I hadn’t committed myself to reading a novel in ages. Gone are the days when my bedtime ritual was to peruse at least a few pages no matter how much slumberland beckoned. What’s my excuse these past few years? Too busy to read I say (but I haven’t given up on my newspapers though, especially the weekend ones). Recently however, I’ve yet again proven to myself “where there’s a will, there’s definitely a way”. And the book that did it for me – The Ghost Bride.
The Star newspaper article Choo-sen by Oprah.com editors on Saturday, October 5 set my sidelined fondness for novels on overdrive. The Ghost Bride was listed as Oprah Winfrey’s “Book of the Week”. Ordinarily such information would’ve flown right over my head but not this time. There was a sudden urgency for me to get my hands on it. Why this one of all the bestseller books listed week after week? Its author, Yangsze Choo is Malaysia-born! Although snippets about her suggest she’s not been living in Malaysia for a long time (though her parents still do), just the fact she was born and bred here riveted my attention. I guess I can’t help feeling proud that a fellow compatriot received such coveted accolades.
A love story set in the Chinese netherworld – haven’t read anything like that before. Then I was even more intrigued once the early pages revealed the narrative is set in Malacca, my beloved hometown where I was born, bred, and still live! A world-acclaimed novel set in my hometown is definitely worth my time and attention.
Set in 1890s Malacca – the fiendish opium (my grandfather apparently fell victim and squandered all his inherited wealth satiating his addiction resulting in his wife and children, including my father, struggling with destitution), Malacca’s bustling port, the half cent, Straits-born Chinese (I am one) and a myriad more – are all so familiar to me. References were made to the parallel roads Jonker and Heeren streets and The Stadhuys (or Red Square built by the Dutch during their occupation and served as administrative offices), now signature tourist haunts. I could barely contain myself when the Lim mansion turned out to be in Klebang (pronounced clay-bung), the seafront suburb where I have lived most of my life! So you see, Li Lan’s journey inadvertently became mine.
To a great extent, I don’t believe in such things as heaven and hell but then again there have been reports of people who’ve had out-of-body experiences claiming they’ve gone over and back. I suppose I’ll never know for sure until my own time is up. The Chinese netherworld described in The Ghost Bride brought to mind Haw Par Villa or now called TigerBalmGardens in Singapore. It is a park where scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, legends, history, and illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism are depicted using statues and dioramas.
My take on The Ghost Bride
Being a Straits-born Chinese, born and bred in Malacca, I feel such a connection with Li Lan even though we’re from different eras. Together with its eloquent prose, for the first time in my life, I could truly “experience” the novel alongside its protagonist. Her thoughts, fears, longings, all became mine.
Unwilling to put the book down, I had to force-limit myself to an average of two chapters each night or risk falling flat in my face the next day for lack of shuteye. Simple yet refreshing and awe-inspiring, I highly recommend The Ghost Bride to those in search of mystery, love, and the unknown afterworld all rolled into one in the Chinese context.
For synopsis and reviews, visit the author’s page:
The Ghost Bride