“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu is a fantasy short story that incorporates Asian American struggles with magical realism.
In 2012, this renowned story won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award, making it the first and only work of fiction to win all three.
Liu tells a heart-touching story of a biracial child with an American dad and Chinese mom, illustrating the hardships of identity and self-acceptance.
Part of why this story moved me so much was that it held many elements that I myself could relate to. Throughout my own childhood of growing up in the United States, internalized racism against myself often caused an overwhelming amount of self-hatred and constantly wishing I were White and “normal.”
Likewise, Jack, the main character in “The Paper Menagerie,” rejects his Asian heritage and in return pushes both of his parents, especially his mother, further away.
While I have learned to be proud of my culture, reading this story reminded me of the person I used to be and made me realize I never wanted to hurt my family, or myself, in that way again.
In addition, Liu does a fantastic job of incorporating magical realism elements into his story through the mother’s origami creatures that come to life.
While this short story is objectively under the fantasy speculative genre, it feels very real and relatable at the same time, which is something I extremely admire and appreciate. These origami creatures embody Jack’s connection to his mother; as he grows more distant from her, the origami creatures slowly lose the life within them.
Liu’s short story brought me to tears, and after showing it to my parents, made them tear up as well.
It is beautifully written with impactful symbolism as seen in the origami creatures. I highly recommend everyone, especially fellow Asian Americans, to read this amazingly crafted short story.