy of the Cold War. Yerzhan grows up in a remote part of Kazakhstan where the Soviets tests atomic weapons. As a young boy he falls in love with the neighbour’s daughter and one evening, to impress her, he dives into a forbidden lake. The radioactive water changes Yerzhan. He will never grow into a man. While the girl he loves becomes a beautiful woman. 

Like a Grimm’s Fairy tale, this story transforms an innermost fear into an outward reality. We witness a prepubescent boy’s secret terror of not growing up into a man. We also wander in a beautiful, fierce landscape unlike any other we find in Western Literature. And by the end of Yerzhan’s tale we are awe-struck by our human resilience in the face of catastrophic, man-made, follies. 

The Dead Lake Book Cover

Japan

5. The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin

The village of Shimae is thrown into turmoil when master carp-catcher Katsuro suddenly drowns in the murky waters of the Kusagawa river. Who now will carry the precious cargo of carp to the Imperial Palace and preserve the crucial patronage that everyone in the village depends upon?

Step forward Miyuki, Katsuro’s grief-struck widow and the only remaining person in the village who knows anything about carp. She alone can undertake the long, perilous journey to the Imperial Palace, balancing the heavy baskets of fish on a pole across her shoulders, and ensure her village’s future. So Miyuki sets off. Along her way she will encounter a host of remarkable characters, from prostitutes and innkeepers, to warlords and priests with evil in mind. She will endure ambushes and disaster, for the villagers are not the only people fixated on the fate of the eight magnificent carp.

But when she reaches the Office of Gardens and Ponds, Miyuki discovers that the trials of her journey are far from over. For in the Imperial City, nothing is quite as it seems, and beneath a veneer of refinement and ritual, there is an impenetrable barrier of politics and snobbery that Miyuki must overcome if she is to return to Shimae.

Office of Gardens and Ponds Book Cover
Scenic Arenal volcano in Costa Rica, Central America

Spark Your Curiosity With These 10 Books Set in South America

TripFiction’s Tina Hartas shares 10 books set in Central, Latin, and South America that capture the heart and soul of the countries in this incredibly culturally rich and beautiful part of then world.

Read More

Korea

6. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends who come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epic set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wetsuits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story – one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them – The Island of Sea Women introduces listeners to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives. 

Island of Sea Women Book Cover

Thailand

7. Bangkok Wakes to Rain Pittchaya Sudbanthad

Shortlisted for the Edwards Stanford 2020 “Fiction, With A Sense Of Place” Award

In the restless city of Bangkok, there is a house. Over the last two centuries, it has played host to longings and losses past, present, and future, and has witnessed lives shaped by upheaval, memory and the lure of home.

A nineteenth-century missionary pines for the comforts of New England, even as he finds the vibrant foreign chaos of Siam increasingly difficult to resist. A jazz pianist is summoned in the 1970s to conjure music that will pacify resident spirits, even as he’s haunted by ghosts of his former life. A young woman in a time much like our own gives swimming lessons in the luxury condos that have eclipsed the old house, trying to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in the submerged Bangkok of the future, a band of savvy teenagers guides tourists and former residents past waterlogged landmarks, selling them tissues to wipe their tears for places they themselves do not remember.

Time collapses as their stories collide and converge, linked by blood, memory, yearning, chance, and the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibian, ever-morphing city itself.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain Book Cover

Indonesia

8. The Book of Jakarta by Maesy Ang (Editor), Teddy W Kusuma (Editor)

A young woman takes a driverless taxi through the streets of Jakarta, only to discover that the destination she is hurtling towards is now entirely submerged… A group of elderly women visit a famous amusement park for one last ride, but things don’t go quite according to plan… The day before her wedding, a bride risks everything to meet her former lover at their favourite seafood restaurant on the other side of the tracks…

Despite being the world’s fourth largest nation – made up of over 17,000 islands – very little of Indonesian history and contemporary politics are known to outsiders. From feudal states and sultanates to a Cold War killing field and a now struggling, flawed democracy – the country’s political history, as well as its literature, defies easy explanation. Like Indonesia itself, the capital city Jakarta is a multiplicity; irreducible, unpredictable and full of surprises. Traversing the different neighbourhoods and districts, the stories gathered here attempt to capture the essence of contemporary Jakarta and its writing, as well as the ever-changing landscape of the fastest-sinking city in the world.

Book of Jakarta Book Cover

Pakistan

9. No Honour by Awais Khan

A young woman defies convention in a small Pakistani village, with devastating results for her and her family. A stunning, immense beautiful novel about courage, family and the meaning of love, when everything seems lost… In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.

When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore and then disappears.

Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.

Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.

No Honor Book Cover

Afghanistan

10. The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hasimi

In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.

But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.

Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive? Lahore and then disappears. Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.

Moving from the depths of rural Pakistan, riddled with poverty and religious fervour, to the dangerous streets of over-populated Lahore, No Honour is a story of family, of the indomitable spirit of love in its many forms … a story of courage and resilience, when all seems lost, and the inextinguishable fire that lights one young woman’s battle for change.

The Pearl That Broke its Shell Book Cover

More Books to Inspire You

Tina Hartas studied History of Art and German at University and went on to do an MA in Conservation of Fine Art. She has always loved reading and travel and has delighted in reading novels set in any given location. On a trip to Vienna 15 years ago it proved virtually impossible to trawl the internet and find a book set in the city. Thus the concept of TripFiction was born.

0 Comments

We always strive to use real photos from our own adventures, provided by the guest writer or from our personal travels. However, in some cases, due to photo quality, we must use stock photography. If you have any questions about the photography please let us know.

Disclaimer: We are so happy that you are checking out this page right now! We only recommend things that are suggested by our community, or through our own experience, that we believe will be helpful and practical for you. Some of our pages contain links, which means we’re part of an affiliate program for the product being mentioned. Should you decide to purchase a product using a link from on our site, JourneyWoman may earn a small commission from the retailer, which helps us maintain our beautiful website. JourneyWoman is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases. Thank you!

We want to hear what you think about this article, and we welcome any updates or changes to improve it. You can comment below, or send an email to us at editor@journeywoman.com.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Send this to a friend