The Gremlin’s Library: “House of the Camphor” by Mina Ikemoto Ghosh

“Madam Setsuko had been alone before she took in the children, alone except for the camphor tree at the heart of the house and the mynah bird that spoke with the voices of the dead. Her black dress was pressed with wealth and worn at the collar with loss. Its lace cuffs had a thread loose for every brother burnt in the fire-bombing, her elbows were creased with their wives and children, and her skirts were dusted down with the vanishing of her parents. Black beads glittered at her throat and ears. Not real, of course – pawned for the children.”

-Mina Ikemoto Ghosh, “House of the Camphor”, Lackingtons’ Issue 20: Birds

Any story with mynah birds and three-legged crows is going to be dark, and that’s before we get to the dolls nailed to the dying tree. Ghosh’s story is a haunting one about wartime hunger and how grief leads people into dark paths. It’s half fable, half horror story, interspersed with bits of poetry and dripping with a deep-rooted trauma that both roots the story to the ground and makes it just a little off. 

This is one of those stories that would not be the same in the hands of somebody not #ownvoices; Ghosh’s bio mentions her talking to her grandmother about the war, and while I’m not as familiar with Japanese folklore as I’d like to be, I think the three-legged crow is a very specific symbol. (As for the camphor tree and mynah bird, I can’t say, but mynah birds are CREEPY.)

TW for child death, body horror (I Am Dead Serious, don’t read this if you hate body horror), implied child trafficking

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