Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fascinating Fantasy Tale Set in Malaya 1893 Provides Mesmerizing Glimpse Into Afterworld!

"That night I had a curious dream. I wandered through the Lim mansion though all was still and silent. It was bright, but there was no sun, merely the whiteness that comes from a fog at midday. And like a fog, parts of the house seemed to vanish as I passed, so that the way behind was shrouded in a thin white film. Just as I had that very day, I passed through artfully planted courtyards, dim corridors, and echoing reception rooms, although this time there was no distant murmur of voices nor servants moving about. Presently, I became aware that I was not alone. Someone was following me, watching from behind a door or peering through the balustrades of the upper level. I began to hurry, turning down one passage after another as they began to resemble each other with a dreadful sameness.

"At last, I came into a courtyard with a lotus pond, very much like the one I had visited that day, although the flowers here had an artificial air, as though they had been stuck into the mud like so many sticks of incense. As I stood wondering what to do, someone sidled up beside me. Turning, I saw a strange young man. He was grandly dressed in old-fashioned formal robes that came down to his ankles. On his feet, curiously short and broad, he wore black court  shoes with pointed toes. His clothing was dyed in lurid hues, but his face was quite undistinguished, being plump with a weak chin and a smattering of acne scars. He gazed at me with a solicitious smile.
"Li Lan!" he said, "How I've longed to see you again!"
"Who are you?" I asked.
"You don't remember me, do you? It was too long ago. But I remember you. How could I forget?"he said with a flourish. "Your beautiful eyebrows, like moths. Your lips, like hibiscus petals."
"As he beamed, I was struck by a lurch of nausea. "I want to go home..."
"Li Lan, my dear. Don't you know who I am? I'm Lim Tian Ching!" he said. "The heir of the Lim family. I've come to court you."
The queasiness continued to build until I felt light-headed. "Aren't you dead?"...

The Ghost Bride
By Yangsze Choo

This is a ghost story...unlike any you may have read before! It is delightfully detailed in historical richness of stories that have been past down through generations! I had heard of the ghost bride--one who was asked to marry a man who had died, with a rooster sitting in for the groom. But this author has taken it further and created her own place, the Plains of the Dead, that moves readers far beyond former tales and allows us to envision that place "in between..."

"Li Lan, this is my cousin Tian Bai."
"We did not shake hands as I had heard the British
do, but under his gaze, I felt a flicker run through
my veins.
"In addition to cleaning the clocks, I also play a
little music," he said.
"Yan Hong looked at him with amusement. What
are you talking about? Turning to me, she said,
"Li Lan is the daughter of the Pan family.
"I tried to swallow my kuih, but it was sticky and
clung to my throat.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," I said with as much dignity as I could
"There was a little crease at the corners of his eyes,
exactly like the fold in a freshly laundered sheet.
"I had a hard time finding out who you were," he said.
"You just ran off the other day..."
"I hardly dared to look him in the eye, yet I was drawn
to his gaze like a moth to flame. It wouldn't do to appear
silly and empty-headed. A man who had traveled
across the ocean must surely be bored by small talk.
He gave no sign of it, though, asking me what books
I had read and why I knew about the sea charts..."
[Tian Bai is the man who whom Li Lan was promised]
I was enthralled as soon as I saw the cover and read the first sentence on the back cover: "One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride..."

Her simple question then blew me away! "Who asked."

Now, really, would you be able to calmly listen to this proposal? First, of course, you must realize that marriages were arranged at that time, so it would have been normal for her father to propose a liaison...

But to a dead man?

What had happened was that the heir on the family had died, and the Lim Family wanted to honor that's the story used...but what was actually happening, was that the son was haunting his parents, as well as already sneaking into the dreams of Li Lan, wanting to ensure she was given to him as his bride.

Li Lan was from a poor family, but the fathers had been friends. Now, though, since his own wife had died, Li Lan's father had withdrawn from the world, spending much time in an opium-induced world...and bills building up. The Lim family had been loaning money, as Li Lan was promised to another in the family. Now, though, he was the heir. The family wanted to make a better, more advantageous match...

Lim Tian Ching kept coming into Li Lan's dreams until one visit was so bad that she became ill. Her dreams became weird, she visited places she'd never been and then, finally, her soul left her body! Fortunately she appeared to be unconscious, so she was cared for and kept nourished... otherwise, she might have died!

Instead, she began a wondrous journey where she was able to see all of the ghosts that appeared each night--hungry ghosts, who had nobody to pray for them and provide them food...
Lim house in GulangYu
Lim house in GulangYu (Photo credit: Terence: family & friends)

"Since my illness, Amah had taken to sleeping in my room on a think pallet on the floor. I protested at this, as she was old and the wooden planks were hard, but she insisted. In truth, it made me feel much better. Every night Amah securely fastened the wooden shutters, no matter how hot and still the air was...
"I suspected that Amah kept the windows shut for other reasons. When I was a little girl, I had heard many tales of terror not only from Amah but also from her friends. Malaya was full of the ghosts...
"Amah, where do people go where they die?"
..."When someone dies, the spirit leaves the body and after the hundred days of mourning are over, passes through the ten Courts of Hell. The First Court is the arrival gate. There the souls are sorted. The good ones go straight to rebirth, or if they are really saintly they escape the Wheel of Life and go to paradise... if you were moderately good, you might be able to skip some of the Courts of Hell by crossing the gold or silver bridges. But if you committed some sin, you have to pass through the courts. The Second Court has the judges where they read out your good and bad deeds. Depending on that, you might be sent on to different punishments."

As you can probably tell, if you were here right now, I would continue to tell you about all of the strange wonders that you will learn about in the afterworld. But, then, you would never be able to really understand or imagine what is to come in this outstanding novel. Yangsze Choo Debut is truly a literary folk tale that takes us far back before things were changed by politics. In fact, she provides Notes at the back which merges past with the present, including such things as what the character names means! 

But what is soooo exciting is that there is a surprise ending that I simply loved! And how I wish I could talk about it...But I can't...So, if my words tempt you or if you love historical and exotic fiction, this is a must-read! Don't miss this one!


Yangsze Choo is a fourth generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. Due to a childhood spent in various countries such as Germany and Japan, she can eavesdrop (badly) in several languages. After graduating from Harvard University, she worked as a management consultant before writing her first novel. THE GHOST BRIDE, set in colonial Malaya and the elaborate Chinese world of the afterlife, is about a peculiar historic custom called a spirit marriage.Yangsze lives in California with her husband, two children, and a potential rabbit. She loves to eat and read, and often does both at the same time. You can follow her at or on Twitter: @yangszechoo.
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  1. Wow. That excerpt is so haunting, and I love your review. This sounds really cool!

  2. Thanks for posting this.This is awesome!!

  3. Like I said you two...Don't Miss This One!