Matsuda’s groundbreaking collection (after the novella The Girl Who Is Getting Married) turns traditional Japanese ghost and yōkai stories on their heads by championing wild, complex women. In “The Peony Lanterns,” recently unemployed Shinzaburō gets an eerie visit from two women, Tsuyoko and Yoneko, who try to sell him peony lanterns. Yoneko, the elder of the two, tells Shinzaburō of 30-something Tsuyoko’s tragic life: a motherless daughter with a cruel father, she was forced to leave home before completing high school. Shinzaburō refuses the lanterns, though he gains an epiphany from the women’s unusual sales tactics: “nothing terrible would happen if you broke the rules.” In “Quite a Catch,” a young woman named Shigemi carries on a sexual relationship with the ghost of a woman who was killed by the man she refused to marry. Not all of Matsuda’s stories captivate. “Team Sarashina” is about a group of women who are assigned to various departments in their company and offer their support to flailing coworkers, but it’s too obtuse to get a handle on. Most of Matsuda’s stories, though, hit their mark, particularly her queer, feminist fables, including “A Fox’s Life,” about a woman who passively internalizes sexism in her workplace (“I’m a girl. I’m just a girl, after all”) until she realizes in middle age that she might be a fox. Matsuda’s subversive revisionist tales are consistently exciting. (Oct.)
Delightfully uncanny . . . Matsuda’s retellings are feminist with a vengeance . . . Deftly translated.” —Jane Hu, The New York Times Book Review
"In her collection of interlinked stories, Aoko Matsuda reimagines traditional Japanese folktales and ghost stories with a feminist twist, positioning women at the center of narratives that are simultaneously life-like and surreal . . . Throughout Where the Wild Ladies Are, Matsuda makes witty and pointed observations about mortality, connection and freedom." —Annabel Gutterman, Time
"This isn't your usual collection of ghost stories. Translated by Polly Barton, Where the Wild Ladies Are is a modern retelling of traditional Japanese folktales. Matsuda provides a feminist twist to the surreal short stories, adding her unique brand of wit, weirdness and wonder." —Tierney Bricker, E!
"These ghosts are not the monstrous, vengeful spirits of the original stories; they are real people with agency and personalities, finally freed from the restraints placed on living women. Funny, beautiful, surreal and relatable, this is a phenomenal book." —Claire Kohda Hazleton, The Guardian
"Want a book of ghost stories that will have you ooh-ing over your cocoa? Go check out the children’s section. Want a book of ghost stories that will have you screaming around a Big Gulp–size serving of Adult Beverage? These tales are warped and reinvented from traditional Japanese ghost stories, and they go barrelling through hair salons and domestic kitchens and modern factories. Whether you’ll identify more closely with the mortals or the ghosts is an open question." —Vulture
"Reading these re-imagined Japanese folktales is a true, delirious pleasure—the uplifting, unwinding kind that otherwise feels in short supply these days. In Where the Wild Ladies Are, Aoko Matsuda has taken traditional stories and infused them with an unhinged feminist energy that feels subversive, sly, and nothing short of revelatory. It's a reinvention that offers up a whole new way to look at all our foundational myths, and allows us to conceive of a present and future that prioritizes openness and absurdity instead of restricting paradigms and dogma." —Kristin Iversen, Refinery29
"Matsuda’s eerie and bewitching short story collection updates traditional Japanese ghost stories with a feminist bent . . . The stories are coy, ambiguous, and just the right amount of creepy." —Arianna Rebolini, BuzzFeed
"Aoko Matsuda’s short story collection is full of feminist retellings of Japanese folktales. Which: hell yes. By taking ancient stories and setting them in modern-day Japan, Matsuda insightfully uses the ghost tales to reveal greater truths about our society . . . Overall, these stories are engaging and surreal and smart." —Emily Burack, One of Hey Alma's Favorite Books for Fall
"Who are the spirits living in cities, and why are they there? Aoko Matsuda's Where the Wild Ladies Are—translated from Japanese by Polly Barton—dares to answer this question, introducing us to the female sprites and yōkai (traditional Japanese monsters) who have clambered out of Japan's ancient forests and wells and entered into modern-day cramped high-rise flats, corporate headquarters, beauty parlors, and tourist complexes . . . These tales demonstrate a wildness in all of us that connects body to land, human to animal. The convergences of the spiritual and corporeal, the traditional and modern, together form an anthology that is rare in feminist Japanese literature." ––Ysabelle Cheung, Sierra
"The world is not an easy place, and being alive is difficult. Being dead, though . . . is also difficult . . . Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda wants you to know that existence for all beings—including ghosts, humans, kitsune, and even an oddly-shaped tree—is full of struggle, and that female beings face particular challenges . . . This gently delightful collection of stories provides new twists on old stories and maintains a much-needed tone of optimism and resilience throughout." —Christina Ladd, The Nerd Daily
"In this delightful, sharp, poignant collection of linked short stories, Matsuda writes feminist retellings of Japanese folk tales populated by ghosts, all of them women, who are recruited into a mysterious company run by Mr. Tei. These stories are such a joy to read, with a soothing and refreshing quality that centers and celebrates 'feminine' energy, which is as expansive here as it is in real life." —Sarah Neilson, Literary Hub
"Preface any storytelling format with 'traditional,' and audiences will have no expectations of feminist agency. Thankfully, prizewinning Japanese writer Matsuda imagines reclamation and brilliantly transforms fairy tales and folk legends into empowering exposés, adventures, manifestos . . . Adroitly translated by UK-based Polly Barton . . . Matsuda enthralls with both insight and bite." —Terry Hong, Booklist (starred review)
In these contemporary reimaginings of Japanese folktales, writer/translator Matsuda (Stackable) effectively communicates a sense of traditional Japanese culture while delivering a keen understanding of Japan today. A fashion-conscious young woman obsessively removes excess body hair until her dead aunt's ghost frees her to be her truer, wilder, hairier self. Arriving late at night, two otherworldly businesswomen so unnerve a mopey unemployed man that he's on the job trail the next day. In one noteworthy story, the skeleton of a woman from the Edo period cruelly used by a samurai is reembodied after being fished from the river by the protagonist, and the two women launch a tender affair. VERDICT At once elegant and unsettling; a delight for smart readers.
Women find more freedom in death than in life as Matsuda reimagines traditional Japanese ghost stories and folktales for modern times.
In "Smartening Up," the opening story of this linked collection, a woman who lives alone and has embarked on an elaborate self-improvement agenda that includes affirmations, fine foods, decorating with pink that “maximizes [her] romantic potential,” and hair removal is visited by the ghost of an abrasive dead aunt who convinces her to unleash the raw power of her body rather than harness it. In the next story, "The Jealous Type," a woman whose husband is gaslighting her has jealous tantrums that rise to the level of performance art, a hilarious but also layered commentary on violence, rage, and domestic strife. Almost all the narrators play with stereotypes of women like the jealous wife or “the Middle-Aged Woman Who Wouldn’t Shut Up.” The narrator of "My Superpower," a columnist with severe eczema and allergies, says, “My eczema has given me...keen observational skills….Those who see others as monsters don’t notice that those monsters are looking back at them in turn.” This sentiment reverberates throughout the book, which is conversational in tone but not without wisdom and insight about human nature, mortality, and the ways in which family and society repress the spirit. One narrator exclaims, “The very idea that you have to rein in your heat even as love’s passion sets you ablaze...how restrictive life as a functional adult is!” The title story does allude to the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are and shares the same universe of characters as the first story. Indeed many of the stories connect through characters, time, and dimensions, and the way Matsuda executes these links is a highlight. The author has a light but lasting touch.
A delightful, daring collection.