The Ghost Bride: Chinese Folklore and Ramen

Yangsze Choo

Yangsze Choo (Photo credit: eekim)

So I recently finished The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo (who also narrated the audio book), recommended to me by Stephanie Cain who predicted I’d enjoy the Asian folklore and supernatural elements. I did.

While set in late 19th century Malaya (current-day Malaysia), the characters are of Chinese descent and maintain a blend of Chinese and local traditions and superstition. This includes the burning of funeral goods to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Not familiar with this? Think back to school when you learned about ancient Egyptian burials, full of furniture and food and even leisure and luxury items like games or makeup. This is similar, only instead of providing actual goods, one need only purchase and offer a facsimile.

Paper offerings for the dead 紙紮鋪 明生行

Paper offerings for the dead 紙紮鋪 明生行 (Photo credit: Canadian Pacific)

On her blog, Yangsze Choo describes modern observances, including the paper offerings of game consoles and MacBooks and mini-vans. (Seriously, wouldn’t you provide your beloved departed with a more stylish means of transportation? Unless you really wished Grandma to be the soccer mom of the dead…. Hey, that’s a good title idea for something. Soccer Mom of the Dead. Write that down.)

I went into the story with nearly zero idea of what was coming, operating solely on the recommendation, so everything was a surprise to me. But if recommendation isn’t enough to sell you, here’s the tease:

Li Lan, a young Chinese woman, lives in 1890s colonial Malaya with her quietly ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition — the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he’s dead.

The Ghost BridePost-mortem marriages were an infrequent means of allying families or soothing restless spirits, and while matching two dead persons was more common, occasionally the living were married to the dead. Li Lan’s proposal sends her into a suspended world of spirits, human and otherwise, and intrigue. I was able to grasp some plot elements more quickly because of my background knowledge, though I know much less about Chinese folklore (and Choo modifies some, as detailed in her notes), but I think it would be very accessible to those without any previous knowledge of local practices or beliefs.

I also liked her narration of the audio book. I’ve been asked a couple of times to read other writers’ work at readings, but I’m not sure I’d have the guts to read my own, say, Kitsune-Tsuki or Kitsune-Mochi. This is due in large part to the fact that I’ve been told my Japanese has an American accent (well, there’s a surprise).

I quite enjoyed her story, but Yangsze Choo sealed my fandom with her blog. Here is her hilarious post on instant ramen and lobster. It’s enough to make me consider offering instant ramen at my own kung-fu movie party, which is how we’ll be celebrating the new year at my house. And if you’re not sold yet, read about her musings on her need for a handsome butler.

Recommendation

With her family’s fortune fading, Li Lan has few marriage prospects when she is asked to marry the son of a wealthy trading family. She meets the dead man’s cousin and finds him charming — but the dead man begins to haunt her. And then things get interesting.

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