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Seventeen Syllables [Kindle Edition]

Hisaye Yamamoto
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories" brings together 15 stories that span Hisaye Yamamoto's 40-year career. It was her first book to be published in the U.S. Yamamoto's themes include the cultural conflicts between the first generation, the Issei and their children, the Nisei; coping with prejudice; and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Imbued with the serenity of authority, these stories ably conduct the reader through the Japanese experience in America, from the oil fields of Redondo Beach to the internment camps of WW II, through the lives of young and old as they confront American customs, manners and culture. Yamamoto's stories also depict the stained relationships between Japanese immigrants and the nisei (American-born Japanese). Yet the author does not confine herself to ethnic issues. In "The High-Heeled Shoes: A Memoir," for example, the subtle forms of sexual harassment are delineated; a woman's obsession with expressing herself through the condensed poetry of haiku, and her husband's objections are explored in the title story. The inexplicable tragedies of everyday lifean inconsolable mourner, a desertion by a friend, the endless quest for an illusory prosperity (as in the stories "The Brown House" and "Las Vegas Charley)are underscored by a forlorn nostalgia for a history and a culture that fails to be transmitted from one generation to the next. Yamamoto, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, makes a welcome American debut.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Written between 1948 and 1987, Hisaye Yamamoto's stories cover many issues, from sexual harassment and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to a simple, magical tale of growing up. A recurrent theme is the experience of Japanese-American women: women often living in isolation, women caught between the traditional world of their husbands and their children's western values and identities. Always these stories are about the living of life, its movement and motion: "But reading is reading, talking is talking, thinking is thinking, and living is different." Hisaye Yamamoto's people carve out an existence on the fringes of American culture, compelling readers to think deeply about situations that may or may not be the same as their own. For her tender, revealing stories, Hisaye Yamamoto was awarded the 1986 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Before Columbus Foundation. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Holly Smith

Product Details

  • File Size: 1834 KB
  • Print Length: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (August 31, 1988)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SBE2F0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,825 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories of Asian-American life October 14, 2001
"Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories," by Hisaye Yamamoto, was first published in 1988. The revised and expanded edition adds 4 more stories, for a total of 19. Yamamoto was born in 1921 in California to parents who were immigrants from Japan, and hers is one of the most remarkable voices in 20th century United States literature. These stories originally were written or published between 1942 and 1995, and thus represent many decades of Yamamoto's literary career.
Her style is a blend of delicacy and determined passion. The book as a whole strikes a balance between tragedy and tenderness, and her best stories are quite moving. Yamamoto's stories mainly have Japanese-American female protagonists, and offer glimpses into many decades of Japanese-American life. Some topics include troubled marriages, crippling addictions, racism, and relations among the many ethnic groups of the U.S.
Some stories deal with the experience of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps by their own government during World War II. Other important themes include the human toll of World War II on those Japanese Americans who lost family members in the war, and the cultural shift between generations in Japanese-American families.
The four new stories in the expanded edition are "Death Rides the Rails in Poston," a murder mystery; "Eucalyptus," about a woman's experience in a mental facility; "A Fire in Fontana," about a Japanese-American woman's connection to the African-American community; and "Florentine Gardens," which centers around a visit to a military cemetery in Italy.
Hisaye Yamamoto's work is highly regarded by many, and many of her stories have been anthologized (which is how I first read her work).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Hisaye Yamamoto was not a prolific writer, but her output of fine short stories spans decades. Central themes include assimilation and the loss of traditional cultural values, troubled marraiges, and, of course, the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. As a writer who was raised in the culture and who originally published many of these stories in Japanese American publications for a largely Japanese American audience, she produces uniquely authentic accounts of a lifestyle that has largely disappeared. Here are the farms, the oil fields, the New Year's celebrations, the dusty internment camps, the tragic generation gaps, the hopes, dreams, and loneliness of a people who are inclined to remain quiet about personal matters--these stories present a fully developed portrait of the Japanese experience in American and its consequences. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gem-like stories April 26, 2000
These stories are beautiful, sensitive, thoughtful, and occasionally painful in their depiction of the condition, not only of Japanese- Americans, but of anyone who lives slightly off the beaten track. She writes with kindness, humor, and insight. I especially liked "The Legend of Miss Sassasagawara" and "Wilshire Bus," as well as the interview with her. Her stories remind me of Faulkner's and Flannery O'Connor's. If she had written more, I am certain she would have been better known.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good reading July 29, 1999
By A Customer
So much more intricate than at first glance. If you grow weary of the usual themes of the Asian-American experience, you will find this collection remarkable in its originality, especially considering the first story was written in 1948. A wonderful book to read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Rewarding Read April 23, 2001
By David
I read 17 Syllables for an English class, and it will be one of the books that I won't sell back. My favorite stories were Las Vegas Charlie, Legend of Miss Sasagawara, and 17 Syllables. Many of the stories describe Asian characters trying to find their niche in America. Themes include generational and cultural conflicts, addiction struggles, and financial insecurities. Yamamoto seems to take a minimalist approach to her writing, which encourages one to reread her stories in order to extract more information.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective February 28, 2008
I enjoy American short stories, and I feel that reading this book opened my eyes to new perspectives. For example, I had not thought about the relationship between Asian and Latino immigrants in the 1940's. The themes are fresh and varied and it's possible to read the stories in whatever order suits you.
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