Book Review: Returning My Sister’s Face by Eugie Foster
Eugie Foster is a writer I’ve encountered through the podcasts that I listen to. I won a free copy of Returning My Sister’s Face through the “Crossing the Streams” contest that she participated in, along with a host of other authors.
About the book: Returning My Sister’s Face is a collection of short stories that revisits or reinvents tales from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. Some stories are retellings of fairy tales both Asian and European, like “The Tiger Fortune Princess” and “Shim Chung the Lotus Queen.” Others are stories that offer completely new takes on events in East Asian history, like the longest story, “A Thread of Silk.”
What I liked: The book was a good introduction to East-Asian folklore, although Foster did tweak some elements in her reimaginings. There is also great attention to detail, especially in discussing religious rituals and the shades and shapes of clothing; these added a wonderful sense of texture. The content of the story “Returning My Sister’s Face” is macabre enough to match its gruesome title, and others in the collection deal with supernatural beings and betrayals in a similarly memorable fashion. Foster is willing to insert new themes into the folklore, though, as “Year of the Fox” is a tale of both wily animal spirits and lesbian attraction. My favourite in the collection is “The Tanuki-Kettle.” In it, the heroine is active instead of passive, and the main character, Tanuki, a Japanese trickster-spirit similar to Coyote in Native American folklore, is clever and resourceful. I wish I had a tanuki-shaped teapot of my own, now!
What I disliked: Many of the stories made use of terms from other languages that it took a while for me to understand in context. In particular, the story “Honor is a Game Mortals Play” assumed a knowledge of Japanese demon-hunting terminology that I don’t think many readers know off-hand. More frustrating, though, was the fact that in a significant portion of the stories, the heroines within them fell in love with the men who crossed their paths almost immediately. I realize that this is a problem infesting European folk stories as well, but they were still noticeable. This is part of why I liked “The Tanuki Kettle” so much – instead of immediately falling in love with the first eligible male she ran into, the heroine berated him for his arrogance.
The verdict: I’ve been somewhat wary of other stories of Foster’s that were aired on both Podcastle and Pseudopod. However, I loved some of the stories in this collection, and appreciated the introduction to East Asian folklore that it afforded me.
Up Next: The Bone Spindle, by Anne Sheldon