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Cover illustration by: Quentin Trollip
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi, Thriller, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction
Pages: 464 pages (US Hardback)
Published: 10th March 2016 by Head of Zeus (UK) & 8th March 2016 by Gallery / Saga Press (US)
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an intimately powerful and beautiful collection of stories that encompassed some of the most relatable themes to our society, and some stories contained in this collection felt personal and evocative to me.
“Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.”
Excluding translation works, this collection marked my first experience of reading Ken Liu’s original stories. Ken Liu did a fantastic job on translating The Three-Body Problem and Death’s End, the first and third book in The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu. Because of this, immediately after I finished reading The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu, I knew that I must also read Ken Liu’s original stories. The result totally exceeded my expectations. Ken Liu truly has a way with words; the Asian-inspired tales he implemented were brilliant, and he weaved these short stories and transformed them into an emotionally impactful reading experience.
“We are defined by the places we hold in the web of others’ lives.”
One of the main topics featured heavily in this collection is the struggle of adapting or coping with Eastern and Western culture; differences in culture, language, and racial prejudice are reoccurring themes. Full disclosure that English is my third language. I’m a Chinese born and raised in Indonesia, and I grew up learning about all three Chinese, Indonesian, and Western cultures and languages due to my upbringing, environment, and education. This is the most pivotal reason why most of the short stories here resonated with me. I understand how difficult it can be to learn and adapt to different cultures and languages, especially on an everyday basis; I’m still learning up to this day, and I will always continue to do so. The majority of my friends and followers on Goodreads, as far as I know, are not Asian, but even if you’re not, this collection is still a must-read if you’re looking for amazing fictions that will also help you understand more about Asian history, way of life, superstition, and struggles.
“Our lives are ruled by these small, seemingly ordinary moments that turn out to have improbably large effects.”
As you can probably guess from the books I’ve reviewed, I’m generally not a fan of short stories or novellas; more often than not, they’re too short to have a lasting impression on me. However, this collection is exceptional. Almost all of the stories exhibited in this collection were wonderfully well-written. They’re memorable, philosophical, introspective, fascinating, and some of them were extraordinarily emotional. I’m thoroughly amazed by the versatility of Liu’s storytelling. Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, magical realism, noir thriller, or historical fiction, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories has them all. If you’re a fan of speculative fiction, I honestly don’t see how most of these stories won’t work for you. I’m not kidding, out of fifteen stories included in this collection, only two of them didn’t click with me. As for the rest? I either liked them or absolutely loved them. Due to the short length of the majority of the stories contained here, I won’t be doing any review on them. I do, however, want to do a short review for two of my utmost favorite short stories in this collection: The Paper Menagerie and The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.
The Paper Menagerie
The Paper Menagerie is purely magical. For those of you who don’t know, The Paper Menagerie was the only work of fiction to ever win all Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards within a single year. It is with many great reasons, validity, and recognitions that this collection is titled The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories; the titular story is simply a scintillating piece of literature. 15 pages long, just within 15 pages, Ken Liu has created something that’s truly emotional, important, and mesmerizing. The topics of empathy, mother’s love for their child, and the acceptance of our own race embedded in this short story undeniably tugged at my heartstrings. The Paper Menagerie is a brilliantly imaginative, poignant, and magnificently written short story that almost made me cry within 15 pages. This is, hands down, the best short stories I’ve ever read, and I don’t think I will ever find a better short story than this in my life. I’d give this masterwork a 6/5 stars rating if I could.
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary tells the brutal story of Unit 731—lethal human experimentation that’s responsible for some of the vilest and notorious crimes enacted by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It’s dark, violent, terrifying, depressing, and it made many grimdark novels tame in comparison. The craziest part about this, though, is the fact that the Unit 731 incident is real; this isn’t fictional, Unit 731 is a part of humanity’s history. The world knows about the Nazi and Auschwitz concentration camp, but it’s shocking to me that many people—Asian or not—have never heard about this atrocious incident. If you’re reading this review and you’ve never heard of Unit 731 or the Second Sino-Japanese War, I hope you’ll find the time to do some research on them. These incidents will most likely make you feel grateful for the life you have now. The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary is one of the most powerful novellas I’ve ever read, and it is truly the most fitting story to close this superb collection.
I’ve said all I needed to say; you have to experience this book for yourself. Suffice to say that I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I would be doing myself an immense injustice if I don’t read more of Ken Liu’s works, especially The Dandelion Dynasty series, which sounds like everything I’m looking for in epic fantasy. Intelligently crafted, thought-provoking, and emotionally devastating, I highly recommend The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories collection to every reader of speculative fiction. It is easily one of the finest collection of stories I’ve ever read so far.
“And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.
Does that thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human?
We live for such miracles.”
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