Friday, October 18, 2013

Raising Ghosts

I love tales of the afterlife. Why, I’m not exactly sure. The reassurance that there might be an afterlife certainly plays a part, but I have never liked horror stories—not even the yarns about ghosts told by kids around the campfire to ensure no one sleeps that night. I’m a sucker, though, for books about near death experiences, lives between lives, past-life regressions, and well-imagined other worlds that just happen to be populated by dead people. (Let me note that I don’t believe everything I read; what I enjoy is the fantasy element: if there were an afterlife, what would it be like?)

So you can imagine how delighted I was to run across Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut novel, The Ghost Bride. I couldn’t wait to sign her up for an interview. We had our conversation yesterday, and I discovered that it’s even more fun to chat with her in person than to read her book. You can hear the results at New Books in Historical Fiction. As always, these podcasts are available free of charge.

Not surprisingly, we talk at length about the Chinese view of the afterlife, as filtered through Yangsze’s imagination. But we also talk about writing and women’s roles and (I kid you not) the Car Talk guys on NPR. So even if you’re not as crazy about imagined afterlives as I am, go ahead and give it a listen.

The rest of this post comes from the interview page.

Malaya, 1893. Pan Li Lan, a beautiful eighteen-year-old, has watched her Chinese merchant family decline since the death of her mother from smallpox during Li Lan’s early childhood. Her father lives in isolation and smokes too much opium: bad for business, as anyone can see from the decaying surroundings of their Malacca estate.

Li Lan knows that her prospects of finding a husband are poor. Still, she does not expect her father to offer a dead man as bridegroom—even one whose family promises to keep her in luxury for the rest of her life. When Li Lan’s would-be husband begins to haunt her dreams—and she falls for his cousin in reality—her desperation to escape leads her on a journey through the Chinese afterlife, searching for the key that will free her from a marriage she dreads. But she slowly realizes that to succeed, she must uncover the secrets of her past … and her prospective groom’s.

The Ghost Bride opens a window on a fascinating and little-known world in which a spunky young woman tests the boundaries of her traditional middle-class existence in pursuit of a better future. Yangsze Choo brings Li Lan and her family to vivid life, then spins them off into a mirror society with rules eerily familiar yet utterly strange. It’s a journey well worth taking.

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