A friend of mine lent me Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride, a few months ago after I mentioned my interest in novels about Chinese culture. Choo’s novel takes place in Malaysia during the late 1800’s (then called Malaya) and is beautiful interwoven story of the cultural effects resulting from British Imperialism and Chinese immigration to Malaya. The Ghost Bride follows Li Lan, a young girl of Chinese descent from a bankrupt family of status. Her life is rife with the politics of suitors, dowries, and family alliances common of a girl during the period, but a supernatural component is there as Li Lan contends with an unwanted ghost marriage–being married to a man posthumously to prevent the family from being haunted by his spirits. The world of spirits, gods, and curses is then cracked wide open and she tries to navigate her way to romantic happiness.
I’m not really a fan of young adult novels, but I was intrigued since it was part of the Indigo Spotlight program. The beginning of the novel is slow, but the story is full of the kind of magic, youthful innocence, and romanticism typical of Miyazaki films. Aside from the stereotypical elements of young adult romance fiction–good girl likes bad boy, meddling family, etc.–the story line is quite fun to follow as Choo explains some Malaysian traditions and folklore.
I don’t know that I would agree with it being the outstanding new read the Indigo claims it to be, but as a debut novel Choo has certainly launched herself into the literary realm with velocity. There is no fairy tale ending (thank goodness!), instead leaving the end more up to the reader’s interpretation and imagination. It really redeem’s Li Lan as a character. Her naivete and romanticism are understandable given that as a girl of her time period she isn’t allowed to leave premises of her family’s home.
Overall, a fun, light read that has enough politics and folklore to appeal to both young adult and adult audiences. The tradition of ghost marriages is certainly the kind of supernatural happening that is popular right now.