Title: Sansei and Sensibility: Stories Author: Karen Tei Yamashita
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Genre: Short Stories
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.