Thursday, 21 August 2014

Review: Ghost Bride

Would you mind being married to a ghost?
"Are you afraid of ghosts?" a Malaysian-born Singaporean friend asked me a few weeks ago.

Shen then proceeded to tell me about a novel by Malaysian writer Yangsze Choo called Ghost Bride and when I next saw my friend she passed the book on to me.

I don't usually read much fiction these days -- perhaps too engrossed with current affairs and read magazines and newspapers both print and online.

So it was interesting reading Ghost Bride and being transported back to colonial Malaya in the late 1800s, where people used rickshaws to get around and those who were more enlightened wore western clothes and were educated overseas.

Li Lan is a teenage girl born in Malacca, and raised by her amah who also looked after her mother, who died when Li Lan was young. Her father was scholarly, but didn't have a head for the family business. After a series of deals gone sour, he turned his attention to opium and frittered away the family fortune.

Author Yangsze Choo, fourth-generation Malaysian Chinese
And as a result, some debts need to be repaid and the father asks his daughter if she would be a ghost bride to the wealthy Lim family, whose son and heir Lim Tian Ching recently died.

When Li Lan visits the Lim household for the first time, she falls for Lim Tian Ching's cousin Tian Bai, and then the battle for affections begin -- even the ghost of her husband-to-be haunts her heart.

In writing the story, the author used the premise of ghost marriages which were usually made between two deceased people with both families recognizing the the marriage, but there were also cases where a living person married someone who was dead.

These were usually cases where the betrothed person died, or giving the woman the rank of wife to a concubine who had produced an heir. And then there were situations where a girl, like Li Lan, entered a household to become a widow for a man who died without a wife or descendants.

Ghost Bride is a fantasy story that interweaves Chinese superstition around ghosts, the lifestyle of Straits-born Chinese at the time, as well as a lot of imagination about what the underworld would be like.

Choo puts all these details together in a well written tale that, to be honest, at times were predictable, but was told in such a way that you had to keep reading to find out what happened next.

It's a fun read and though I enjoyed the novel, luckily I haven't been haunted by these ghosts yet...

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