The Night Tigerby Yangsze Choo Published 12 Feb 2019
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The Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.
When 11-year-old Ren's master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master's soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.
Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother's Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin's dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.
As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren's lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.
"The Night Tiger" Reviews
Malaya, with its mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians, is full of spirits: a looking-glass world governed by unsettling rules.
3½ stars. I may need to think some more about this one. I'm giving it a tentative 3½, rounded up to 4 because I absolutely loved that this historical mystery was steeped in Chinese and Malaysian mythology and superstition.
For the most part, this was such a gorgeous and evocative read. The Night Tiger is set in 1930s Malaya and leans heavily on folklore and stories of ghosts and weretigers. It's a slower paced novel - especially in the middle - though I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing here. Choo gradually paints a portrait of this time and place, rife with belief in weretigers, possession, and that a person must be buried whole before the 49 days of the soul are over.
This last belief fuels the mission of 11-year-old Ren. After his master, Dr. Macfarlane, dies, Ren goes to fulfill his promise of returning the doctor's amputated finger before the 49 days are up. He is sent with a letter of recommendation to British doctor William Acton - the man said to have performed the amputation many years ago - and begins his search for the missing digit.
Alongside this is the story of Ji Lin. Refused the chance to be a doctor because she is a girl, Ji Lin instead works as a dancehall girl, unbeknownst to her abusive stepfather and beloved stepbrother. When a handsy dance partner one night leaves something behind, she discovers to her horror that it is a severed finger. The dance partner in question is shortly found dead. Soon a mysterious man is showing up, following Ji Lin around, and asking questions.
The real world and the supernatural overlap in many ways, as do different beliefs about the supernatural. When a woman is found brutally killed, questions arise: Is a murderer on the loose in the Kinta Valley? Is it a tiger attack? If it is a tiger attack, could it be a weretiger? Or, perhaps, is it Dr. Macfarlane's spirit trapped inside the beast?
Malaya was - and Malaysia still is - a society of many different cultures. These various peoples' superstitions all play a part in this novel, fuelling doubts and fears. Ren fears his master lives on as a tiger; Ji Lin draws on lucky and unlucky numbers, as well as the five Confucian virtues, to see meaning in things. Though the supernatural is heavily-implied, it is impossible to be quite sure how much is grounded in reality.
There were a couple of things I didn't like, hence the lower rating. One was the inclusion of so many flashbacks and dream sequences. I mentioned before the slow pacing, and I think the parts of the book which dragged the most were those that lingered too long in bizarre dreams. I've never been a fan of hearing about other people's dreams, and it definitely grew tedious here.
Second, I really disliked the stepsister/brother romance. Not my thing at all. I don't know why so many authors do this. There's just no need. If your sibling/step-sibling is starting to look hot, get yourself out of the house. Seriously.
These complaints, especially the latter, had a big effect on my reading experience, but I still thought The Night Tiger was a really good book. I loved the quiet, eerie, magical feel of it all. I think maybe I need to read The Ghost Bride.
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This was so great! I was thrown off a bit by the romance, because this book would've been fine and dandy without it. I loved learning more about the Malaysian culture through this story, I thought the somewhat magical bits in the story were executed so well, and the Chinese folklore was super interesting to learn about. It's an engaging read with an excellent pay off.
Yangsze Choo writes an enthralling and exhilarating piece of well researched historical fiction set in the British colony of Malaya (Malaysia) of the 1930s. The fraught and upset British doctor is dying and worried about what will happen to his soul upon death. He had been gifted a 11 year old Chinese house boy, Ren, by a friend. Ren is a kind, loyal and compassionate boy and when his dying master on his deathbed asks that he finds his severed finger and bury it with his dead body to prevent his soul from roaming the earth forever, he complies. However, he must do this within 49 days, adding a strong sense of urgency to his time sensitive obstacle ridden quest. Ren is to find his path crosses with that of Ji-Lin, a bright and intelligent woman, whose ambitions to be a doctor have been thwarted by her step father. This is a atmospheric story of tradition, culture, masters, servants, love and the dead, incorporating the central role of Chinese mythology and folklore, colonisation, dreams and superstition.
Ji-Lin is a trainee dressmaker, who is secretly working as a dance hall girl, Louise, at the Flower Dance Hall to pay off her mother's mahjong debts. One night, she dances with Chan Yew Cheung, who leaves her with a shrivelled finger in a vial, ensuring her fate is intertwined and indelibly connected with that of young Ren. There are strange and bizarre deaths that occur amidst rampant tales of tigers that can take on human form, magical shapeshifters. Choo's writing is beautiful in this gorgeously immersive read, with rich descriptions that give us a fabulous sense of location and this historical era. There is suspense and intrigue in this multilayered and fascinating depiction of Malaya, the importance of tigers within the culture, and the role of superstition in carving out fate and destiny. I loved the well developed central characters of Ren and Ji-Lin, particularly Ji-Lin, she is a strong woman, although I am not so certain about the romance elements that involved her. This is captivating and imaginative storytelling in which Choo expertly weaves together the disparate threads within a narrative that includes secrets, family, sibling relationships and ghosts. Many thanks to Quercus for an ARC.
“Time is running out: there are only 20 days left before Dr. Mac Farlane’s forty-nine days of the soul are over. If by then he can’t find the finger, he’ll have failed. How will his old master rest? Ren remembers Dr. MacFarlane’s last days, shivering fevers. And then the dreams, the waking nightmares in which the old man would cry for mercy, or crawl slavering on all fours. If Auntie Kwan had still been with them, she would have taken charge, but in the end there was only Ren”.
“A gust of wind shivers through the house, banging all the doors simultaneously.
To Ren, peering out the window at the top of the stairs, the trees are a waving green ocean surrounding the Bungalow. It’s a ship in a storm, and Ren is the cabin boy peeking out of a porthole. Clutching the windowsill like a life buoy, Ren wonders what secrets lurk in the jungle surrounding them, and if his old master is in fact trapped in the form of a tiger”.
Ren is only 11 years old....a Chinese houseboy is on a mission to fulfill his formers master’s dying wish. His former master, Dr. MacFarlene, lost a finger due to an accident many years ago. Ren promised to find it and bury it with his body. The old age superstition says this ‘must’ happen in 49 Days...or his old master’s soul will wander the earth forever.
“Malaya, with its mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians, is full of spirits: a looking-glass world governed by unsettling rules. The European werewolf is a man who, when the moon is full, turns his skin inside out and become a beast. He then leaves the village and goes into the forest to kill. But for the natives here, the weretiger is not a man, but a beast who, when he chooses, put on a human skin and comes from the jungle into the village to prey on humans. It’s almost exactly the reverse situation and in some ways more disturbing”.
“There’s a rumor that when we colonials came to this part of the world, the natives, considered us beast-men as well, though nobody has said that to my face”.
William is Ren’s new master. Ren is grateful for the work. ....
Jin Lin was a rookie dressmaker....but the job as a student/apprentice wasn’t enough money to help get her mother out of a Financial jam. So on the side she secretly took a job working at the May Flower Dance Hall.
It wasn’t trained professional dancing ( which she was), that they were looking for. She had to learn the ‘Tango’ fast.
Jin Lin was bright- she wished she could have left for college - wished to study medicine and become a doctor like her stepbrother, Shin’s plans. ( they were born on the same day), and Jin Lin had higher marks in school, but the culture in the 1930’s, Malaysia for women wasn’t encouraging. So.....dressmaker/ dance hall dancer it was.....
Big MAMA at the dance hall had Jin Lin Cut her long braids off to look more like a modern -western woman. In truth if her mother or stepfather knew what her moonlighting job was - it would have bad news. It was not considered respectable in her family at all!
With the new dance name that big MAMA gave her - Louise- she got tapped by a salesman for a dance. When he asked her name, she forgot and gave her real name...and accidentally ends up with a thin walled cylinder made of glass - a specimen bottle - with a dried up finger inside.
Jin Lin’s 𝐋𝐢𝐟𝐞 begins to get much more interesting- SHE’S BRIGHT - ZEALOUS- SHREWD - INGENIOUS.
This book is wonderful, covering a fascinating time period set in the 1930’s colonial Malaysia. ( called Malaya in the 1930’s). As you might be able to piece together - Ren and Jin Lin are going to cross paths. It’s filled with surprises- textured characters - ( engrossing sibling relationship), unexplained deaths - danger- humor - suspenseful turmoil - foods to make you hungry- ( I was so in the mood for steaming yummy noodles when I finished this novel), history - magical realism- ghosts - & tigers - forbidden love - Love -
I admit to an extra appreciation of my fingers, too.
Yangsze Choo’s writing was totally alluring giving attention to detail and descriptive prose. It also had the best ending!!!! I felt so warm and wonderful after finishing it.
Thank you Flatiron Publishing for sending me this novel. Many thanks to Yangsze Choo, too.
Quote - ( part of the full message to readers) from Yangsze:
“As a child in Malaysia, I was fascinated by the black and white colonial Bungalo’s left behind by the British, many of which lie now in ruins. With their high ceilings and gracious windows, they spoke of a life that vanished—sort of Downton Abbey of the tropics with it shadowed interplay between servants and masters”.
“The Night Tiger” came out of the secrets I imagined in those houses together with many of my favorite obsessions: Chinese dancehall girls, twins, men who turned into tigers, A train that takes you to the world of the dead. And of course a good mystery”.
An intriguing book, set in 1930s Malaya, following the lives over a few weeks of dance hall girl Ji Lin and house boy Ren. An intricately woven tale, full of magical realism, Ji Lin and Ren come together over an amputated finger, of all things. It is a beautifully told story, the characters come to life on the page, through their interactions and their dreams. And in the background is always the threat of a man-eating tiger roaming the district, or is it a weretiger...
3.5 stars rounded up to 4.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I already read Yangsze Choo’s first novel, The Ghost Bride (my review here , so when I saw that a new book by the author is coming out I had to jump at the opportunity to read it. Unfortunately for The Night Tiger, I read it with the first one in my head and it was unavoidable to make comparisons. In my opinion, this second novel came out short. It was still an enjoyable read, easy to get through.
As the blurb states, the setting is 1930 Malaya. Ren, a 11 years old orphan is on a 49 days quest to find the missing finger of his newly deceased master so his soul can rest in peace. Ji Ji Lin, is officially an apprentice dressmaker and secretly also a dancehall girl in order to help pay off her mother's Mahjong debts. One night, one of her dance partners leaves her a severed finger by mistake. With the help of her step brother, just returned from Singapore for the Holidays, she tries to find the owner of the finger. As you can imagine, the path of the two characters will intersect.
What I liked about the first novel and also here, is the presence of Chinese-Malaya mythology such as weretigers, the underworld, the 5 Confucian virtues and all kinds of superstitions. However, in this one “evil spirits” were less creepy and some of the magical narratives were abandoned without a satisfactory conclusion. [spoilers removed]
Another thing that I loved about the first novel, was the beautiful description of old Malaya and its culture. Also, I remember even now how I salivated from the delicious food the author wrote about in the first book. I did not have the same sense of place when reading The Night Tiger and my taste buds felt nothing.
As I said, nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the story, the romance part was nice enough although a bit creepy and I plan to read more from the author. I just hope her editors will make a better job on those loose ends.