Stories That Reimagine the Nine-Tailed Fox Spirit of Asian Folklore

Book cover of Ninetails: Nine Tales by Sally Wen MaoBook cover of Ninetails: Nine Tales by Sally Wen Mao

Ninetails: Nine Tales by Sally Wen Mao

The nine tales in this book reimagine the fox spirit that is present in various Asian folklore. In this book, all the iterations of the fox spirits are female. The structure of this book is very interesting. There are eight short stories but then there is a longer tale woven in and out between every two stories and as a whole, this forms the ninth tale.

The longer tale takes place on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay, where incoming potential immigrants, mostly from Asia, came to be detained, processed, and interrogated. Many came over as paper sons or paper daughters: they were born in China and purchased false documentation that they were related to Chinese folks who already had United States citizenship and hence, their immigration was under the guise of being reunited with family. Immigration officers grilled the people during intense, many-hours-long interrogations, trying to trip them up with questions to make sure their answers matched those of the person who was already in the US. In these stories, there is a Chinese American woman who is the translator, and various parts of the stories are about hopeful immigrants, but we also get to know this translator as well.

The stories in this book touch on themes of vengeance, belonging, being an outsider, and liberation. While they’re all centered around reimagining fox spirits, these stories do contain a wide range. The story about the silicone sex dolls who come to life caught me off-guard but I was completely captivated while reading it. I was also utterly fascinated by the story of a Koro epidemic. The people affected by Koro syndrome are usually cisgender young men and it’s also known as “shrinking penis.” I love a good shape-shifting character; there’s a story in here that is shape-shifting and a revenge plot against sexual assault and it’s so good.

This is a really strong collection by a single author; each story was impactful and a great read. Content warnings for sexual assault, self-harm, racism, and violence.

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