The Night Tiger: The Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick for April
By Yangsze Choo
A captivating and magical story set in 1930s Malaysia about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy who are brought together by a series of unexplained deaths and an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.Tweet
I loved this book! The richness of its language and vivid descriptions transported me to colonial Malaya. Interweaving reality with symbolism and mythology, this fantastical story was a page turner, and I didn't want it to end. I consciously slowed my reading down to savour every page!
Nine members of our book group read this book. All finished it and enjoyed it.
There are many twists and turns along the way as the story of this novel unfolds, and in addition the story is told from multiple perspectives. Consequently we found the locations and dates at the start of chapters very helpful. The novel is definitely a page-turner and kept us gripped as the plot unfolded and we tried to work out the patterns and relationships. “it’s a book I would pick up and not put down. It kept me wondering and interested throughout”.
All the characters, both local and ex-pat, are interesting and well-written. The two worlds, of locals and foreigners, are well portrayed, along with the resulting issues around race, class and gender. The struggles depicted within the book gave rise to plenty of discussion eg does the doctor, William, genuinely love the local women, or is he exploiting them? Is the houseboy, Ren, acting out of duty, love, or fear?
The heat and humidity of the novel’s setting, mirrored these ying and yang, did he/didn’t he uncertainties, whilst all around the jungle bristled with real, and imagined, terrors.
All in all we found this an enjoyable and intricate novel steeped in the history, culture and landscape of 1930s Malaysia. A delicate web of lives, lies and virtues interwoven into an engrossing mystery. We wondered if there would be a sequel, as we would like to know what happens to the characters after the end of the novel.
Rating: 9 members read the book. Average score 4/5
Ren is an 11 year old houseboy in Colonial Malaya in the 1930s. When his master dies, his dying wish is that Ren locate his finger which was severed in an accident many years ago and reunite it with his body. According to Malayan tradition, if more than 49 days elapse after death without the body being made whole again then the soul will be unable to rest in peace. Ji Lin has always had dreams of becoming a doctor but as a young woman in Malaya during this time, apprentice dressmaker is considered a more suitable occupation by her stepfather. She secretly moonlights as a dancehall girl to help repay her mother’s Mahjong debts and one day a severed finger comes into her possession from one of her dance partners. Ji Lin is both curious and appalled but is determined that she is going to investigate the whys and wherefores of this gruesome object. Both Ren and Ji Lin have missions to complete and, inevitably, their paths cross. However, before this happens people start to die in dubious circumstances. The solution to these mysteries is set within a backdrop of Malayan superstition and myth.
In many ways this was an excellent book. Although the novel is, in one sense a crime novel, in reality it is so much more. It painted a vivid picture of life in colonial Malaya and I enjoyed being immersed in a culture which is so different from the one in which I live. The author did a great job of introducing the traditional folklore of the local people, handed down through generations of storytelling, and managed to interweave it seamlessly into the everyday lives of the main characters. Those characters are well developed, believable and come alive on the page.. There are some beautifully descriptive passages and I imagine that a lot of research was conducted before the book was written as the story has an air of authenticity about it. All in all it was a very interesting read.
However, I struggled with the blurring of lines between folklore and reality, and between dreams and the waking world. I appreciate that this is a personal bugbear but then I guess this is a personal review so it’s OK to include my own opinions and foibles. I thought it was also a little long which meant that it dragged at times and became a bit repetitive.
Although I did not fall in love with this book, I can certainly see its merits. It will appeal to people who appreciate a good book that is well written but which is interwoven with magic and superstition.