Seventeen Syllables | book review

T366924itle: Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories
Author: Hisaye Yamamoto
Series: n/a
Publisher: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press
Publication Date: 1988
Genre(s): Short stories, Asian-American, Realistic fiction

Opening Line:

In the middle of the morning, the telephone rings.

-from “The High-Heeled Shoes”

The Synopsis

Here is a collection of short stories written by Hisaye Yamamoto, first published in 1988 and containing stories written during a 40-year span. This book contains some of her most anthologized works, including “Yoneko’s Earthquake,” “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,” “The Brown House,” and “Seventeen Syllables.” Though many of them are autobiographical, only two of them, “Life Among the Oil Fields” and “The High-Heeled Shoes,” are noted as memoirs.

The Plot

Though I have not been a fan of the Asian-American lit I’ve been reading this semester, I have to say I was excited to read short stories rather than yet another novel or memoir. Seventeen Syllables was actually a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. The stories were very relatable, even as an American, and some were interesting to read about. Yamamoto is a great storyteller and has a knack for short story writing. Though there were a few stories I could not get into, most of them were fairly enjoyable and easy to read. “Seventeen Syllables,” Yamamoto’s most famous story, was probably one of my favorites. The story is about a young Nisei girl (a person born in America whose parents were immigrants from Japan) and her growing relationship with a Mexican boy working in the fields. It’s also about the girl’s mother and her passion for haiku writing, as well as the father’s resentment towards her mother. It has a lot to due with inter-racial interaction and class separation, themes that reappear throughout the book. I also enjoyed “The Brown House,” a story about a gambling husband, and “Epithalamium,” a story about a Japanese-American woman’s troublesome relationship with her Italian-American husband. I definitely liked this collection of short stories, even though I doubt I’ll read it again. I think I just prefer it to the other works I’ve read this semester, which is why I liked it so much. It was a breath of fresh air to read about something other than simply mother-daughter relationships and the generation gap between Isei and Nisei.

The Writing

Of course, I’d never heard of Yamamoto until taking this class, and it appears she recently died in 2011. Though this wasn’t my favorite short story collection, I did enjoy it and I truly liked Yamamoto’s writing. I think she had real talent with writing short stories, which is not something everyone has. I’m very particular about short stories, which sounds silly but they have to be written a certain way, and Yamamoto achieved that. She was no Neil Gaiman, but I liked her writing nevertheless.

My Rating

3 star

Favorite Quote(s): “But, alas, most egos were covered with the thinnest of eggshells.”

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