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Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster

I just had the pleasure of reading eugie‘s collection, Returning My Sister’s Face, and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsey and Malice, one of my birthday presents. I only recently learned of Eugie’s work, because of her phenomenal “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast“, which is on the shortlist for the Nebula this year. But this collection is something special.

The book contains twelve stories, originally published as early as 2004, in venues as various as Cricket, Paradox, Realms of Fantasyand Jim Baen’s Universe. They are all drawn on Japanese, Chinese or Korean traditions, and in several cases drawn directly from existing folktales or well-known narratives. Being myself disgracefully ignorant of these literary traditions (I could earn maybe a C+ in an oral exam on Introduction to Eastern Religions, but that’s about it) I have no idea how well Eugie is reflecting or representing them, but I don’t care. She tells her tales with such energy, grace and heart that one feels instantly transported and moved.

My favorite story in the collection was “A Thread of Silk,” based loosely on actual historical events in Japan, and weaving together this Japanese tradition of storytelling, a scifi sensibility and a reflection of western (Greek!) mythological tropes. It is a tour de force. I love it especially for its thematic and complexity, its twist added upon twist, a feature also present in “Daughter of Bótù” and “Honor Is a Game Mortals Play.”

I also adored “The Tanuki-Kettle,” a fairy tale also drawn on a Japanese tale that is too unutterably cute for, er, utterances. I read it aloud to my ten-year-old while he chortled. The newest story in the collection, “The Tears of My Mother, the Shell of My Father,” is a strange mixture of adorable cuteness and philosophic profundity.

Nearly as fun as the stories themselves are Eugie’s one-paragraph commentaries at the end of each tale, reflecting such things as the family expectations at her own birth, the prevalence of unfair “foxist rhetoric” in Chinese and Japanese folktales, and the habits of her pet skunk.

I recommend this collection highly.

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