October Books 9) Returning My Sister’s Face, by Eugie Foster

When I was a little girl, I thought my mother’s name was Yuki, which means snow. That was part of her name, but I didn’t learn the rest of it until the night my father died.

I’ve known Eugie Foster online for maybe ten years now, but shamefully haven’t read much of her actual work, apart from her Nebula-winning story “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”. Eugie has had some bad news recently, and so I have done as she suggested and got the ebooks of her two collections, Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice and Mortal Clay, Stone Heart and Other Stories in Shades of Black and White. Judging by the first of these, I warmly recommend that you do the same.

Returning My Sister’s Face is a collection retelling various Chinese, Japanese and Korean folk stories – legends, ghost stories, what you will – in contemporary idiom and often with a slightly different take, at least according to the (very helpful) afterwords for each story. This isn’t a part of the world whose cultures I know much about, but there is a certain universality of narratives of love, family, betrayal and the blurred boundary between human, animal and spirit. I was particularly struck by her two different takes on the Yuki-onna legend, bringing some agency to this enigmatic figure. In one or two cases I did feel a chime of familiarity – “The Raven’s Brocade” (from the Japanese original about a crane) is not far from European animal wives, though with some unfamiliar twists. But mostly these were insights into a new legendarium for me, lucidly and passionately told.

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