The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

First of all, this is a quick note to say that I am moving house this week so won’t have much time for blogging for a while – there are just so many other things that need to be done! I have prepared and scheduled some posts in advance, so you probably won’t notice any difference, but I might be slow to respond to comments or to catch up with commenting on your blogs. I’m hoping to get settled in quickly so that things can get back to normal, but meanwhile here is my review of one of last month’s reads, The Night Tiger.

***

The Night Tiger was a surprise. I had been drawn to it mainly by the colourful cover and the fact that it was set in Malaya (now part of Malaysia), a country I know very little about, but I didn’t really expect to like it very much. I hadn’t read Yangsze Choo’s first novel, The Ghost Bride, because the subject didn’t appeal to me, and it sounded as though this book, like that one, would have a very strong magical realism element – and I’m not much of a fan of magical realism. Well, I was wrong about that; although there are times when the story does veer towards the fantastical, most of it is concerned with simply describing the folklore and superstitions of the Chinese people of Malaya and asking us to accept that some of these things may actually be real.

The story is set in the 1930s and is told from two different perspectives. First there’s Ren, an eleven year-old houseboy whose master, Dr MacFarlane, has recently died. While on his deathbed, the doctor asked Ren to carry out a very special task for him: to find his severed finger and bury it in his grave beside his dead body. This must be done within forty-nine days, otherwise Dr MacFarlane’s soul will be condemned to roam the earth forever. In need of new employment, Ren enters the service of another doctor, William Acton, then begins his quest to locate the missing finger.

Our other main character is Ji Lin, a dressmaker’s apprentice who has been secretly working in a dance hall in Ipoh to earn the money to pay off her mother’s gambling debts. While dancing with a salesman one night, she sees a little glass bottle fall from his pocket and, catching it before it hits the ground, she finds that it contains a shrivelled finger. This gruesome discovery leads Ji Lin to cross paths with Ren and when they each begin to have recurring dreams involving a train journey, it seems that their lives are becoming intertwined in other ways as well.

I enjoyed The Night Tiger much more than I thought I would. The setting is fascinating, of course; I have read two other books set in Malaya (The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng and The Separation by Dinah Jefferies) but they are very different types of books and don’t explore Chinese and Malaysian myths and legends the way this one does. The folklore surrounding the legend of the weretiger was particularly intriguing; there are hints that one could be responsible for the unexplained deaths that have been occurring around the town, and we can either believe that this is true or we can just believe that the characters in the story believe it is true, if that makes sense!

Both main viewpoint characters are easy to like; I felt closer to Ji Lin, because her story is told in the first person whereas Ren’s is told in the third, but I did love Ren too. He often seems very mature for his age – probably because he has been forced to grow up quickly due to his personal circumstances – but at other times he behaves more like the child he still is.

I’m still not sure whether I want to read The Ghost Bride, but I will look out for Yangsze Choo’s next book and see if it appeals.

Thanks to Quercus Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

23 thoughts on “The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

  1. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve put The Ghost Bride on my #20booksof summer reading list though am not a fan of magical realism either. I bought it because of the setting. Let’s hope it’s better than I expect.

  2. piningforthewest says:

    I hope everything goes well with the house move and that you really like your new place when you get settled.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! The whole house-buying and moving process has been quite stressful, but I think I’ll be happy with the new house once things settle down.

    • Helen says:

      I wasn’t sure if it would really be my sort of book, but I enjoyed it much more than I’d expected. And thank you. I certainly didn’t forget to pack the books – I think I’ll be unpacking them for the rest of my life! 🙂

  3. cirtnecce says:

    All the best with the move! That is always such a mammoth task! I am very very intrigued by the premises and I will add this. I too have limited understanding of Malaysia and this book may be a great place to start!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Cirtnecce. I found the move quite stressful but now I’m starting to settle into the new house and hope I’ll have more time for reading and blogging again soon. I think The Night Tiger would be a great place to start adding to your knowledge of Malaysia. 🙂

  4. Café Society says:

    We’ll be thinking of you during the move. The Bears say to that I am to tell you that ours went very well this time last year, but then all they did was get ferried to their new home in the front seat of the car and then, having insisted that their sofa was the first item of furniture to be unloaded, sit in splendour and direct operations. Good luck.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you. The move itself went quite smoothly, although unlike The Bears I wasn’t able to spend much time sitting on sofas! I think it will still be a while before I’m fully settled in, but I’m slowly getting there.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Sandra. I’ve found the whole thing quite stressful, but things are starting to settle down now. My internet was activated today so at least I can begin to catch up with reading all the blog posts I’ve missed over the last few weeks!

  5. Judy Krueger says:

    Ah, moving. The last time I moved I swore it would indeed be the last. Hope it goes smoothly. I was so excited to see your review of The Night Tiger because one of my reading groups chose it for our August read. I am sure I will like it too.

    • Helen says:

      Thank you. I’m not planning to move again anytime soon! It’s far too stressful. I’ll be interested to hear what you and your reading group think of The Night Tiger.

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