Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo
Publisher: William Morrow Books (HarperCollins)
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Oprah.com’s Book of the Week, a Carnegie Medal nominee, and Goodreads 2013 Best Fantasy finalist. The Ghost Bride is a historical fantasy.
"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."
Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.
Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.
After an ominous 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—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
Kayla: Hi Yangsze, thank you so much for stopping by Bibliophilia, Please! Since a ghost bride is something that many people have never heard of, please tell us a little bit about what a ghost bride actually is.
Yangsze Choo: The Chinese custom of marriages to the dead is unusual and bizarre to many people, though growing up in SE Asia, I heard of several instances of it happening. The most common scenario is when two people are married posthumously so that they can continue their life together in the afterworld. Sometimes this happened because they were promised to each other and couldn’t get married when they were alive, and sometimes the whole affair is arranged after death, either due to family wishes or in response to a haunting! This is actually quite a common Chinese story, of seeing a departed relative in your dreams who has met someone they fancy in the afterlife and want to have a proper marriage conducted. In many ways, it shows how important ancestor worship and family approval is.
Far more rarely, the living are married to the dead. This could be because the someone’s fiancé died and they decided to devote the rest of their lives to them, or if a man died without a wife or descendants. For Chinese who believed in ancestor worship, especially in the 1890s when The Ghost Bride is set, not having anyone to tend your grave was terrifying, since it left you vulnerable to an afterlife without the care of descendants who would continue to burn the paper money, servants, houses, etc., that they believed would become real in the ghost world. Occasionally a wealthy family would take in a poor girl who would enter their household as a widow to the dead man. This is the case for the main character in my book, Li Lan, who receives a proposal of marriage for the dead son of the richest family in town. By day, she visits the Lim family with its Machiavellian politics, while by night, the ghost of the dead man haunts her in her dreams. It’s a story that’s set both in historic Malacca and in the shadowy, fantastic Chinese ghost world.
Kayla: What inspired you to write The Ghost Bride? Did one of the characters pop into your head first or the idea for the story?
Yangsze: I was actually researching another book I was writing in the archives of our local Malaysian newspaper, when I came across brief, matter-of-fact mention about spirit marriages amongst the Chinese. This was so intriguing that the opening sentence of the book - “One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride” - popped into my head and I sat down and wrote the first chapter of the book very much as you see it.
Kayla: What kind of research did you do in order to map out the spirit world that Li Lan visits?
Yangsze: Coming from Malaysia, I had a fairly good understanding about the history of Malacca, especially since my uncle used to live there and we would visit him when I was a child. I also read lots of Chinese ghost stories and had a grandmother whose specialty was terrifying small children with tales of the afterlife! But when I was writing the book, I found the National Archives in Singapore, as well as Harvard’s Widener and Yen Ching libraries to be invaluable resources of out-of-print historical documents. I also went back to Malacca to check on things like distances between places and whether you could really walk from point A to B in a certain amount of time!
Kayla: Which books or authors would you say have affected or inspired you the most?
Yangsze: It’s hard to choose, but Haruki Murakami is probably my favourite author. He writes very simply but leads the reader down a strange and wonderful path. I also always find Isak Dinesen, Orhan Pamuk, and Jhumpa Lahiri, to be inspiring.
Kayla: Do you have any upcoming projects that we can look forward to?
Yangsze: I’m currently working on a detective novel, also set in colonial Malaya, though this time during the 1930s in the state of Perak. Perak has a lot of old towns and ruined colonial houses which used to belong to the British, as well as to wealthy Chinese tin miners and Malay sultans. Many of them are sadly in a state of disrepair, but they are wonderful to visit.
Kayla: Thank you so much again for your time!
Yangsze: Thank you for having me – it’s been a pleasure!
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About the Author
Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard, she worked as a management consultant and at a start-up before writing her first novel. She lives in California with her husband and their two children, and loves to eat and read (often at the same time).
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