The child of a first-generation immigrant finds himself in a unique situation. Raised in a culture separate from that of his parent, it can be difficult to find a common ground between home life and life outside the home. This dichotomy is explored in Ken Liu's Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning 'Paper Menagerie.'
As a young child, our narrator Jack was very close to his Chinese mother. He saw nothing strange about speaking Chinese to his mother and English to his father. When his mother made him an origami tiger from the leftover wrapping paper that she had saved, he was delighted to watch it scamper about like a kitten. She made him a collection of animals, and they would play together on the table and go up to Jake for pets.
but all children eventually compare their own home life to that of their friends. It's hard to compare toys folded of used wrapping paper, no matter how lovingly made, to the flashy plastic action figures of his friends. It's difficult to watch his mother attempt her broken English with the people in the neighborhood. And in the end, these difficulties drive a wedge between mother and son that is nearly impossible to bridge.
Then again magic, especially the small magics of the home and of a mother's love, are hard to quash. Somehow, these magics escape and sometimes even the most world-weary of hearts is touched by them once more.
Ken Liu is an amazing voice in the field of short stories. Whether seamlessly blending a bit of the fantastic into the current-day or shedding light on a budding problem by showing a possible future, his short stories transport the reader in to a world other than the mundane one we're stuck in, and helps us to see our own lives a bit differently.
Highs: Jake's sense of loss at never really knowing his mother's heart is something that most people can identify with.
Lows: Watching him turn away from his family is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable.
Verdicit: Available for free at io9.com, there's no excuse not to read this amazing, award-winning story.
Further Reading: 'The Perfect Match', Moscow but Dreaming