cover image Sansei and Sensibility

Sansei and Sensibility

Karen Tei Yamashita. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-56-689-5

Yamashita (I Hotel) returns with a career-spanning collection of stories originally published between 1975–2019, each of which is in dialogue with the work of Jane Austen. The stories are mostly set in California’s third-generation Japanese Sansei community. “Bombay Gin” is the comic, emotionally charged narrative of a woman locked in her dead aunt’s house who takes inventory of the kitchen, then cooks her aunt’s recipes with expired food. “The Bath” is a moving look at twin girls’ bathing rituals with their family. About half of the stories are micro Jane Austen pastiches—the Emma homage “Emi,” and “Giri & Gaman,” which references Pride and Prejudice, are standouts. “Omaki-San” is the high point, an epistolary sequence inspired by Lady Susan, with letters between family members and friends who live in Japan and the U.S., revealing the thrilling postwar story of a young Japanese woman and her American soldier husband. The collection is rounded off by an amusing inventory of Sansei recipes (instructions for KT’s Crab Miso Bake with Egg: “Offer to guests to test their Asian quotient”) and a timeline of Japanese-American life in America. The range of characters, sparkling humor, connective themes, and creative ambition all showcase Yamashita’s impressive powers. (May)