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Book Birthday Recap: “The Crane Wife”

Here’s a well-known fact to all: when a child is born, the day is called a birthday. The same idea can also be applied to the day a book gets published. However, it’s called a book birthday.

Patrick Ness is a young adult author whose novels have won multiple awards, such as The Carnegie Medal and The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Exactly seven years ago on April 4, his book, titled “The Crane Wife,” was published.

“The Crane Wife” follows George Duncan, a man who hears a stranger noise in the middle of the night. Following the sound into his garden, Duncan encounters a beautiful white crane that has been pierced by an arrow. After removing the arrow from the crane, the next day, Duncan returns to his monotone life of being the owner of a printing store despite him not being able to shake his encounter with the crane.

An eccentric woman named Kumiko comes into George’s shop and begins to open his eyes to a new world. After their meeting, George becomes enthralled by her, especially when she begins to tell him about an interesting fable.


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“The Crane Wife” is based on a Japanese folktale of the same name. There have been many influences of this folktale in modern times, such as an album of the same name by The Decemberists. Some anime shows, like “One Piece,” “Princess Jellyfish” and “Non Non Biyori” make references to the Japanese tale or include it in the show.

Close Up Photography Of Cherry Blossom Tree
Bagus Pangestu / Pexels

From the whole concept of “The Crane Wife” being based on an old Japanese story to George’s friend mentioning how his father bombed the Japanese, the foreshadowing of Japanese culture is scattered throughout the book and is wedged between George’s story.

Considering “The Crane Wife” isn’t Ness’ first published novel, his style of storytelling in the book offers great insight into George’s characterization. Even within the first few pages of the novel, the emotions George is going through are clear and evident, even when the character is doing daily activities, such as going to the bathroom.

To emphasize the impact the crane leaves on George, Ness does a remarkable job at letting George’s backstory shine through. Even moments before George notices the crane’s presence in his backyard, Ness is able to have his backstory come through, which allows the audience to piece together the character’s life.

Another intriguing part of Ness’s writing style is that sometimes throughout the book, the dialogue doesn’t include descriptions. It’s just the dialogue between the people, which I found to be an interesting and creative way to write dialogue. As I was reading these dialogue pieces, I was captivated to envision how the particular scene played out. Ness only does this specific dialogue style a few times throughout the novel, so when I encountered it, I had found golden treasure within the pieces of parchment I was reading.

When a flashback of George’s childhood is described, it is told in the first-person perspective. These scenes also included a flashback of Ness educating the audience about George through a third-person perspective. This blend of perspectives married beautifully and made me believe I was alongside George, despite knowing I was an outsider to his story. 

“The Crane Wife” creates an excellent example of intertwining other perspectives into George’s main story. Despite the inclusion of others, the author’s golden star of this novel is when he’s conveying emotions through George. From laughing at how much of a mother bear George’s mother is to being shocked at how his childhood played out, George’s childhood flashbacks had me not wanting to put down the book.

If a book is able to portray some emotion, good or bad, then you know it’s good.

Given the title of the novel is “The Crane Wife,” it doesn’t come as too big of a surprise that the presence of a crane is seen throughout the book. Whenever a crane is involved, it provides a calming distraction from the character’s hectic lives.

Included between the sections of “The Crane Wife” are excerpts of the folktale Kumiko tells George. Having the inclusion of the folktale between sections of the book offered me a different context to “The Crane Wife.” It also gave me more insight into Kumiko’s characterization since she is the one telling the story.

Not to mention, the folktale seems to have been written in a way the audience can understand how the earth came to be since it involved natural events, like lava spewing from a volcano to divide the continents, which signified the separation of Pangaea.

Being a fan of old folktales, I probably enjoyed the folktale sections of the novel more than the novel itself. Despite this, I was still able to enjoy the way Ness wrote the story Kumiko tells George. The pieces of the old folktale came together to create a beautiful story told within George’s story.

The same theme of combining something known with the unknown is applied to Kumiko and George’s art tiles that seemed to have captured people’s attention. It combined something the audience knew of, George’s paper cuttings, with something new, Kumiko’s feathered art pieces. Together, they created a masterpiece of art.

painting pallete
Photo by Sarah Brown from Unsplash

Overall, the theme of everyone being part of a story is evident and doesn’t apply to just protagonists in a story, like George and Kumiko, but the audience as well.

Sabrina Blandon is an English Children's and Young Adult Literature major with a minor in journalism. In addition to Her Campus, she is a staff writer for the Chronicle, the student-run newspaper at Hofstra. She's also secretary of the Hofstra English Society. She's consumes books like they're oxygen and annotates fairly well.
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