In The Night Tiger, Ms. Choo intertwines dreams, folklore, mystical creatures and in-between places with physical-world events in the lives of five vivid and compelling characters. Every answer leads to a new question. You feel the connections but you can’t guess where it all ends. She immerses you in 1930s multi-cultural Malaya without the story being about multi-culturalism—there’s no time to dwell on it. Too much is uncertain. Along the way, Ms. Choo blends the concrete and surreal with such finesse that you never doubt the truth of it.
Readers of Long Ago and Far Away stories will love the whirlwind journey through dance halls, rubber plantations, jungles and train rides, dark shophouses, hospital wards and English tea in a colonial bungalow. Ms. Choo effortlessly infuses her complex tale with rich texture and detail.
It’s been ages since I found a novel I couldn’t put down. For the first third of The Night Tiger, I kept trying to figure everything out. I finally relaxed and went along for the ride—and what a ride!
This book is highly recommended for lovers of Long Ago and Far Away!
Some Random Observations (Caution Minor Spoilers):
- Ms. Choo builds the narrative around three point of view characters. (Two additional key players are not given a point of view). Ms. Choo uses 1st person past tense for Ji Lin, the main character and 3rd person present for Ren, the Chinese houseboy and his new master, William Acton, an English surgeon. Although somewhat jolting the first time the tense changed, I think it did help separate the characters once the pattern was set
- Each character left me with their own thematic impression.
- For Ji Lin – self-determination. She struggles against her culture’s assumptions about women, work and marriage.
- Ren’s loyalty to his prior master drives much of the plot. That loyalty transfers to his new master and plays into the hand of Fate.
- William’s character, though surprisingly sympathetic despite his obvious flaws, finally succumbs to ironic Karma.
- As part of the setting’s immediacy, Ms. Choo sprinkles the text with snippets of Malaysian language. Since I can still read it, it made me giddy and kind of smug—as if I could be deeper attuned to the story than the average reader. I couldn’t possibly know whether it contributes or distracts for other readers—but she does clarify the meaning each time.
- I won’t spoil the ending for you—but it felt a bit rushed. I would like to have seen a little more resistance from Shin in response to Ji Lin’s final decision. That decision felt right but I would like there to have been more conflict in their resolution.
In summary, I am thoroughly enchanted. I can’t wait to double back and read her first novel The Ghost Bride.
You can find summaries and reviews of The Night Tiger here and here.