A forbidden love, a mystery shrouded in superstition and myth, a clash of cultures and generations – all of these elements and more make up The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, recreating the long-gone world of colonial Malaysia shortly before World War II.
Several main characters are at the center of the book. There is Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker who moonlights as a dance-hall girl to earn extra money to pay off her Mother’s mah-jongg debts. Ji Lin wants more from life than to become a wife, but her stepfather has denied her request to further her education. Instead, her step-brother (by marriage) Shin, who she has fallen in love with but believes he will never feel the same, is the one sent to medical school.
Then there is Ren who once worked as a houseboy for an elderly English doctor. Before the doctor dies, he asks Ren to find his missing finger which had been amputated years ago; the doctor believes the local superstition that if missing parts of a body are not returned and buried within 49 days, the soul will be doomed to wander forever.
And then there is William Acton, the doctor that Ren now works for (and that Ren believes has the missing finger). Acton has secrets of his own including why he has been banished from his wealthy family estate in England.
The Night Tiger is part romance, part murder mystery, part coming-of-age. These different story lines slowly begin to intersect until the book comes to an explosive finish. The descriptions in the book are vivid from describing the ordinary – the fragrant, delicious food, to the overwhelming – the lush tropical jungle, to the mystical – the countless superstitions and myths from the meanings of numbers to the many stories about tigers and men who turn into tigers. You’ll fall a little bit in love with the characters, especially Ren and Ji Lin and this long gone world of colonial Malaysia. All of this adds up to a colorful and fascinating novel. Highly recommended.