Since I discovered the genre of "Asian literature" (i.e. melodic literature romanticizing Asian culture and civilisation through the use of a fictional plot by an Asian-born writer, in my opinion heh heh), I have made it my goal to read all popular books that fall in this category.
So far, I've read The Harmony Silk Factory and Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw, Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (final two reviews pending). All of these books have been shortlisted or longlisted for more than one prestigious, international book award.
The main similarity between these books is that each author, having been born and raised in Malaysia (or Malaya) have inculcated a love for the poetic life in Malaysia during the pre-war or pre-Independence period.
Some critics say that there is more than enough of these rose-glassed historical fiction that paints a too-beautiful picture of Malaysia to readers around the world, and that if you've read one of them, you've read them all (!). I think these critics fear that the charm of the setting provides an unfair advantage for the stories to bloom, but I'm not sure where I read this from, so I cannot vouch for the validity. Nevertheless, this is an interesting point to ponder on, the next time you find yourself falling in love with a story set like this.
(Side note: I recommend any of the books I listed out to everyone who likes to read. Some parts of it are historically accurate, so it may even help you paint a clearer picture when you're studying Sejarah)
Last week, I finished reading The Ghost Bride by first time novelist Yangsze Choo. Like many others, she was Malaysian born also, now based in the U.S. Many of these writers find fame outside of Malaysia and set up base outside of Malaysia. This is a feat I take pride in because I take a very long time to read a book, considering that work and commuting rarely takes less than 12 hours a day.
I've been wanting to read The Ghost Bride since I read of its debut and review last year, so when I saw it at the Times book sale, I bought it quickly.
The story's introduction is mellow, with uncommonly used words scattered throughout. These words were so unusual to me that it distracted me from reading as quickly as I could, because I had to pause and think of the possible synonyms for it. I had a tough time pinpointing the exact date of the story, but if I could guess, maybe the early or mid 1900s.
When the spirit realm in the book was revealed, and our protagonist entered it, I couldn't gel with it at all. I think I read it with the expectation that it would not go this way, so when it did, I had a tough time grasping or understanding why. In fact, most of the time reading it, I was silently questioning the protagonist "Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that!".
To the end of the book, I deduced that it was a Twilight, lightly veiled as a historical fiction. I'm sorry, but despite her fierce independence, I did not and could not take a liking to Li Lan and her selfish (mis)adventures in the spirit world. It was tough enough that very few girls in that day and time had no jobs to purposefully work at, but she didn't even like the womanly stuff that was due her - like craftsmanship and homemaking.
Her romance with both characters (Tian Bai and Er Lang) was so flip flop, it felt like a Team Edward/Team Jacob thing going on. At times, I couldn't even decide if the author wanted Er Lang to be a good guy or a bad guy, but I guess that was the point - to make you decide yourself if you wanted him to be a good or bad guy. And to me, the person she ended up with had no chemistry with her whatsoever. It was merely a culmination of infatuation and short meet-ups. I was even reminded of Spirited Away at some points of their budding relationship.
I found myself expecting the cowardly ending that Li Lan explained. To me, that would have been selfless of her - sacrificing her own needs for the good of her family. So when she did otherwise, I relegated her to "just another Bella".
No regrets reading this though, at least I found out what the story is about!