Two genres that I have a particular soft spot for are historical fiction and magical realism. And today’s guest author has managed to combine the two in a novel that has become one of this years hottest titles. So we’re thrilled to give away a copy of THE GHOST BRIDE to one lucky winner today. Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
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Update: we’re thrilled to announce that the winner of this book is Doireann. Thanks to all who entered! And don’t forget to check back soon. We have lots of great giveaways lined up for the rest of this year.
When I was a little girl, my grandmother lived in a small town in Malaysia opposite a cinema which showed scary Chinese movies. We children were not allowed to go and watch them, although from the front window we could see people lining up to buy tickets. Instead, we could only gaze at the vivid, hand-painted cinema billboards and ask my grandmother to explain what the illustrations were about. In retrospect, her ghost stories were probably more terrifying and enigmatic than the actual Hong Kong movies that were showing! This was probably my first introduction to the peculiar Chinese practice of arranged marriages with the dead.
Years later, I was digging around in the archives of our local Malaysian newspaper to research another book that I was trying to write (a disastrous novel about an elephant detective), when I came across a sentence in an old newspaper article that offhandedly referred to the decline in Chinese spirit marriages. I was so intrigued by this that I ended up putting aside my first book to write THE GHOST BRIDE instead.
The folk superstition of marriages to ghosts, or between the dead, usually occurred in order to placate spirits or repair familial relations. Matches were sometimes made between two deceased persons, with the families on both sides recognizing it as a tie between them. In fact, it still occurs today. Sometimes two sweethearts might be married after death, or a family member might be told in a dream that a deceased relative wanted to get married. A formal marriage ceremony would then be performed, complete with food, preparations, and the burning of paper offerings such as money, houses, and servants, which were believed to become tangible assets in the afterlife. More rarely, the living were married to the dead. This is the case for Li Lan, the main character in my book.
There’s actually a long Chinese literary tradition of strange tales set in the blurred borderline between spirits and humans, where beautiful women turn out to be shape-shifting foxes, and the afterlife is run like a monstrous parody of Imperial Chinese bureaucracy. Most of the classic Chinese stories about ghosts are actually about young men, usually scholars, to whom all these strange things happen. The archetype would be “Once, there was a poor scholar, who was studying alone at night when there was a knock on the door… ” Of course, he opens it to find a beautiful girl who turns out to be either a ghost, a fox, or a flower spirit. All sorts of trials ensue, usually with the not-so-subtle warning that you shouldn’t be tempted away from your studies by licentious women!
In my case, I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of a girl, and to marry two of my favourite genres – historical fiction and magical realism. It was a fascinating topic to explore, particularly the second half of the book, which takes place in the terrifying, beautiful shadowlands of the Chinese afterlife, filled with ghosts and monsters. In some ways, I was able to put into it all the fantastic stories of my childhood that I couldn’t see in a movie theater but could only imagine through old tales and comic books. It’s a rich and curious mythology that I’d love to introduce to readers!
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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.
After a fateful visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets, before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
An Oprah.com Book of the Week, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick, and Indie Next List, THE GHOST BRIDE is Malaysian writer Yangsze Choo’s debut novel. Yangsze eats and reads too much and can often be found doing both at her blog (http://yschoo.com)