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When Fox is a Thousand

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  426 ratings  ·  64 reviews
When Fox is a Thousand is a lyrical, magical novel, rich with poetry and folklore and elements of the fairytale. Larissa Lai interweaves three narrative voices and their attendant cultures: an elusive fox growing toward wisdom and her 1000 birthday, the ninth-century Taoist poet/nun Yu Hsuan-Chi (a real person executed in China for murder), and the oddly named Artemis, a y ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by Arsenal Pulp Press (first published September 1st 1993)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Kimberly Read
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The poetry of this novel is superb. I really enjoyed Larissa Lai's unique vocabulary. She uses words or phrases in unexpected combinations and I love that. I sometimes felt I could reach out and touch her descriptions - "the eroded hills have drunk all but the last drops of blue from the sky." I also appreciate her in-your-face presentation of difficult issues such as violence and war, race and discrimination, sexual preferences, feminism, cultural mores and interpersonal relationships. The stor ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I came across this book whilst on a magic realism expedition. I'd never heard of it before, nor of Lai, so you can imagine my sheer surprise when this book ticked so many boxes for me. Mythology, storytelling, shapeshifting through the ages, re-storytelling, women who love women ...

I devoured this book on the first read, and I knew I had rushed through it, not letting the story and characters fully consume me. I read it in a second, more-dedicated reading a couple of months later. The book cons
Danika at The Lesbrary
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Short version: I don't know why this isn't considered a classic lesbian novel. It deserves way more attention. Long version: ...more
Ivana Books Are Magic
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This novel follows three different narrations that flow toward a common source. These narrations come closer and closer together until they join in a single river that sings a profound song. Goodreads describes When Fox Turns A Thousand as a lyrical novel. I can certainly see why for its prose is indeed lyrical. The novel is written beautifully and poetically. You know, if the author was South American in origin, perhaps we would call this novel magical realism. Speaking of origin, that happens ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A rich, engrossing read. Although I sometimes struggled to follow all of the connections between characters, I loved the storytelling style. I really enjoy stories that tie folklore into the protagonists' lives in this way, and it is fabulous to see a story like this that is so full of queer women.
Aug 10, 2010 rated it did not like it
I got through the whole thing somehow. I'm really interested in the mythology surrounding foxes becoming human. It's an interesting concept to me. So when I picked up this book, I was expecting the main character to be a fox. Not so, the main character title gets split between three characters: one fox, and two different people in time he has tricked and troubled.

The Poetess, the character from the past whose body the fox eventually stole, was interesting until she went crazy and her sections o
Elizabeth Hunter
Dec 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: uncat, aoc
This is a fascinating book, told in three narrative strands which follow a poet of ancient China, a young woman in modern Vancouver and the fox spirit who haunts them both. The modern section was my least favorite, mostly due to the passivity and diffidence of the protagonist, but the writing was well done and I really liked what the author was doing in trying to bridge the Chinese-Canadian gap. This reminded me of Charles de Lint's work, while being much more solid.
May 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didnt-finish
Fifty pages into this book, I was enjoying it. There are three different time periods in the book, signposted by beautiful visual prints of a fox, a lantern, a book. The fox signifies the titular animal, a trickster demi-deity who wants to turn one thousand years old because then she can really do some impressive supernatural stuff. The lantern is the story of a girl about a thousand years ago in China, who meets a mysterious woman, gets married into an unusual family. The book take place in 199 ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it

The subject matter was interesting and I loved the Fox Spirit Mythology, but felt the character development of the 9th century Poetess was very incomplete. Most of the story revolves around Artemis, the young student living in Vancouver. She is not particularity likeable, but I believe it was the author’s intention to portray her this way. Her experiences are very typical of people in their early twenties in that era, living on their own for the first time. I personally would have liked more det
Definitely interesting. I read this book because a classmate in my Third World Women Writers class recommended the author. I was interested in the fox spirit mythology. I was also interested in reading books that dealt with some issues of gender.

My favorite voices (out of the three) were the fox and the poetess. I wasn't so interested in Artemis' (so much drama...) but it wasn't terrible. It was hard to get through at times (like I said, drama!) but I'm glad I read it. There were definitely fasc
Super satisfied thus far with my recent decision to read nothing but postmodern lesbian fiction for the rest of my natural life (this is a Seminal Lesbian Novel and it’s insane that there’s only 50-odd reviews for it on here when it’s been out for over 20 years now)
Not my cuppa. This had so many elements that I thought I would love — three separate and entertwining narratives! mythological fox trickster spirits! university students in Vancouver! lesbian women of colour! poetesses in ancient China! — but instead I found myself bored and skimming pages in an attempt to get it over with.

I don’t know if it was my current mood or if it’s just that the lyrical, poetic prose and lack of plot ground on my nerves and wasn’t to my taste. I can see what the author wa
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful, meaty read. I haven't read something with so much intent in every word in a very long time. Despite being rooted in mythology, even paranormal, the one word that describes this entire book is: human. There are no heroes, just people. There's no blinding epiphany, just life and life's uncertainties. History isn't beautiful when it's told as humanity created it. All of this illustrated with some of the most beautiful imagery I've encountered in a long time.

Multiple slower rereads
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
this was very queer, very complex and even confusing but very engrossing all the same. the three entwined stories stretching across space and time explore Chinese womanhood and sexuality and the haunting of past traumas in a fresh take on the take on the lore of the fox spirit who seduces unsuspecting scholars.
May 01, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a very thoughtful and imaginative account of Vancouver hipsters in the late 80s. Who knew Vancouverites were so hip, artsy, and pretentious even back then? In the novel, there are video artists, all manner of LGBT, photographers, muses, and bad girls sleeping with all genders. We didn't know Vancouver was so Keith Haring-ish and British punk rock at that time. We think of Vancouver as more hippie than Haring. Well, now we know better. This novel is a very sensitive and in-depth view of a ...more
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Like the fox of Eastern mythology, this book is rather mysterious. It lacks a traditional plot with a clear climax, protagonist, and antagonist, yet the writing style and the realism of the characters managed to hold my interest to the end.

The story has three voices: a fox nearing age 1000 speaks some parts, a Chinese poetess who lived around 1000 years ago speaks others, and a third-person narrator in the late 80s recounts the life of a Chinese-Canadian woman named Artemis in the rest. Neither
I enjoyed this book - it was like writing three short stories that might or might not have some relation to each other. The fox is closing in on a thousand years, an age when she will be able to change her form at will, rather than relying on reanimated corpses. A parallel story involves a famous, doomed 11th century Chinese poetess who is on trial for beating her servant and lover to death out of jealousy. The last member of the trio is Artemis Wong, an adopted child of Canadian parents who is ...more
Oct 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: dena
Larissa Lai is a gifted Chinese Canadian author with a refreshing approach to storytelling, especially in terms of interweaving ancient Chinese mythology with contemporary Chinese diaspora issues.

I really enjoyed her book "When Fox is a Thousand," admittedly because the Chinese myths and mythical characters came from stories my mother had told me about as a child, and because the protagonist, a 20-something Chinese Canadian trying to figure herself out, reminded me of myself at that age.

Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-magic
I am not sure if this is sci-fi or fiction...there are three parts to this novel: the folktale/on-going time of the fox, ninth century china, and contemporary vancouver. i have to admit i got too enraptured with the contemporary story to fully grasp the later details of the other two sections, but they were really amazingly intertwined. i had no idea this would have queer lady love happenings...turns out the fox is into that kind of thing. really good.
Rift Vegan
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
I think I should have enjoyed this book more, it had many elements that I am fascinated with -- most importantly the Asian fox myth. But I never really cared about any of the characters, and there wasn't much of a story to follow. darn it.
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
loved the writing style - I usually dislike books that flit between too many characters but some how it works... I feel like its one of those books I will read again and find it to be new the next time
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an odd book, and I'm not sure if I enjoyed it or not. I'm giving it four stars because the writing was very good and I think it had very precise themes that were conveyed well. There are three stories/points of view here that interplay and interweave, and they all feel coherent and tonally consistent despite being very different, so I think that's pretty impressive. The writing is super lyrical and the mythological themes (and their desconstruction) are fun and neat.

But at times this b
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
More like 3.5.

This is Chinese mythology meets Chinese history meets dirtbag 20-year-olds figuring out that they're queer in '90's Vancouver, and I really enjoyed it! My favorite story strand was the modern one--I loved Artemis so much, and I had SO MANY FEELS about my own stumblings towards queer identity and the weird, weird friendships and relationships I found along the way. I kind of wish I'd found this book way back then--I think I could've used it.

Weirdly, I was least invested in the 10th
Corley Elizabeth
The title? Fantastic. The story. Not so much. While I always appreciate the concept of multiple narratives across different time periods, I don't think that was very successful in When Fox Is A Thousand because there was nothing about any of the main characters—Artemis, Yu Hsuan-Chi, or the nameless fox—that I connected to or even enjoyed. The author mentioned in the afterword that she wanted to capture the difficulty of creating meaningful relationships and deep connections when one is young, a ...more
Lee Gingras
I thought it was cool but confusing. It was kinda cool that the reason it was confusing because I’m a white lady and I don’t know any of the traditional stories, and because she was also mixing that up with nonlinear and unreliable narratives. She says in her afterword that she knew much of her audience wouldn’t be familiar with those stories — not just the non-Asians but also children of immigrants — and so it was a deliberate choice to blur any notion of a narrative truth. She likens it to his ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt
I was a little confused at the start of this one as I had a hard time keeping track of how many stories within stories were happening at the same time. But once I got that figured out I really enjoyed the pacing of the book.

Three different stories told across a thousand years. The mysterious fox figure with what seems like simple chaotic motives and everyone else just trying to live their lives.

The one thing this book did exceptionally well was make dating look like hell. Every single relationsh
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
Feb 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
An interesting book, but difficult to read due to the fragmented stories woven together. It is described as magical realism, but really there are very few sections in the story where the magic elements (a spirit fox) interacts with the modern world. Most of the fox narratives are set in China, hundreds of years ago. The modern era stories are set in Canada and focus on a Chinese American girl who is struggling to find her way in life. She has a series of frustrating relationships that seem okay ...more
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully-written novel. It weaves three stories together, with a lot of folklore interludes and stories embellished within and between the sections. It's lyrical writing that requires a lot of focus. This is a very good book that deserves a spot on everyone's TBR, especially if you like stories about queer women, folklore, and history.

One comment I have that has nothing to do with the book is about the ebook formatting. The ebook version has some character inconsistencies (dropped periods and
Pat MacEwen
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found the characters fascinating. I am more familiar with Japanese ideas about foxes and fox magic than Chinese, and enjoyed exploring the differences. The trickiness of dealing with foxes is used to excellent effect, in matters of love and hate and friendship, support and betrayal, and I was never sure which way things were going to turn at any given moment. I treasure this kind of plotline, as I prefer the unpredictable, the surprising, to the same old thing. The gender politics involved wer ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've never read a book quite like this one. It addresses issues of gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality, nationality, and identity politics in such a tasteful way while simultaneously introducing readers to Chinese folklore, and specifically the stories of the Fox. A couple reviewers mentioned that this book ends without a real ending, but I think to view the ending as incomplete is to not have grasped the folklore of a fox spirit. Just read the Afterward, and the book's ending will make a lot of ...more
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Larissa Lai has authored three novels, The Tiger Flu, Salt Fish Girl and When Fox Is a Thousand; two poetry collections, sybil unrest (with Rita Wong) and Automaton Biographies; a chapbook, Eggs in the Basement; and a critical book, Slanting I, Imagining We: Asian Canadian Literary Production in the 1980s and 1990s. A recipient of the Astraea Foundation Emerging Writers' Award, she has been a fina ...more

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“Artemis, the virgin huntress. It’s Greek. Think of her out on a moon yellow night, arrow notched taut in a bowstring and the taste of blood in her mouth. How seriously her parents considered the effect on destiny in the act of her naming, I don’t know. They had their pick of the pantheon. They could have called her Syrinx and had her running in terror from musically inclined men with hairy legs. She might have been more docile, vegetative even. But she would have had a tune to hum to herself then, high and reedy, remembering river banks. If they had called her Persephone they could have kept her, for half the year anyway, tending a fruitful garden. Though it is true that every fall her memory of them would drown in the icy River of Forgetfulness as she went into the underworld to live with her dreary husband, six bleeding pomegranate seeds glistening in his open palm. It might have been easier, for as it is she remembers nothing of them at all since they were forced to give her up for adoption when she was six months old. The name, which her adoptive parents decided to keep, thinking” 0 likes
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