The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Published by Flatiron Books on February 12th, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
“We were a chocolate-box family, I thought. Brightly wrapped on the outside and oozing sticky darkness within.”
I’ve been slowly going through through selections from Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club picks. Some have been really great (shout out to Daisy Jones & the Six), while others haven’t been my cup of tea.
When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: Ren must find his severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days or else his master’s soul will be doomed to roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.
Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but was constrained by being a girl in 1930s Malaysia. Instead, she became an apprentice dressmaker while also moonlighting as a dancehall girl. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced that the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.
But as the 49 days run out, a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, and Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in more ways than they could’ve ever imagined.
I was really excited to read a book set in Malaysia. I’m really trying to diversify the authors and stories I read. Sadly, this book just wasn’t for me.
But before I get into why I didn’t love the book, let’s talk about the positives first.
I loved that it was this sweeping historical novel that incorporated Chinese superstitions and folklore. Since Malaysia was and still is a society of many different cultures, it’s reflected in this novel. It plays a part by Choo incorporating various peoples’ superstitions. Ren fears his master lives on as a tiger; Ji Lin focuses on lucky and unlucky numbers and even sees meaning in things through the five Confucian virtues.
For the most part, Choo does a fantastic job of painting a portrait of Malaysia at this time. Her descriptions of Ji Lin’s hometown and how trapped she felt in the house she grew up in was written with such vivid details.
And of course, I loved the fact that Ji Lin had aspirations to be in the medical field. And she never lost sight of that dream.
Unfortunately, this missed the mark for me. It could’ve been a solid read, but it became evident during the middle of the novel that the author was stuffing in way too many ideas. It was a historical novel; there was a mystery at the centre of the story; there were supernatural elements to it; there were several dream sequences and flashbacks; and it dragged on for way too long in the middle. Choo left several unanswered questions and left random plot threads hanging.
From what I’ve heard, she did a better job of balancing genres, plots, and ideas in The Ghost Bride, so I might check out that book as well.
I also really hated the main romance in this novel. I’ve never been a fan of the step-sister and step-brother romance. It all felt so icky to me. I really wonder why authors continue to go down this narrative rabbit hole. This is a romance trope that does not need to be explored ever again!
I am glad that I picked this up from the library, but this book disappointed me. I think it had all the elements of being a page-turner, but it could’ve done with a lot of editing down. But I did appreciate the fact that I learned quite a bit about Chinese and Malaysian mythology and superstition.