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Karen Tei Yamashita’s New Story Collection: ‘Sansei and Sensibility’

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Generations of Japanese Americans merge with Jane Austen’s characters in Karen Tei Yamashita’s new book, “Sansei and Sensibility” (Coffee House Press), which will be released May 5.

In these buoyant and inventive stories, Yamashita transfers classic tales across boundaries and questions what an inheritance — familial, cultural, emotional, artistic — really means.

In a California of the ’60s and ’70s, characters examine the contents of deceased relatives’ freezers, tape-record high school locker-room chatter, or collect a community’s gossip while cleaning the teeth of its inhabitants. Mr. Darcy is the captain of the football team, Mansfield Park materializes in a suburb of L.A., bake sales replace ballroom dances, and station wagons, not horse-drawn carriages, are the preferred mode of transit.

The stories of traversing class, race, and gender leap into our modern world with wit and humor.

Yamashita is the author of eight books, including “I Hotel,” finalist for the National Book Award, and most recently, “Letters to Memory,” all published by Coffee House Press. Recipient of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature and a U.S. Artists’ Ford Foundation Fellowship, she is professor emerita of literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz.

Praise for “Sansei and Sensibility”:

Karen Tei Yamashita

“An elegantly written, wryly affectionate mashup of Jane Austen and the Japanese immigrant experience. . . . Yamashita’s reimagining of Austen is sympathetic and funny — and as on-target as the movie ‘Clueless.’” — Kirkus, starred review

“Karen Tei Yamashita is one of America’s great unsung geniuses . . . Here she’s mapped a series of stories onto the plots of Jane Austen novels, telling the tales of Japanese immigrants to the United States through the lens of their shared themes: inheritance, marriage, familial heritage. Yamashita is writing some of her finest stories yet.” — Literary Hub

“A dynamic collection. . . . Yamashita reconsiders canonical works, questions cultural inheritance, and experiments with genre and form.” — The Millions

“Dazzling. An extraordinarily inventive collection of short stories that takes us from Japan to Brazil to the fractured heart of suburban postwar Japanese America. Whether she is riffing on Jane Austen, channeling Jorge Luis Borges, or meditating on Marie Kondo, Yamashita is a brilliant and often subversive storyteller in superb command of her craft.” — Julie Otsuka, author of “The Buddha in the Attic”

“Through vignettes, recipes, and correspondence, master writer Karen Tei Yamashita takes us through the rabbit hole of Japanese America — in particular, her hometown of Gardena, California, where an ethnic community culturally transformed a middle-class bedroom town. Part Ozu meditation of everyday life, part modern folk tale with colorful characters like a truth-telling dental hygienist, ‘Sansei and Sensibility’ offers a unique and necessary perspective of what it means to be the aging grandchild of Asian immigrants, wondering what you will leave behind for the next generation. As in all of her books, Yamashita deconstructs form and genre to create a work that both delights and challenges.” — Naomi Hirahara, author of “Iced in Paradise” and the Mas Arai mystery series

To order the book directly from the publisher, visit www.coffeehousepress.org.

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