Yangsze Choo Gives Us Mystery and Myth in The Night Tiger.
In her second novel, Yangsze Choo gives us yet another captivating story of myth, superstitions and folklore. Choo's writing is simple yet lures you to get lost in the beauty of her story. I love the fact that she is drawing from her heritage and culture and appreciated the superstitious tidbits and food references spread throughout the book.
Ji Lin is a very devoted daughter and in order to protect her mother from her abusive step-father, has taken on a second job at a dance hall to earn enough to pay down her mother's mahjong debt. It is here that Ji Lin meets Chan Yew Cheung and finds herself in possession of a preserved finger. Thus starts Ji Lin's quest to find Yew Cheung and return the finger. However, when Ji Lin discovers that Chan Yew Cheung has died, she begins to wonder if there is something sinister surrounding the finger.
Ren, in Kamunting has just lost his master, Dr. MacFarlane, who has given Ren the task of finding his missing finger and returning it to his grave before the forty-nine days of his roaming ends. This is so he can pass on to the other side and rest peacefully. So Ren sets out off to Batu Gajah, very intent of completing this final task for his master. In Batu Gajah, Ren is taken on as houseboy to William Acton, a colleague of Dr. MacFarlane.
There is a certain air surrounding William Acton that makes the reader unsure whether he is likeable or not. It is clear that he has a secret that seems to weigh heavily on him, and when more than one of the deaths can be linked to him, we begin to really wonder what exactly Mr. Acton is hiding. Especially as his life becomes entwined with Ren and Ji Lin's. While both Ren and Ji Lin are drawn deeper into the web of the missing finger and the mysterious deaths that occur around it, we see more figures becoming involved. This is truly an enthralling and engrossing read.
As we get further enmeshed in this mystery, we find out that there seem to be quite the interest in this finger, and both Ren and Ji Lin will discover the part they have to play in ensuring its return, while also finding out why there seems to be such an interest. Weaved into their quest is the swirling stories of harimau jadian(tiger-men), keramat(sacred beast) and weretigers and Ren having flashbacks of Dr. MacFarlane and wondering if he had been one or the other. I love the aspect of the dream world being used as a guide for both Ren and Ji Lin. And the use of the five virtues of Confucius as the central theme to highlight a connection between Ren, Ji Lin, Shin, Yi and Li(who Choo has left it to the reader to identify).
Also being able to see the evolution of Ji Lin and Shin's relationship, their moments of bonding and their fights and misunderstandings, and how they both related to step-father/father respectively, gives us understanding of their interaction now and their burgeoning feelings for one another. The blossoming of their relationship and the intensity of the passion that is ignited between them was written with feeling and you can not help but feel as if you are involved. Though I understand that a relationship between two persons who were raised as siblings will make some readers uncomfortable.
I really appreciate getting a glimpse into the heritage and culture of Malaya and how aspects of colonialism was reflected in certain buildings, clothes and cars. Also loved the mention of Horlicks, which was a favourite drink of mine growing up in Jamaica. This novel was written with a personal touch and that is what made it such an enchanting read.