Where the Wild Ladies Are

by Aoko Matsuda

List Price: $16.95
Paperback | 288 pages | ISBN 9781593766900

On Sale 10/20/2020

In this witty and exuberant collection of feminist retellings of traditional Japanese folktales, humans live side by side with spirits who provide a variety of useful services–from truth-telling to babysitting, from protecting castles to fighting crime.

A busybody aunt who disapproves of hair removal; a pair of door-to-door saleswomen hawking portable lanterns; a cheerful lover who visits every night to take a luxurious bath; a silent house-caller who babysits and cleans while a single mother is out working. Where the Wild Ladies Are is populated by these and many other spirited women–who also happen to be ghosts. This is a realm in which jealousy, stubbornness, and other excessive “feminine” passions are not to be feared or suppressed, but rather cultivated; and, chances are, a man named Mr. Tei will notice your talents and recruit you, dead or alive (preferably dead), to join his mysterious company.

In this witty and exuberant collection of linked stories, Aoko Matsuda takes the rich, millenia-old tradition of Japanese folktales–shapeshifting wives and foxes, magical trees and wells–and wholly reinvents them, presenting a world in which humans are consoled, guided, challenged, and transformed by the only sometimes visible forces that surround them.

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

Taking a collection of traditional Japanese ghost stories and crafting them into often humorous yet painfully relevant tales is a move of pure genius by Aoko Matsuda. Taking place in a contemporary setting, with a decidedly feminist bend, Where the Wild Ladies Are takes classic Japanese ghost stories--which make up some of the best in the world--and rewrite them to make them relevant to the current gender climate of modern-day Japan. Witty, biting, and poignant, Matsuda’s collection is a pleasantly haunting surprise.

—Jessica Esa, Metropolis

This was an amazing read. A troupe of women are sent in from another world in order to help relieve the angst of the people in this world.

—Hiroko Kitamura, Hon no zasshi sha

Turning one’s back on despair and instead channeling all one’s energy into living as one’s true self is what gives one the strength to take on spectral form. This is a call to power to live with sufficient conviction to become ghosts.

—Akiko Ohtake, Asahi shimbun

An enjoyable and satisfying read, coming out of a sense of discomfort and unease around gender inequality. This is a short story collection where classic works from rakugo and kabuki are developed in the author’s unique style.

—Asayo Takii, Nami

Matsuda plays with words to create and reshape concrete images and abstract illusions; and, in many ways, this short story feels like an extended prose poem. That being said, it doesn’t demand any unnecessary work from the reader, who is invited to explore the evocative emotional chiaroscuro of its dreamspace along with the narrator. The story is carefully translated and delightfully easy to read, and it’s a lot of fun to get lost in its labyrinth.

—Kathryn Hemmann, Contemporary Japanese Literature

One nice thing this decade was discovering the funny, surreal, slyly ingenuous, sometimes eerily incantatory fiction of Aoko Matsuda. In this short novella, Matsuda’s longest work to be translated so far, the narrator travels up five flights of stairs to see the titular girl who is getting married, while reflecting on their relationship--now intimate, now distant, now ontologically suspect. The girl who is getting married is referred to only as ’the girl who is getting married, ’ which lets Matsuda write sentences like: ’The girl who is getting married announced that she was now a girl who is getting married. The girl who is getting married is getting married!’ It’s a delightfully strange story strange right down to its syntax.

—Adam Ehrlich Sachs, author of The Organs of Sense

The storytelling is defined by psychological precision and sharp, aphoristic commentary (Of a dead goldfish, the narrator says: ’Even the smallest of deaths has an undeniable splendour when it happens in front of you’, and a shopping mall: ’It is so bright you could forget the human race has such a thing as shadows’). Matsuda spins the ordinary (the price of tights, for example, or hair removal) into the extraordinary.

—Eluned Gramich, The Japan Society Review

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