Pearl City: Stories from Japan and Elsewhere is an eclectic collection of short stories. The author, Simon Rowe, has clearly put in an immense amount of effort to ensure that everything about the stories is varied. From Japan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, to Australia and New Zealand, readers are kept on their toes with the different locales presented.
That variety extends to the stories and themes themselves too. Each story is easily able to stand on its own. There isn’t a single story in the collection that relies on another. Not only that, but the actual content remains unique for each individual story too. There are historical stories and mysteries, as well as family tragedies and comedies. It truly allows for a diverse reading experience and makes all the stories a pure joy to read.
There are sixteen stories in the collection, with about half talking place in Japan. It opens with one such story, which takes place in the fictional Pearl City. There, a private investigator has to find out where the missing pearls are going. In another Japan story, a woman reminisces about her grandfather who was a pilot during the war.
On the other hand, there are stories outside of Japan as well. In the first, an assassin is on his last mission in Hong Kong when he gets into trouble with some oysters. Another starting in New Zealand looks at a child who has to leave behind everything they know. Australia’s story is about a tattoo artist and a woman who has lost everything.
Establishing plot and character in a short story is tricky business. This makes it easy to want to rely on readily available stereotypes and biased narratives – especially when using specific countries as a reference point. However, that didn’t feel to be the case in this collection. While the location of each story is relevant, it didn’t feel like stereotypes were used to an obvious degree or as a crutch.
For example, while war stories about Japanese pilots are fairly common, the story in this collection didn’t make that stereotype the focal point. Instead, the story focuses on a woman’s love for her grandfather. The other Japanese stories similarly didn’t generally rely on strong biases about how “the Japanese” behave in any given situation. Instead, the stories focused on the realities of people who live in the country. It’s a careful line to balance, and Rowe did an excellent job of it.
In the same vain, Simon Rowe did a great job ensuring that each story was unique from the other. While there are short story collections that focus on interconnectedness, Pearl City is not one of them. This isn’t inherently a good or a bad thing. However, it did make the book exceptionally easy to read. It was a comfort knowing that after a single story, you could simply put the book down for a rest.
Ironically, this also made it hard to put down the book. With each story offering something completely new, it was easy to get excited for the next story. This was also aided by the different locations in each narrative. Sometimes, the story took place in a city. In other times, in the middle of nowhere. It really kept everything fresh and exciting.
Overall, Pearl City: Stories from Japan and Elsewhere was a very pleasant read. The stories remained fresh throughout and each story had something unique to offer. With different themes and settings, Simon Rowe created a very balanced collection. It was an absolute pleasure to read. Will definitely be picking up more of his work in the future.
Note: While the author sent me this book for review, all opinions expressed within this review are my own.