Short Story Review: A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap

Note: This review is part of the 2016 Summer Reading Diversity Spotlight.

A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap
Release Date: August 27, 2014
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy
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Makino’s mother taught her caution, showed her how to carve her name into cucumbers, and insisted that she never let a kappa touch her. But when she grows up and her husband Tetsuya falls deathly ill, a kappa that claims to know her comes calling with a barbed promise. “A Cup of Salt Tears” is a dark fantasy leaning towards horror that asks how much someone should sacrifice for the one she loves.

If you’re not familiar with the kappa legend, I urge you to read up on this Japanese folklore before reading this short story for a better perspective of what’s going on here. Don’t be like me and start reading without a single clue, lost for a moment longer than you’d like to be. Context is important.

That said, coming from a Westerner, I thought that this was a great take on the kappa legend. It expressed the malevolence that is present here and how kappa use kindness to reel in their helpless victims. A Cup of Salt Tears was quite an eerie tale of love and loyalty, grief and vulnerability, and monsters. Though I think there was plenty of room to go much more in depth here in regards to these matters. It goes neck deep rather than knee deep into these themes. Because of this lack, I’d have to say that this is certainly not my favorite of Yap’s work (see: The Oiran’s Song). Definitely not blown away here.

Also, in the beginning of the story, I felt like there was too much description of unnecessary things which took away from moving the story along. But once the story really settled into the voice and tone and what it was trying to achieve, I could begin to appreciate the story much more.

So while I did enjoy this short story overall, I can’t say that this one is going to stand out among the other short stories that I’ve read. Though I’m glad I’m familiar with the kappa legend now and have a solid story to refer to for others newly interested in Japanese folklore. This, I’d say, is a great jumping off point to diving into Japanese folklore.

Favorite Lines:

  • She thinks, the skins we inhabit and the things we long to do inside them, why are they so different?
  • She thinks about what it means to be held in a monster’s arms, what it means to hold a monster.

Read A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap at