Sunday Short: Ken Liu's Paper Menagerie

Sunday, September 28, 2014
This week's short story is the award winning story from Ken Liu, republished via io9 -- Paper Menagerie.

Origami Tiger, link

This fantastical short tells the story of an American boy whose Chinese mother has the ability to fold origami animals and breathe life into them. One of his earliest childhood memories is her folding him a tiger named Laohu. The animals his mother creates him become his childhood toys until another child calls them trash and taunts him for his mixed heritage. He then renounces the toys (burying them in a corner in the attic) and demands his mother be 'normal' for him - no longer speak Chinese and cook American. Children are cruel.

The story follows the narrator until sometime after his mother's death, when he learns of her difficult childhood in China and Hong Kong. I wont spoil the story for you, but I did find her experience with the Cultural Revolution interesting.

Overall the imagery of origami animals coming to light delightful and the mishaps / mischief that resulted charming. As a new mom, I can admit that more than once I've thought about all that my family heritage I'd like to impart on my daughter (and any future children). And I will admit I teared up a little at the way the narrator's mother delivers a final note to her son. But I did find the story a little heavy handed in its ultimate tragedy (ie -- mom can do no wrong, why did you ever reject her?) and would have appreciated maybe a more nuanced ending (rather than such a long reveal-all letter).

The story is definitely worth a read, though, and I definitely am putting Ken Liu's upcoming book -- The Grace of Kings -- the first in a series called the Dandelion Dynasty -- on my to-read list.

Rating 4/5

Favorite line: 
Sometimes, the animals got into trouble. Once, the water buffalo jumped into a dish of soy sauce on the table at dinner. (He wanted to wallow, like a real water buffalo.) I picked him out quickly but the capillary action had already pulled the dark liquid high up into his legs. The sauce-softened legs would not hold him up, and he collapsed onto the table. I dried him out in the sun, but his legs became crooked after that, and he ran around with a limp. Mom eventually wrapped his legs in saran wrap so that he could wallow to his heart's content (just not in soy sauce). 
Also, Laohu liked to pounce at sparrows when he and I played in the backyard. But one time, a cornered bird struck back in desperation and tore his ear. He whimpered and winced as I held him and Mom patched his ear together with tape. He avoided birds after that.
Any thoughts on this week's tale? Anybody else itching to find a few good origami patterns online to fold now?

Next week's Sunday short will be Sarah Pinsker's No Lonely Seafarer, published in Lightspeed this September.

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