The author of the National Book Award finalist I Hotel collects her short fiction that transfers classic tales across boundaries and questions what an inheritance—familial, cultural, emotional, artistic—really means.
At first, the Jane Austen-themed stories in Karen Tei Yamashita’s exciting new collection, Sansei and Sensibility, seem to exist within this largely congenial literary tradition. The tone is often easy and jesting ... what makes Yamashita’s collection even more remarkable is that the book doesn’t stop short at a benign act of comparison. There is, in fact, a deep irony and suspicion actually laced into the very act of connecting Austen’s novels and the Japanese American immigrant experience—all of which had me going back to read these stories differently the second time through. Don’t be fooled by first impressions, in other words. This book is not aiming for homage, or even for the universalist message that often accompanies connecting experiences from one historical era to another. The tone of Sansei and Sensibility is lighthearted, yes, but under the surface is outrage against persistent racism and hierarchies of cultural influence that make evoking Austen here less an act of playful transposition and more a provocation ... Occasionally, the strength of these stories can be their weakness. It is difficult to forget that together writer and reader are conducting an experiment and, as a result, for the reader to always fall fully into the world of the illusion. Part of this is the nature of the project, which condenses expansive plots into ten-page stories, but it is also due to a kind of jauntiness in the telling ... Yamashita is a highly versatile prose writer and, in other places, she makes artful pivots from humor to tragedy ... Yamashita’s fiction simmers with a rage against conventional narratives that is endlessly compelling ... Yamashita’s stories...are never rigid or simple, and the dance is one you want to join.
Karen Tei Yamashita is a contemporary virtuoso of milieu, using her genre-bending work to explore multicultural environments and the ways that race, immigration and globalization affect various locales and the people within them. It’s both unexpected and apt that Yamashita intermingles her perceptiveness with Austen’s in her latest collection of stories ... these inventive and illuminating short pieces stylishly examine an array of scenarios, both realistic and imagined, including life in the Japanese immigrant community in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the internment during World War II of Japanese citizens in concentration camps, including the one in Topaz, Utah.
As a nisei who speaks Japanese and has not read Austen since college two decades ago, I struggled to access some stories and was easily carried away by others ... Yamashita poignantly contrasts [Marie] Kondo’s joy in discarding to live in the 'here and now,' with the critical importance of looking back, despite the accompanying pain, and holding on. At the crux of the entire collection rests a tension between the need to shed, and the idea that 'keeping the stuff, saving it, might also be a way of transforming your life' ... Sansei and Sensibility challenges and delights, while laying bare the familial loyalties we work to preserve and eschew.