“Diem Perdidi” – a story by Julie Otsuka


First published in Granta magazine, Julie Otsuka’s short story Diem Perdidi was the fifth story I drew from my “Deal Me In 2014 Challenge” deck.  I own it as part of the Best American Short Stories of 2012 anthology.

If you’re up on your Latin, you know that the title of the story translates to “Lost Day.” It’s a painful story to read, especially if you’ve experienced the tragedy of having known a loved one whose mental faculties have deteriorated, for that is what this story describes.  Briefly, it’s told effectively in the 2nd person voice, and with what becomes a natural “rhythm” – almost all the sentences begin with “She remembers…” or “She does not remember…” and this juxtaposition serves to amplify how heartbreaking the situation is.

Otsuka wrote the story based on personal experience and tells in the “Contributors’ Notes” section of the anthology that , for a while, she feared she would go on collecting notes for it “forever” until she “got the idea for the structure (She remembers, She does not remember) and found the right voice (using the second person narrative addressed to the “me” stand-in seemed vastly preferable to writing about myself in the first person), the story began to write itself and take on a life of its own.”

Below: author Julie Otsuka. Have you read any of her work?



  1. Dale said,

    February 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Jay, sounds like a very good story. And the format she uses would be interesting to read. I’m starting to think that only four wildcards won’t be enough. I might have to do some adhoc reading weeks where I read all (or some) of these stories that I’m hearing about during the DMI 2014 project.


    • Jay said,

      February 4, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Hi Dale,
      I was thinking about making one of my suits next year be “Stories I learned of via DMI 2014” So many good ones we’re hearing about from all the participants. I love it!


  2. February 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I usually shy away from second person POV, though I’ve (surprisingly) not come upon it too often in short fiction; I’d probably be willing to go along with it for a short period of time. It does sound like a rough read.


    • Jay said,

      February 4, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Katherine,
      I know it’s kind of “discouraged” by those who teach writing – which I guess may account for its rarity. 🙂 It is hard to pull off. In this particular case I think it was effectively used.


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