The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo: A book review by Simone Wood

The historical novel for teenagers is not usually a genre that flies off the shelves. It exists most definitely, but its popularity most recently seems to be concentrated in the form of the classics – myths and legends – having a new upbeat twist. However, every now and then an historical novel is released that makes both young and old turn their heads. Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride is just what I’ve been waiting for, and it should quite simply be THE book for young people wanting to be swept away in a cultural journey, worlds away from the lives we live.

The Ghost Bride immerses you in Malaya at the tail end of the 19th century, a time when a young girl’s marriage is everything to her family, when tradition rules everything, and where words like ‘spirits’ and ‘ancestors’ are used as commonly as ‘tweet’ and ‘inbox’ are today.

The novel begins with the heroine, Pan Li Lan, being asked by her father if she would wish to be a ghost bride, sparking an adventure through the different planes of existence we live on and co-habit with spirits. Although described as an historical romance, the novel has stronger aspects of mystery and the supernatural. It delves not only into the business-like arrangement of marriages but the ferocity of the spirit world and all of its levels of bureaucracy and corruption.

As a lover of all things exotic I was hooked from the start. While the use of Malay language can at first be confusing, you soon find yourself accustomed to strange words simply from context and frequent use. That being said, it’s worth reading the passage at the end of the book first to give yourself a head start.

Choo’s vivid descriptions of Malaya’s beautiful landscape, both the reality and the disconcerting ‘plains of the dead’, and the subtle weaving of traditional language and culture through the fabric of the whole text makes this book more than just something to do in your spare time. This is an edge-of-your-seat experience in book form that will take you on a journey from the rain and drizzle of the British summer right back to the intriguing oriental world of the 1890s.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Published by William Morrow
ISBN: 0062227327