Malaya

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The Night Tiger – Yangsze Choo

Published February 20, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

man and walk among us…

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget.

Captivating and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores the rich world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and unexpected love. Woven through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

What did I think?:

This review comes with an enormous thank you to the wonderful team at Quercus Books who hosted a blogger event just before Christmas where they were introducing a few exciting books coming out in 2019. I had an opportunity to snatch up a copy of The Night Tiger and even if the synopsis hadn’t given me goosebumps (which it did!) I would have been intrigued by that beautiful cover alone. I went into The Night Tiger having been familiar with the author’s work before after the beautiful journey that was her debut novel, The Ghost Bride but it had been a while since I experienced her writing style therefore this book came as a fantastic surprise. It instantly transported me into the world of 1930’s Malaya (now Malaysia) and possessed an edge of magical realism that had me entranced  with the plot development, variety of characters and the power of superstition and folklore.

Yangsze Choo, author of The Night Tiger.

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly the kind that is set in a different culture and allows the reader to learn a little something about changing customs/beliefs through history that are perhaps quite unusual from their own. I’ve read a number of novels set in a similar location and time frame to The Night Tiger, just prior to the Second World War and I’m always concerned that I may tire of this particular era. However, I trusted enough in the originality of Yangsze Choo’s writing to bring something fresh and new to this period and without a doubt, that’s exactly what I got from this novel. Not only do we have a cast of stunning, interesting characters that you immediately want to know more about, but you have that fantastical element based on genuine superstitions that the populace had at that time regarding death and the importance of the body remaining whole when buried.

I adored the inclusion of the tiger in the novel who almost becomes a character in his own right. His ghostly presence is constantly used in the background to explain a series of suspicious deaths which are blamed upon a rogue tiger terrorising the community. Myth and superstition are rife and there is also a worry, especially in the minds of one of our young protagonists, that the deaths may be the result of a tortured soul able to return to our world and transform into an animal form until appeased, otherwise known as a “were tiger.”

Malaya in the 1930’s

Image from: https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=10341

Everything came together in such a stunning way in The Night Tiger. The magical element of the narrative complimented the story perfectly and never felt over-done or unbelievable, helped by the fact that it was based on the actual superstitions of individuals living at that time, as I’ve mentioned. In addition to this, we have astounding characters like Ren and Ji Lin who both have their own compelling story arc and a captivating personal journey for both young people, which eventually leads to the amalgamation of their narratives and an incredibly satisfying resolution. The growth of our characters combined with what they learn about themselves and the other people they are close to is nothing short of enthralling and I loved the drama, mystery, suspense and creative nature of the entire story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Ghost Bride – Yangsze Choo

Published June 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

What did I think?:

My sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads recommended and gave this book to me and I was attracted to it immediately. Not only is the cover absolutely stunning but I loved the synopsis – a little bit historical, Asian fiction with a dusting of the paranormal, sounds like my perfect book! And it was, on so many levels. Our main character is a seventeen girl called Li Lan who lives in 19th Century Malaya (now Malaysia) under British rule as a member of the upper class. Sadly, there is nothing upper class about her situation. She has lost her mother under strange circumstances and her father in his grief has become addicted to his opium pipe and is slowly disappearing from her also. They live in a large, beautiful house that is now slowly crumbling away due to lack of maintenance and her prospects, especially for marriage look entirely gloomy. Her only comfort is her old Amah who has been with her since her birth but even she, fiesty though she is, cannot hope to influence her father as he slides further and further into addiction.

One day, her father calls Li Lan in and mentions that he has had an interesting offer from the rich Lim family concerning a match for her. The unfortunate thing is that the bridegroom to be is their dead son, Lim Tiang Ching. Yes, you read right. Dead. Her father says that he instantly refused the proposal but he worries as at least it would have meant that Li Lan would have been provided for for the rest of her life. Li Lan is horrified but agrees to just pay a visit to the Lim household as a courtesy. On arriving, she is stunned by the magnificence of the house, the surroundings, the food she is offered and the servants who cater to her every whim. She also finds something she was not expecting – to fall in love. No, not with the dead son, with a very much alive cousin and heir-to-be, Tian Bei. After meeting him, albeit briefly, she decides there is no way that she could ever become the wife of a dead man, especially one so repulsive as Lim Tiang Ching who begins to invade her nightly dreams, insisting that she should be his wife.

Li Lan continues to refuse him – it’s just a dream, right? However, he becomes angrier and more harassing on each visit and soon she becomes drawn into the spirit world, leaving her shell of a body behind as a living ghost. Stuck between two worlds Li Lan meets with a kindly and enigmatic guide, Er Lang who sends her to The Plains Of The Dead, a hideous place where spirits wander before being judged. This harks back to Chinese mythology where after death, spirits must go to the Courts of Hell to atone and be punished for any sins committed. After an indeterminate amount of time, depending on the severity of the sin, they then enter the reincarnation stage where they are born again to a life of comfort or poverty depending on how they behaved in their past life.

“I had seen some of the painted hell scrolls that depicted the gruesome fates awaiting sinners. There were people being boiled in oil or sawed in half by horse and ox-headed demons. Others were forced to climb mountains of knives or were pounded into powder by enormous mallets. Gossips had their tongues ripped out, hypocrites and tomb robbers were disemboweled. Unfilial children were frozen in ice. The worst was the lake of blood into which suicides and women who had died in childbirth or aborted their children were consigned.”

When I read up a bit further on this superstition, I also found that one could be punished for the sin of “misusing books,” which I found amusing and fascinating! See guys, I told you dog-earing was wrong! Anyway, Li Lan must carry out various tasks in the spirit world whilst trying to avoid demons with ox for heads and corrupt Hell officials who are baying for her blood. Li Lan learns so much about herself and the mystery of her family as she navigates her way through the dangerous Plains but she must hurry. If she does not complete her tasks within a timely fashion, the fragile link between her body and the spirit world will be severed and she will be trapped there forever.

chinesehell

Diyu – a version of hell in traditional Chinese culture, during the Tang dynasty this increased to 134 hells with 18 different levels of pain and torture with Levels known as the Chamber of Tongue Ripping, The Chamber of Scissors, The Chamber of Iron Cycads, the Chamber of Mirror, Chamber of Steamer, Forest of Copper Column, Mountain of Knives, the Hill of Ice, Cauldron of Boiling Oil, Chamber of Ox, Chamber of Rock, Chamber of Pounding, Pool of Blood, Town of Suicide, Chamber of Dismemberment, Mountain of Flames, Yard of Stone Mill, and Chamber of Saw.

Source: http://listverse.com/2013/09/04/10-fascinating-descriptions-of-hell/

Hmm, not a place I fancy visiting any time soon.

I began this book with such high expectations and I’m delighted to report that what I read exceeded those. Yangsze Choo has woven a mesmerising tale which is beautifully descriptive in its historical detail and brilliant in plot execution. I love learning new things about different cultures and this was one of those books which explains everything so simply to the reader without ever feeling patronising. I found all the superstitions and folklores fascinating, especially the burning of offerings to appease the “hungry ghosts.” I can’t believe that this is the authors debut novel, the writing is so accomplished and in no way amateur. The whole book is fresh, exciting and like nothing I have ever read before, even the ending (although surprising) is totally unexpected and original. I can’t wait to see what she does next, I know I’ll be snapping it up immediately.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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