May 27, 2024


By Sally Wen Mao
In Sally Wen Mao’s Ninetails, a fox spirit helps Asian women of diverse backgrounds and ages transcend the violence and turbulence of their lives.
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Myth and folklore intertwine seamlessly with the tumultuous lives of Asian women in this mesmerizing collection of stories.

Each story in Ninetails: Nine Tales reveals the poignant struggles of young Asian women marginalized and scorned, struggling to eke out their identity, follow their heart and break free from political oppression and social expectations. At the heart of these tales of strength and transformation is Ninetails, a fox spirit known by many names—hulijing, huxian, fox demon or fox fairy—who helps women of diverse backgrounds and ages transcend the violence and turbulence of their lives.

The central story, divided into several parts, is called “The Haunting of Angel Island.” Set in the 1900s, against the backdrop of the Angel Island immigration station located in San Francisco Bay, it features Tye, a Chinese interpreter who witnesses the harrowing experiences of women detainees. Other stories include the tale of a silicone love doll who yearns to be human, the plight of a Korean girl bullied in a land foreign to her, and the story of two friends connected by being cheated on by the same man. Unfolding with gripping intensity through author Sally Wen Mao’s vivid depictions of the gritty settings and sobering situations that confront her characters, each premise is made even more powerful by the magical element introduced when a fox spirit manifests to liberate the women from their misery, or inflict retribution for wrongdoings.

Some of the stories in Ninetails end abruptly and can feel a little disjointed; nevertheless, Mao’s compelling depiction of Asian women’s experiences is powerfully unsettling in its authenticity. Through themes of revenge and redemption, these stories illuminate our enduring capacity for resilience.

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By Sally Wen Mao
Penguin Books
ISBN 9780143137894

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