Book Review: The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo
Fiction: The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo
Defying categorization, The Night Tiger falls somewhere in between mystery and fantasy and historical romance. Yangsze Choo’s second novel is beautiful, with memorable characters and a compelling plot full of twists.
Ren is a very young houseboy. He claims to be thirteen, but his real age is eleven. After serving one doctor, he finds himself in the employ of another doctor with one goal in mind: to honor his first master’s dying wish. In Malay tradition, a soul wanders for 49 days after death before departing to the next life. If a body is not whole within that 49 day period, the soul is trapped and cannot move on. His master lost a finger to an infection some time ago. Ren’s job is to find that finger and bury it alongside the rest of his master’s body so that his soul can rest. All he knows is that his new master once had the finger.
Ji Lin is an apprentice dressmaker and part-time dance instructor. She is trying to earn extra money to help her mother. One of her dancing partners leaves a disgusting package behind…a severed finger. Ji Lin tries to return it to him with the help of her step-brother, only to find out the man has died under mysterious circumstances.
Ren and Ji Lin find themselves drawn together, both through circumstance and through shared dreams of a mysterious little boy. Choo does a great job of keeping their stories separate until they naturally come together. The author also keeps the reader guessing until the last moment about the mysteries that pervade the plot, mysteries which encompass the missing finger and several deaths throughout the novel. When it does all come together, the result is very satisfying. But I don’t want to spoil any details for other readers.
Chinese and Malay traditional beliefs are woven throughout, but are introduced with solid explanation so readers unfamiliar with those beliefs are not left behind. The five Confucian virtues figure prominently, and the names of many of the characters are taken from those virtues, including Ren and Ji Lin. Their encounters with various dream figures are possibly just dreams, and are possibly more than that. Choo does a nice job of leaving some decisions up to her readers.
A satisfying, beautifully written book with a compelling plot and thoughtful characters, The Night Tiger is a book I highly recommend to almost anyone who likes fiction. I loved it.
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