The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger

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:
– Patriarchy
– Love/romance
– Responsibility
– Women’s rights
– Culture/superstitions
– Colonization
– Feminism

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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Things I Should Have Told My Daughter by Pearl Cleage

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I am just infatuated with Pearl Cleage, and always have been ever since I read her novels. I love her writing style and the way her books engage with the reader, and her writing is just impeccable!

I had been “reading” this book for a few years quite honestly because I didn’t want to finish it. The way she speaks to you in her writing is just so refreshing that I wanted her book to last forever, so I shelved it to come back to at a later date, but then life happened and I am just now getting back around to reading this book.

This book is interesting in that she is sharing select journal entries from 2 decades and sharing them with us and her daughter about how she learned about herself and how she made it through some tough times in her life. She is intent on gifting these journals to her granddaughter, to show her how she went on a soul-searching, merciless, self-observation and rigorous self-analysis that allowed her to survive her early womanhood and emerge with her health and sanity still relatively intact. She states: “Looking back, I wonder if its possible that the things I didn’t tell her are as necessary as the things I did.” Her daughter thinks she should burn her journals because no one needs to know all her business, but Pearl is emphatic that we do need to know. For one, no one teaches us how to be a Black woman in this world, and Pearl Cleage is doing so in this book, one journal entry at a time.

Her journals are a testament of how to survive being a Black woman because we aren’t taught how to be a Black woman in this world. It is assumed that we will adapt and overcome, but it’s much more nuanced than that. Black women are still the most disrespected beings on earth to this day, and Pearl wants to educate her descendants and us on how it was for her in order to survive, come into her own, and make a life that she’s happy to live, without feeling like she was compromising herself out of the picture.

Reading this book clearly inspired me to journal, and I’m glad that I’ve been journaling over the years, but I am now going to make it a point to journal more consistently. She also warns people though, that journaling is a great thing to do, but to keep a watch so that you aren’t becoming an observer of your life, that you aren’t just doing things to record them, but actually living life. I think I’m going to start journaling on a more consistent basis, but to a point where I am intentional about what I am writing, and not just a brain dump.

Pearl is dropping gems of life and success here! Her topics range in a wide variety, but her point is, live life on your own terms! Also, “Praise yourself as much as you fuss at yourself.”

Topics covered:
– Feminism
– Black womanhood
– Black pride/love/respect
– Gender roles
– Sexism
– Racism
– Politics
– Motherhood
– Men/patriarchy
– Everyday Black life
– Marriage/Relationships
– Love
– Self-care/reflection
– Sex

I love how so unapologetic Pearl is and becomes through her early womanhood. She is wild, she is free, she is living! Her main concern throughout her early womanhood was becoming free. Free to live, free to write, free to love, free to mother, free to be a woman, free to be Black and alive. She gives encouragement, warnings, admonishments, advice, and concern for herself, which in turn is something she is giving to her daughter and granddaughter. Live your life, but be careful, there are dangers out there! She shares with us all about how it was for her to make a name for herself. How important it was for her to be independent. How she wanted to be able to write and be in control of her content. How to navigate white spaces when it comes to your art and how you do not have to compromise with those who do not understand the uncensored Black. How important it is to throw off the censors that plague us all as creatives, and how you need to be free to create. She also shared insecurities, rejections and how she got fired numerous times, but that those closed doors did not stop her from pursuing her writing.

“…if you are good enough and true enough to your real self, to your real voice, and talk to the people who are as familiar with that real voice as they are with their own, then it transcends what we have been told are our limitations and reveals not only our specific humanity, but our general connection to the company of other human beings.”

Pearl wants us all to live a life uncompromised. You cannot accomplish anything in this life if you are worried about what other people think about you or what you are doing. You have to be authentic and live a life regardless of the praise or admonishments you get. “I would have never have accomplished what I did if I’d live the life others thought I should live. You have to be authentic about who you are.”

You have to tell the truth to yourself. Period.

“The truth–that’s the whole thing; that’s what life is. I’ve learned to tell the truth, most of all to myself. The exciting thing about life is that you learn more as you go along. But it also gets less complicated as you get older. You no longer need to decide whether to tell the truth. You just peel back the layers. You have to figure out who you are. It robs your life of so much richness not to claim it all. I think I’m engaged in living a really interesting life now. I remember as an 11-year-old kid wanting an interesting life, and living this way, with truth, is how I’ve been able to have it. –“ Pearl Cleage https://tatteredcover.shelf-awareness…

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I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

I'm Telling the Truth, but I'm Lying: Essays

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this book, but I knew I had to read it. I stalked the booksellers that I frequent to find a copy of her book that was being released in paperback. Soon as I got the book, I shelved it for more than a year, and now I’m finally picking this book up to read.

Mental health has always been fascinating to me because I love how the brain works, and I’m so curious as to how some brains get off track, off centered, imbalanced, especially when several people are exposed to the same source. I, myself, suffer from, and experience some mental health issues, specifically posttraumatic stress disorder, with some depression and anxiety mixed in there. I was a service member who was deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom war in the middle of Iraq in 2003-2004 and 2004-2005. Yes, two war tours in the Middle East. I was 22 when I first went to Iraq, and finished my tours during the month I turned 25.

I was exposed to a host of things that I can no longer recount clearly, some that I can recount too specifically to the point of obsession, and some that I wish to no longer remember, but cannot forget. Going to war completely changed my life, and my brain permanently, and I won’t ever be the same. However, I have been able to manage for the most part with some extensive counseling and medication management. However, mental health issues do not go away. Your brain and chemical balance has been changed, and so now one must adjust and adapt and seek ways to cope and soothe, and manage the symptoms one constantly experiences on a daily basis.

This book touched my soul deeply. I for one, have had similar experiences with my mother, and wish that things could’ve been different growing up, and even now as an adult, but they aren’t, and so I’m just dealing with them as they come along. Secondly, this book was so deeply personal, that I feel inadequate discussing or rating this book at all. Bassey shares a ton of insider information about her bipolar II disorder, and we learn a great deal of information about the disease and how it affects her on a daily basis. The way she wrote her story makes me feel protective of her, and I want to shield her from things she doesn’t need to be exposed to for her own mental health. She shared some pretty vulnerable experiences with us, and she must be protected, cared for, held, and looked after… though after reading this book, she most likely doesn’t want any of that because of who she is and her personality and demeanor will most likely rebel from any assistance she doesn’t seek out on her own.

Bassey shares with the world, an inside viewpoint from a person who experiences bipolar II disorder. She shares what the disorder looks like from her perspective and through her eyes and brain. I have great respect for Bassey for this because she didn’t have to share this at all, but she did. We also know from reading this book, what it may look like for others, but again, this experience is hers alone, and each person who is diagnosed with this disorder or another has their own unique experiences with it.

I appreciated how she wrote about her journey to discover the diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, and we learned a great deal about her upbringing. I was heartbroken for her in so many ways in this book, but also with a sense of loss because I have no idea how to help someone I know with this same disorder.

She talks about her mother and their relationship, and it almost mirrors my relationship with my own mother. However, the way she talks about her mother, I reckoned with myself never to be like that to my own kids. I don’t want them growing up with pain recollecting on their childhood and how they were raised by me. My brother and I go hard for our kids now because we know how little our own went hard for us.

Bassey is brave in recounting these experiences she shares with us in these deeply personal essays about her bipolar II disorder. Mental disorders, especially in the Black community, doesn’t get a ton of respect, if at all. Slowly though, we are coming out of the mental health stigma arena, and embracing what a mental illness diagnosis may mean for people in our community. There is still lots of work that needs to be done, but I’m so glad that Bassey shared her experiences, that she is here and alive (today), and can help us all better understand and advocate better for all who needs it.

We all need to be more compassionate, better understanding, more open, and show empathy to people who are living with mental issues. These issues do not disappear overnight, but take time and resources and expert care in order to manage these symptoms.

Definitely recommend this book to others who struggle with mental health issues, but also to anyone else who is interested in learning more about mental illness, supporting someone with mental illness, or being an advocate for others.

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