The Paper Menagerie • 2011 • Magic realism short story by Ken Liu



A cute story about a Chinese mother bringing origami animals to real life for her boy Jack turns heart wrenching. She doesn’t integrate to the U.S. culture where Jack grows up, doesn’t speak English, doesn’t cook or behave the “right” way. In his puberty, Jack rejects that behaviour and gets disaffected from his mother.

I reached out to Mom’s creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger. “Rawrr-sa,” it growled, the sound somewhere between a cat and rustling newspapers.


A story of failed integration playing with emotions: cuteness, love, loneliness, sadness. Jack’s transformation is painful to read. Wait, until you’ve read the mother’s letter to Jack, and see if you can resist calling your mom. It might also help understanding our contemporary situation with loads of refugees in Europa.

It is a simple and very short story, the characters are believable, the narration poetically. It is also very effective by giving your emotions a fat punch and leaving you a bit sad:

“If I say ‘love,’ I feel here.” She pointed to her lips.
“If I say ‘ai,’ I feel here.” She put her hand over her heart.

Meta: isfdb. This short story was published March 2011 in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I read it as part of the collection Paper Menagerie. It won Hugo, Nebula, the World Fantasy Award and only lost to Neil Gaiman at the Locus.



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