Published: February 12th, 2019
Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
I’ve been staring at my screen for a good five minutes now, wondering where to begin with a review of this book.
I guess I’ll start with this — I loved it.
I received an advance copy for review and a giveaway from my friends over at Flatiron Books and I couldn’t be happier about it. This book was right up my alley. The blurb on the back of the book describes it as “an utterly transporting novel set in 1930s colonial Malasia, perfect for fans of Isabel Allende and Min Jin Lee.” I’d absolutely agree with this assessment. As a fan of both authors, I found myself drawing certain comparisons to both throughout the novel. There were bits of mysterious magical realism that reminded me of Allende, and the gorgeous writing and sweeping plot that reminded me at times of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. And yet it is completely its own thing.
The Night Tiger is the story of Ji Lin, a young woman working part time in secret in a dance hall in order to help pay off her mother’s mahjong debts. While on the job, a salesman dancing with her gives her a strange item–a small jar with a finger in it. In another city, a young boy named Ren is taking care of his elderly master, a doctor on his deathbed. As his master dies, he gives Ren a final task–find his finger that he lost many years ago and bury it with him within forty-nine days or else his soul with be cursed to wander the world forever.
The book is full of fascinating myths and bits of culture, from weretigers to Chinese number superstitions to the romanticization of names. The plot was sweeping and full of mystery and a forbidden romance, but I also found myself completely caught up in these bits of mythology and culture. I loved the bits of magical realism and I thought Choo weaved all these pieces together masterfully.
Choo is an excellent writer. The prose is elegant and beautiful and I grew really attached to these characters almost immediately. If I had a complaint, it would simply be that it wasn’t long enough. I wasn’t at all ready to say goodbye to these characters, this world, this story, or this mystery, by the time I reached the end. I felt like there could have been more, and the end felt even just a little bit rushed to me, although that very well could have been my own desire for it to continue on more than the actual pacing.
I came away from this book feeling like I know a lot more about this place and time. For example, I didn’t know that Malaya was the historic name for what is now present day Malaysia, and I knew even less about the culture and history of colonization in this area. The myths and superstitions were completely fascinating, and I loved the way they were so flawlessly integrated into the greater story.
If you’re a fan of books that weave together different storylines, elements of reality and magic and history, big sweeping stories and will take you away for a while, I think The Night Tiger might be the right read for you. It was certainly that kind of book for me.
Thanks again to Flatiron Books for the review copy! This book hit the shelves on February 12th and I absolutely urge you to go out and grab yourself a copy!