‘The Crane Wife’ by CJ Hauser

I have a soft spot for stories that use a basis of folklore for their launch. When done well they can read like a literary inheritance, a gift from a long forgotten relative. CJ Hauser uses a story of the same name from Japanese folklore about a crane who falls in love with a man and tricks him into thinking she is a woman so that he will marry her. Every night while he sleeps she plucks her feathers out, concealing her true identity, erasing her true self night after night to make herself into someone he will love. It is a cautionary tale.

In Hauser’s story she flits between telling the reader about the unfulfilling relationship she found the courage to leave, ending her engagement but avoiding the fate of the crane wife; and the expedition she embarked upon ten days later to study whooping cranes and their habitat. The two threads weave together perfectly and as the story progresses the uplifting message that one’s first duty is to honour thyself shines through with reasoned and compassionate good sense:

It turns out, if you want to save a species, you don’t spend your time staring at the bird you want to save. You look at the things it relies on to live instead. You ask if there is enough to eat and drink. You ask if there is a safe place to sleep. Is there enough here to survive? (HC)

Published by The Paris Review, 2019, and available to read online here