The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is one of those books that sneaks up on you, grabs a hold of your imagination then lets you go ever so slowly. I was not able to review this book right after I read it. Why? I needed time to digest the many layers of this historical Chinese story that included heavy elements of ancient Chinese mythology.
Initially, the story did not truly move me as there was a great deal of story set up that was done to anchor the reader in the story and to become invested in the characters.
Li Lan, a Chinese girl in colonial Malaysia, is the main character and her father has let the family’s fortune dwindle through his disinterest and preoccupation with the past. This ensures that Li Lan’s future is limited. She will not have a good marriage match as her father has not taken her into society. In these times (in the 1800’s), a young Chinese girl’s only hope for a good future, and life, is to marry well. This meant marrying into a family with money.
Li Lan is approaching her eighteenth birthday — old for a young woman to be unmarried. Out of the blue, Li Lan finally receives a marriage proposal from a wealthy and respectable family. However, it is not your typical marriage proposal. Li Lan’s father has been asked to have his daughter consider a ghost bride marriage — to marry the Lim family’s recently deceased son! It is then her father begins realizing what his inaction has done to his daughter’s prospects.
Even in these times, a ghost marriage does not bode well. While Li Lan would be well taken care of by the Lim family and always have a place to live and beautiful clothes, she would be a widow for the rest of her life. She would never know true love.
Once the indecent proposal was issued, the Lim family began inviting Li Lan to their home for social events. During one such visit, Li Lan meets a young man that peaks her interest and lights a fire within her core. Yet, not all is what it seems. The more Li Lan interacts with the Lim family, the more secrets are uncovered that all lead back to her own family’s buried secrets.
Li Lan must put herself in an untenable situation to ferret out the truth of both her family and the Lim family’s past and past connections which have her tied in limbo between this world and the after-world.
Choo shares with the reader a rich tapestry of ancient Chinese culture and ancient practices that even modern Chinese may not be familiar with. As the story moves forward, the stakes become higher and the structure and hierarchy of the afterlife Li Lan finds herself in hems her in tighter than she would like. The reader can feel disaster looming — but will it befall Li Lan and the Lim family?!
I won’t tell! You’ll have to delve into this delicious story yourself to find out.