The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am a Chinese Malaysian, born about a hundred years after the period this story takes place, and even I, jaded as I am about the state Malaysian is in now, find The Ghost Bride fascinating.
It's interesting to remember how people lived back then, before Malaysia was Malaysia, when it was still Malaya and under the British rule, how the various immigrants and cultures intersect.
What I enjoyed most is imagining how this story could have very well been my own family's story. Not the ghost bride part, of course. It is a rare occurrence in itself, but I believe by the time my own grandfather migrated to Malaysia, the practice of marrying a living person to a dead one had all but disappeared. I have heard of a recent case of a marriage between a dead Chinese couple though.
No, what I could imagine was the family intrigue, the head of the house with his many wives and concubines, the many children spawned between the wives and concubines, the family politics as the wives and children all try to win their husband/father's favor. The competition between the wives to produce a male heir, the hatred and jealousy between each wife and their children.
My own grandfather had three wives and a concubine. My father, the youngest son of the Second Wife, had 7 siblings by his own mother. I am not sure of how many children my grandfather had with his First and Third Wives, but there were many. His concubine produced one son.
Although I have heard many stories about my father's childhood, this book really brought to life my imagination of how my grandfather and his family lived, and I assure you, it was a lot more dramatic and quite frankly, uglier, than the family dynamics in the book. My uncle's second wife actually chased my mother around the house with a kitchen knife.
However, let's get back to the book; I loved the whole Ghost Bride theme, Yangsze Choo's depiction of the Chinese's beliefs about the different levels of Hell and burning offerings to the dead ancestors. I love how Choo brought the ghost dimension, the Plains of the Dead, and all the other ghostly denizens to life (no pun intended).
It felt a little bit like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and is written just as well as Neverwhere was, perhaps even better. But I might be biased. However, Neverwhere is one of my favorite Gaiman books, and this is me giving really high praise to The Ghost Bride. I can't recommend this book enough.
It's amazing and I loved it.