Editorial note: I was given a copy of The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo in return for a review.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo is a dazzling tale that is part murder mystery, forbidden love and age-old superstition. The setting of 1930s colonial Malaysia is so vivid — you’ll feel transported back in time! This one is magical in every sense of the word.
When I first read the synopsis where the story revolves around a severed finger—I did pause at first. I’m not typically the biggest fan of fantasy type stories and I wasn’t sure where this one would fall. But from the first page on, I was hooked. This one combines the natural and supernatural intrigue and moves these themes in such a compelling and brilliant way. Don’t let the severed finger deter you!
We meet Ji Lin— she’s stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother’s Mahjong debts. But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin plunges into an adventure full of secrets and superstitions. Eleven-year-old houseboy Ren is also on a mission, racing to fulfill his former master’s dying wish: that Ren find the man’s finger, lost years ago in an accident and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master’s soul will wander the earth forever.
As the days tick relentlessly by, a series of unexplained deaths racks the district, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren’s increasingly dangerous paths crisscross through lush plantations, hospital storage rooms and ghostly dreamscapes.
We mainly follow the story from Jin Lin and Ren’s perspectives. I adored both of these characters. Jin Lin is intelligent and aspires for so much more than being a dressmaker. She wishes she could have followed her stepbrother Shin to work in the medical field, however, it’s the 1930s and society believes her role is to be a wife and mother. Jin Lin believes that Shin has it easy because he’s a man and despite always being close, she’s has bitter feelings toward him now. However, when they’re reunited again—their dynamic changes quite a bit. Both their lives take on a different path when she accidentally receives a severed finger.
After his master passes, Ren is sent to work for Dr. William Acton. However, he’s preoccupied with his mission to find his former’s master finger. Ren is a sweet boy who is also smart and even helps with a medical emergency when no one is around. We learn that he had a twin brother Yi who died when they were younger.
Jin Lin and Ren’s storylines come together in a such a compelling way.
Ancient superstition and modern ambition
On one hand there is plenty of fascinating superstitions: mythical creatures, conversations with the dead and lucky numbers. But this balances with a push toward modernization with a focus on gender and class and the impact of colonialism. The ability to weave all theses ideas together in one story is so impressive and you won’t want to put this one down.