When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.
Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.
As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.
Author: Yangsze Choo
Publisher: Flatiron Books
The Night Tiger was my January 2019 BOTM pick. It’s out February 12, 2019!
This was an intriguing, magical look at colonial Malaya (now Malaysia) with a little bit of something for everyone. An innocent little hero? A mind-itching mystery? Themes of destiny, fate family, and love? You got it.
While I didn’t find myself blown away, per se, I definitely enjoyed the story and would recommend it as a literary read. I felt that a few of the themes and metaphors were more overtly stated for fear that we, as readers, wouldn’t pick up on them. I also wasn’t totally convinced by the love story — it left me with misgivings. But stepping back, that could have more to do with the setting (1930s Malaya, aka strict traditional gender roles). I’m also not completely sure that I feel like there was closure on the “bad guy.”
Still, as I mentioned, I did enjoy it. My heart squeezes at the thought of Ren — he’s so pure! Also, I thought the way Choo used the timeline for each of the two narratives (one moving faster than the other) had a really intriguing effect that added to the mystery and helped keep me guessing.
If you like historical fiction, especially focusing on Asian cultures, this one is for you.