Category Archives: Coffee House Press

Read 215 of 2021. Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita

Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita

Title: Sansei and Sensibility: Stories Author: Karen Tei Yamashita
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895781
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

So, here’s the thing about Karen Tei Yamashita’s writing – not only they seem absurd or abstract most of the time, strangely enough they also seem complete and concrete. The writing that doesn’t miss a beat or rhythm and it is all perfect, not quite though. Sansei and Sensibility is a collection of stories just like that. And of course, let’s not forget the Jane Austen wordplay, which I will talk about later.

The stories in this collection centres around sansei, or third generation Japanese-Americans. We have stories that set context – culturally and politically. There are the issei, a Japanese immigrant to North America and nisei, an American whose parents were immigrants from Japan and then of course there is Sansei. It is all clearly laid out as the collection begins with the section “Sansei”. A lot of sanseis were born in the 1930s and 40s, they grew up in Second World War internment camps or just heard stories from their parents or grandparents about years spent in camps.

The second half of the collection “Sensibility” is light-hearted in a sense, taking off from Jane Austen’s novels, where “Monterey Park” is a spin-off of Mansfield Park or for that matter “Omaki-San” is based on Austen’s Lady Susan and works perfectly because of a single protagonist’s point of view. Yamashita’s pace is frenetic and unyielding. It is as though she has so much to say and so little time.

Short stories aren’t easy to write. To be able to communicate it all and sometimes not everything is an art in itself which I think very few writers master. Yamashita is one of them. The stories are told in many voices and that is what makes them even more exciting and palpable. Read this collection, and then read her other works.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back- Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt Title: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Author: Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895606
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You cannot overcome grief. Grief hangs around, till it decides to leave you. Till such time you cannot get rid of it. It will not let go. As Naja Marie Aidt puts it so eloquently, that it breaks your heart: “Sorrow cannot be cured”.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book is a book about Naja’s son Carl and how she and her family lost him when he was twenty-five years old. Lost him to what? Lost him to whom? How does one overcome such a loss? Does one really? The answer is always no.

The book is about Carl. His life, his loves, his innocence, his need to be there for everyone, and his love for his friends and family. Naja bares it all. She gives it all to the reader – in the form of Carl’s notes, his poems, her poems, other writer’s works on death, grief, and loss. From Whitman’s poetry (which she found in her son’s green jacket afterward) to Anne Carson and Gilgamesh, this quest is also personal (only personal) – that of understanding the nature of loss and how to cope with it (if there’s a way to it).

We all have different ways to deal with death. How many of us acknowledge the loss and speak of it again and again and again? How many of us choose to ignore what we feel and continue as though nothing has happened? The loss of a loved one cannot be contained. The loss of a child more so.

Naja’s book made me see how I deal with death. How I manage my emotions, what I feel, how I communicate, and what happens to me when someone beloved is no more.

The book tore me severely in so many places. The times she speaks of her son – always so lovingly, the way she speaks of who he was and what he was made of, her anger at her son not being present in the world, how he was buried, the future he could’ve had, the reactions of the family, and more – all of them shook me, made me weep, and made me realise how important it is to tell people you love them – to make them know it again and again and again. Death isn’t easy. Living without is most difficult. We all hold on to scraps of memories. That is all what remains.

And here is Naja Marie Aidt’s interview about the book. A must-watch: