The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A deeply woven and intricate story about cultural superstitions, forbidden love, that damn patriarchy, and magical realism.
I was swept up in this story of this Confucius-inspired, cultural superstitious Malaysian-Chinese community that spoke of mystery, hope, compassion, empathy, and protection.
There is so much going on in this book, but the way Choo layered the story, was amazing. I came away with a feeling of wonder and amazement as to how she was able to captivate such emotion, danger, peril, excitement, magic and wonder into this story with all these characters.
We meet Ren, who is an orphaned Malaya houseboy who works for a Dr. MacFarlane, and the time has come for Ren to move on, as his master has transitioned to the next life. However, before the old doctor goes, he informs Ren of things the must do in order for Dr. MacFarlane to rest completely after death. Ren goes on a journey to help his old master, but also is tasked with helping his new master, Dr. William Acton, as well.
Next we meet Ji Lin (aka Louise) who has been having some frustrating times growing up. Hating the patriarchal society in which she’s been born and raised into, she is determined to make sure she fulfills her promises, but also trying to make a name/place/career for herself that she’s proud of, but also something that she wants to do.
Shin, her step-brother, we meet and learn about him and how he’s connected to all of this story. We can see how Shin is aware of the limitations put on his step-sister, and how he’s trying to do all he can to help and support her in her endeavors.
I really appreciated the culture that was brought to my attention in this book. I was totally immersed in the story and completely drawn in with the magical realism and descriptive writing that pulls the reader into the story. You feel the emotions that each character is facing and the trials and tribulations they go through. I felt like I was with them all in this book, and the story just pulled me along.
I know many cultures are into superstitions, but the Malaysian/Chinese culture, I wasn’t too aware of in terms of how people avoided certain numbers or pronunciations because of their superstitions to how things sounded. “Forty-four is an unlucky number for Chinese. It sounds like, “die, definitely die,” and as a result the number four and all it’s iterations are to be avoided.”
The duality of the tiger, and how it is represented in this story was something I really enjoyed. You saw the tiger as a predator, but also as something that was vulnerable that needed rest/protection itself.
The patriarchy in this culture was not surprising, but exhausting. Ji Lin fought against the patriarchy as best as she could. Voicing her concerns, addressing her issues, and advocating for herself more and more. This story really brought the dangerous levels that patriarchy plays with women’s lives.
Some of the topics discussed were:
– Women’s rights
TW: domestic violence, death
There was a complicated love story also woven into the overall story, which for me, caught me off guard and made me slightly uncomfortable. However, it forces you to talk/think about these things and have these conversations about what society says vs. doing what feels right.
There were a few places in the book that slowed me down and didn’t add to the forward movement of the story, but I did enjoy the supernatural world and magical realism that played out, as it gave this story a more profound edge to it overall.
If you enjoy stories with forbidden love, magical realism, mystery, layers upon layers of meaning, and cultural charm, this book may be right up your alley. Definitely an evocative read, I would give this book a 4 overall.
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The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo