Song Leiyin was a young mother when she became a ghost. Drifting above her coffin after the funeral in the temple, she was greeted by her three souls: Yin, a cheerful spirit who sprinkles floral scents and giggles at Leiyin’s misadventures; Yang, a wizened elder with a crooked cane and an acid tongue who sends bitter flavors to reprimand her when she displeases him; and Yun, a non-judgmental spirit whose job it is to keep peace between them. They are there to escort her to the afterworld, but all are puzzled when they find themselves suspended in this state of observance. Trapped, her three souls must help her discern and resolve the wrongs she may have committed before they all can be freed for reincarnation.
"This mesmerizing, completely original story of a willful girl in tradition-bound China during the pre-Mao period will haunt you long after the last page is turned."
Alone, with only these three spirits to help her gain perspective on her brief but eventful life, Leiyin begins to recall her past. In the post-Qing Dynasty, pre-revolutionary China of the early 1920s, she discovers the consequences of defying tradition and the harsh reality of a woman’s life in a tyrannical patriarchal society. At 16, was it her infatuation with a famous ideological poet that led to the rash decisions that ended in her untimely death?
The three souls help Leiyin see in a new light what she believed was an empty and unhappy arranged marriage to the kind but simple man who fathers her beloved daughter. Her tumultuous relationship with her brothers and sister, and the friendships she discarded, are tantalizingly revealed to the reader as Leiyin re-examines her life. It is when she learns the effects her life choices will have on her seven-year-old daughter, who now is in mortal danger, does she realize that she needs to find a way from beyond the grave to right a grievous wrong. Her youthful naiveté has led her down a path of destruction to the ones she most loves. Leiyin must make amends, or she will be consigned to an eternity as a crazed ghost.
Author Janie Chang has adroitly constructed a first novel of love, betrayal, atonement and triumph in a historical setting. In less skilled hands, this complex character might become lost as the story switches from her dialogue with her muses to her insights as she relives her troubled past. This mesmerizing, completely original story of a willful girl in tradition-bound China during the pre-Mao period will haunt you long after the last page is turned.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 7, 2014