Notes on a Palm-of-the-Hand Story
My mother uses her fingernail to scratch Chinese characters into the palm of her hand. She does it, she says, so she won’t forget how to write.
When Chinese meet in the street and fail to understand each other’s speech, they too resort to palm-of-the-hand writing.
My right hand has a heart line that runs flat across my palm from west to east. The mark of a murderer, they say. Though lately, since I’ve begun writing, my heart grows optimistic.
What are palm-of-the-hand stories if not messages rolled into a tiny bottle? A substance that is not constrained by size but rather thrives in its narrowness.
A palm-of-the-hand story is a gift. Let us admire its wrapping, all its sharp corners and fragile folds, before sinking our teeth into its eggy wholeness.
Yasunari Kawabata, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. North Point Press, San Francisco 1988. Translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman.
Theodore W. Goossen (ed.), The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010.
Karen Kao is a writer of Shangha noir. Her debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, is the first in a set of four interlocking novels set in Shanghai. You can read more about Karen and her work at inkstonepress.com. And you can pick up here novel The Dancing Girl and the Turtle from Amazon. And Karen's most recent essay, Memory Palace, is now live at The Shanghai Literary Review.