100 books like Once Upon A Time in the East

By Xiaolu Guo,

Here are 100 books that Once Upon A Time in the East fans have personally recommended if you like Once Upon A Time in the East. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Woman at Point Zero

Katharine Quarmby Author Of The Low Road

From my list on female characters who rise from the ashes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer who loves reading novels, encompassing everything from romance to historical and crime. I've always loved resilient female characters in the books I've read, from children’s fiction onward. When I started writing The Low Road I didn’t know that a couple of years later we as a family would experience multiple bereavement in just a few months, and that grief is imbued in every page of the novel. In The Low Road, I hope I've also paid homage to the power of women, that dogged and patient holding on and enduring of pain, that is at the heart of so many of the lives we live as girls and women.

Katharine's book list on female characters who rise from the ashes

Katharine Quarmby Why did Katharine love this book?

I read this years ago and then devoured all of Nawal el Sadawi’s books, fiction and non-fiction.

I have Iranian heritage on my birth father’s side and have always been fascinated in the life I could have lived as an Iranian girl, if I had been raised there instead of the UK.

So reading Nawal ed Sadawi’s books, set in Egypt where she was born, educated, and worked as a doctor and writer, gave me an insight I really wanted into Islamic societies and how women can live in them.

Woman at Point Zero is harrowing, brilliant, immersive, and painful, taking as its theme the story of Firdaus, who tells the story of why she has killed a man before she is executed. She explains why and her courage and eloquence have stayed with me ever since.

We need these stories of women on the edge who still, somehow, resist…

By Nawal El Saadawi, Sherif Hetata (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Woman at Point Zero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An unforgettable, unmissable book for the new global feminist.'
The Times

'All the men I did get to know filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face.'

So begins Firdaus's remarkable story of rebellion against a society founded on lies, hypocrisy, brutality and oppression. Born to a peasant family in the Egyptian countryside, Firdaus struggles through childhood, seeking compassion and knowledge in a world which gives her little of either. As she grows up and escapes the fetters of her childhood, each new relationship teaches her a bitter but liberating…


Book cover of Römische Tage

Hallgrímur Helgason Author Of The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

From my list on me-against-the-world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Hallgrimur Helgason is an Icelandic artist and writer born in Reykjavik in 1959. He started out as a painter but then also took up writing. Since 1990 he has published eleven novels, the most well-known being 101 Reykjavik, which was turned into a popular film, The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, and The Woman at 1000°. Helgason has also published 4 books of poetry and is an active political columnist. His books have been translated into 14 languages and three of them have been nominated for the Nordic Prize of Literature. Helgason won the Icelandic Literature Prize three times. In 2020 he was awarded the French medal Officier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.

Hallgrímur's book list on me-against-the-world

Hallgrímur Helgason Why did Hallgrímur love this book?

Germans have been in love with Italy since always, a love that found its culmination with Goethe’s famous Italienische Reise in 1816. It’s a love that lasts forever, for it’s a love that never finds fulfillment. Germans are like the stuffed up straight guy who’s in love with a lively beauty above their level, that is Italy; they’re forever stuck in the moment of enchantment, they can never grasp or really fathom their love, let alone turn it into a real affair or just begin to understand this incredible woman. Promising young German writer Strauss takes up residence in the famous Via Corso in Rome (close to Casa di Goethe), and tries to make his moment come alive under the heavy burden of history. Maybe not as urgent or dramatic as the other four books, but still here we have a one man-boy against all of Rome, all of our…

By Simon Strauss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Römische Tage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ein Sommer in Rom Ein junger Mann kommt in die ewige Stadt, um die Gegenwart abzuschtteln. Er sucht einen eigenen Weg, fhlt fremde Zeiten in sich leben. In Rom erinnert er sich. In Rom verliebt er sich. In Rom trauert er. Er trifft auf auergewhnliche Menschen und findet seine Aufgabe: Alles wahrnehmen, nichts auslassen. Rmische Tage fhrt zu den vielen Anfngen und Enden unserer Welt und fragt, was wir morgen daraus machen. Der Erzhler zieht in eine Wohnung schrg gegenber der Casa di Goethe und die Stadt wird ihm zur Geliebten. Ihre Geschichten spielen vor seinem Auge: Der Mord an…


Book cover of Hunger

James Tyler Ball Author Of Matita: The Tragic Tale of a Writer's Pencil

From my list on the outrageous but still have serious meaning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by absurdist comedy and ideas for as long as I can remember. At sixteen, I wrote my first book, Mr A, which followed a man who would turn into a superhero after taking LSD and his talking dog. As an adult, I continue to revel in these types of stories. I brought this passion to my chart-topping debut non-fiction book, where I interviewed several people who believe McDonald’s has interdimensional properties. Now, I hold no bars in fiction writing, having authored a ‘genius of a book’ that follows a talking pencil.

James' book list on the outrageous but still have serious meaning

James Tyler Ball Why did James love this book?

I found this book mentioned in one of Charles Bukowski’s. If Bukowski liked it, I surely would, too, I thought. This is, without a doubt, a severely strange book. Hunger followers the narrator as he desperately tries to become a successful writer while battling the hardships of starvation and homelessness. He becomes delusional with grandiose ideas and attempts to humiliate a love interest of his. This book will leave you questioning your literary choices.  

By Knut Hamsun,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Hunger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most important and controversial writers of the 20th century, Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression. The book brilliantly probes the psychodynamics of alienation and obsession, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of self-destruction. Hamsun influenced many of the major 20th-century writers who followed him, including Kafka, Joyce and Henry Miller. Required reading in world literature courses, the highly…


Book cover of Goat Days

Hallgrímur Helgason Author Of The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

From my list on me-against-the-world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Hallgrimur Helgason is an Icelandic artist and writer born in Reykjavik in 1959. He started out as a painter but then also took up writing. Since 1990 he has published eleven novels, the most well-known being 101 Reykjavik, which was turned into a popular film, The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, and The Woman at 1000°. Helgason has also published 4 books of poetry and is an active political columnist. His books have been translated into 14 languages and three of them have been nominated for the Nordic Prize of Literature. Helgason won the Icelandic Literature Prize three times. In 2020 he was awarded the French medal Officier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.

Hallgrímur's book list on me-against-the-world

Hallgrímur Helgason Why did Hallgrímur love this book?

In early 2016 I stayed in Kochi, Kerala, in the south of India, working on a novel. There I came across the local bestseller Goat Days by the Bharein-based Indian author, Benyamin, and was totally blown away. It's a powerful tale of a young Indian worker named Najeeb Muhammad, who, like many of his countrymen, goes to work in Saudi Arabia, dreaming of earning some money for his family back home. His dream turns into a nightmare when he is taken as a slave to a remote desert farm where he has to take care of the goats and dwell among them. He is forced to live alone in the desert with all its hardships, sandstorms, heat, and general dryness, treated like an animal by his Saudi master. Still, hope prevails. This is one of the ultimate "me-against-the-world" books. Its strength is underlined by the fact that it's banned in…

By Benyamin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Goat Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the southern Indian state of Kerala, Najeeb's dearest wish is to work in a Persian Gulf country and earn enough money to send some back home. One day, he finally achieves this dream, only to be propelled by a series of incidents grim and absurd into a slave-like existence, herding goats in the middle of the Saudi desert. Memories of his loving family and of the lush, verdant landscape of his village haunt Najeeb, whose only solace is the companionship of goats. In the end, the lonely young man is forced to contrive a hazardous scheme to escape his…


Book cover of Tao of Sketching: The Complete Guide to Chinese Sketching Techniques

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Brushstrokes in Time

From my list on the heart and soul of China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied modern Chinese history so, when Qu Leilei told me the story of the Stars Art Movement, I couldn’t understand why I hadn't heard their courageous story. I spent three years interviewing Qu Leilei, researching and visiting China with him before writing the Stars story as a historical novel. I am a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Sylvia's book list on the heart and soul of China

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

I was reviewing Qu Leilei’s Everyone’s life is an Epic at the Ashmolean when a chance encounter changed my life. While writing Qu's profile, I learned about the first contemporary art movement in China - the Stars in Beijing in 1979 - and spent three years interviewing him for the background to Brushstrokes in Time

Leilei’s art is imbued with deep humanity but he is also a fine teacher- hence my recommending The Tao of Sketching. Daoism influenced traditional Chinese art and is a focus for meditation. The empty space is important. If you want to get into that cultural mindset, try Leilei’s books.

By Qu Lei Lei,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tao of Sketching as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning artist Qu Lei Lei offers an inspirational view of art from the Chinese perspective. Instead of looking at the sketch as an end in itself, he focuses on the work as personal fulfillment for the artist and as a valued meditation. All the essential techniques are here?from choosing and using materials to mixing the ink to mastering brushstrokes. With the natural world as his subject, Lei Lei pulls out key features?water, trees, landscapes?and focuses on practical ways of depicting their different varieties. A master class covers techniques for capturing pets at play, and for conveying the spirit of all…


Book cover of Beijing Doll

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From my list on naughty Chinese girls.

Why am I passionate about this?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for what would become a two-year backpacking sojourn across all 33 Chinese provinces, the first foreigner on record to do so. It was during this journey that I discovered the following five female writers, whose catty, carnal memoirs accompanied me like jealous mistresses vying for attention.

Tom's book list on naughty Chinese girls

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Chun Sue is like the literary little sister to Mian Mian and Wei Hui, copying her elder sisters and trying to follow in their footsteps – but stumbling because their heels were still too big for her to wear. In fact, despite its derivative nature, Beijing Doll did quite well, landing Chun on the cover of Time Magazine in 2004 and turning her into a pseudo-celebrity for her punky, tough-girl persona (a stark contrast to Wei’s slinky, sexy image). Western adult readers may roll their eyes at the melodramatic musings of middle-school heartbreak, but read within the context of its confining culture, Beijing Doll is no less an important addition to the annals of Chinese literature.

By Chun Sue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beijing Doll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Banned in China for its candid exploration of a young girl's sexual awakening yet widely acclaimed as being "the first novel of 'tough youth' in China" (Beijing Today), Beijing Doll cuts a daring path through China's rock-and-roll subculture. This cutting edge novel -- drawn from the diaries the author kept throughout her teenage years -- takes readers to the streets of Beijing where a disaffected generation spurns tradition for lives of self expression, passion, and rock-and-roll. Chun Sue's explicit sensuality, unflinching attitude towards sex, and raw, lyrical style break new ground in contemporary Chinese literature.


Book cover of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Books on Chinese cities by foreigners have long lamented the redevelopment juggernaut’s steamrolling of old buildings and neighborhoods (Juliet Bredon’s Peking for one). Meyer’s exhaustively researched study of the Beijing neighborhood in which he lived in the early 2000s takes this a step further to a grassroots political call for action, before “replicas replace architectural heritage across China.” By illuminating his neighbors’ lives and their histories and reaching back into the city’s past, Meyer attempts to immortalize the disappearing Dashilar neighborhood literally in the form of a book, which if nothing else will be of future documentary value. Driving the old-vs.-new dichotomy too hard, however, obscures the more interesting question of how Chinese cities today are creatively blending the old and the new, as again they have long done in the past. As a longtime Beijing resident, I am stuck with the present and nonetheless find that history doesn’t stop…

By Michael Meyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Days of Old Beijing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journalist Michael Meyer has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, the last decade in Beijing--where he has witnessed the extraordinary transformation the country has experienced in that time. For the past two years he has been completely immersed in the ancient city, living on one of its famed hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families, teaching English at a local elementary school--while all around him "progress" closes in as the neighborhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of…


Book cover of Party Members

Isham Cook Author Of The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai

From my list on written by foreigners in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute of documentary value, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on written by foreigners in China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Here we have the most politically incorrect of novels, an unflinchingly vicious take on China by a Westerner, though Party Members (pun on the second word) does have an acknowledged precursor in fellow Englishman Ralph Townsend’s Ways That Are Dark, an equally unsentimental account of China published in 1933. We follow the faceless bureaucrat protagonist, Yang Wei, as he inventively combines his passions for sex and KFC (China’s comfort food of choice) at one and the same time, and eggs on the state-sanctioned thugs who set his mother’s house on fire to clear it for developers – with her inside. To be fair, China is evolving out of the nasty pre-2008 Olympics era Meursault is documenting and this is after all satire. But the novel is not only very funny, it’s required reading precisely due to its pariah status.

By Arthur Meursault,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Party Members as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deep within the heart of China, far from the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing, lies the Chinese every-city of Huaishi. This worker’s paradise of smog and concrete is home to Party Member Yang Wei, a mediocre man in a mediocre job. His content life of bureaucratic monotony is shattered by an encounter with the advanced consumer goods he has long been deprived of. Aided by the cynical and malicious advice of an unlikely mentor, Yang Wei embarks on a journey of greed, corruption, and murder that takes him to the diseased underbelly of Chinese society. 

Will Yang Wei achieve his…


Book cover of Longevity Park

Karen Laura Thornber Author Of Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care

From my list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care.

Why am I passionate about this?

Karen Thornber is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. Her work brings humanistic insights to global challenges.  Thornber is the author of the award-winning scholarly books Empire of Texts in Motion and Ecoambiguity as well as most recently Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care. Current projects include books on gender justice in Asia, mental health, inequality/injustice, sustainability/climate change, and indigeneity.

Karen's book list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care

Karen Laura Thornber Why did Karen love this book?

This expertly translated Chinese novel tells the compelling story of a family in Beijing with an aging patriarch. Narrated largely from the perspective of the rural nurse hired to care for him, Longevity Park reveals the many difficulties facing Chinese individuals as they age as well as the difficulties facing Chinese families with an aging loved one. These challenges resonate with those of individuals and families globally, including pervasive stigmas against the elderly, particularly those who are not as agile mentally or physically as they once were; and the particular hurdles facing family members with their own mental health and other concerns. Zhou’s novel also eloquently describes the many hurdles facing healthcare providers.

By Zhou Daxin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Longevity Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

China is ageing. Its shrinking households, overworked and overstretched, struggle to carry the burden of care for their elderly. Retired Beijing judge Uncle Xiao is one among millions of old\-timers who face a hopeless choice: accept a lonely decline, or chase dubious miracle cures. Then into his life steps Miss Zhong, a young rural nurse with her own share of problems. The two have little in common, but as time delivers tragedies they learn that family can take many forms. Will this unlikely pair weather lifes storms together, and will Xiao find warmth in his sunset years?


Book cover of Rickshaw Boy

Michael Meyer Author Of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

From my list on set in China’s diverse regions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I arrived in China in 1995 as one of the country’s first Peace Corps volunteers, and for over a decade lived in rural Sichuan, historic Beijing, and arcadian Jilin. These settings inform my trilogy of books about daily life in corners of the country overlooked by correspondents. I’ve won a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, and I am currently a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. I’m a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, a recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Fellowship, and a Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach nonfiction writing. 

Michael's book list on set in China’s diverse regions

Michael Meyer Why did Michael love this book?

If you read only one book set in Beijing, let it be this one. During the Japanese occupation, a rickshaw puller named Xiangzi ping-pongs between success and misfortune in his quest to one day own a vehicle of his own. The author, a Manchu who grew up in the capital’s dense net of hutong alleyways, knows his material and his city unlike any Beijing writer before or since, especially its fatalist sense of humor. The editor of its first American edition changed the ending so everyone lived happily-ever-after. Lao She knew better; three decades later, he was among the most prominent casualties of the Red Guards.

By Lao She,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rickshaw Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Lao She’s great novel.”
—The New York Times

 

A beautiful new translation of the classic Chinese novel from Lao She, one of the most acclaimed and popular Chinese writers of the twentieth century,  Rickshaw Boy chronicles the trials and misadventures of a poor Beijing rickshaw driver. Originally published in 1937, Rickshaw Boy—and the power and artistry of Lao She—can now be appreciated by a contemporary American audience.


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