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Saturday Storytime: The Paper Menagerie

Ken Liu is everywhere as a short story author and sometimes as translator recently. This story, like a number of the other Hugo-nominated shorts this year, deals with the complexities of family.

One of my earliest memories starts with me sobbing. I refused to be soothed no matter what Mom and Dad tried. Dad gave up and left the bedroom, but Mom took me into the kitchen and sat me down at the breakfast table. “Kan, kan,” she said, as she pulled a sheet of wrapping paper from on top of the fridge. For years, Mom carefully sliced open the wrappings around Christmas gifts and saved them on top of the fridge in a thick stack.

She set the paper down, plain side facing up, and began to fold it. I stopped crying and watched her, curious. She turned the paper over and folded it again. She pleated, packed, tucked, rolled, and twisted until the paper disappeared between her cupped hands. Then she lifted the folded-up paper packet to her mouth and blew into it, like a balloon.

Kan,” she said. “Laohu.” She put her hands down on the table and let go.

A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.

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.

I laughed, startled, and stroked its back with an index finger. The paper tiger vibrated under my finger, purring.

Zhe jiao zhèzhi,” Mom said. This is called origami.

Keep reading (pdf).

Comments

  1. Ruth says

    What a wonderfully written and touching story. I am currently living in China and I got a kick out of actually understanding all of the Chinese in the story. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  2. Sofie says

    What a beautiful and moving story! I was very excited to find out it has a Hugo nomination.

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