Excerpt from Ghost Month by Ed Lin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ghost Month

by Ed Lin

Ghost Month by Ed Lin X
Ghost Month by Ed Lin
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 336 pages
    Jun 2015, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Linda Hitchcock
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Print Excerpt

Ghost Month

When I found out the girl I was going to marry had been murdered, I was sitting on a foldout stool at a sidewalk noodle shop in Taipei's Da'an District. My mouth went dry, my eyes blurred and I couldn't stop shaking. It was the hottest day in July, and the island's humidity was draped over me like a mourning veil, yet my body went cold and sweaty. Even my skin was crying.

I was somehow able to hold the newspaper still in my hands while reading and rereading the entire story of Julia Huang. It was only three paragraphs long. She had been shot in the head. She hadn't been wearing much. She had been working at an unlicensed betel-nut stand in Hsinchu City, an hour outside of Taipei. The surveillance camera—Taiwan's top crime-fighting tool—had malfunctioned, and no footage of the crime had been recorded.

I sighed and slumped over. I wished it hadn't been my Julia. I wished it had been almost anybody else. I thought about some of our old classmates I didn't care for. Why not one of them? But it was definitely my Julia. I touched the three Chinese characters of her name as I read them. Her name, Huang Zheng-lian, meant "positive light." Everything she did I'd always seen in a positive light.

I hadn't seen her in seven years, when I had left for UCLA and she for NYU. I hadn't even known she was here in Taipei.

The two of us had grown up together, Jing-nan and Zhenglian, who became Johnny and Julia, two Taiwanese sweethearts with the same American dream. Our families had been friends for at least three generations, so it had been predestined that we would be close. As soon as Julia and I could talk, we talked to each other. We went to the same school and the same cheap cram schools and worked at our respective family night-market stalls, which changed locations over the years but were always near each other.

We did everything together. Everything. We knew we were in love by third grade. We knew we were going to get married by the fifth.

NEXT DOOR TO THE NOODLE SHOP where I sat with my paper, in a store that sold altars, gods and goods for the next world, a man set up burning incense sticks at the feet of several deities. He brought a folding table out to the sidewalk, and I watched him set up offerings for human spirits: a three-layer pyramid of oranges, a bulk pack of instant noodles, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, a six-pack of Sprite and boxes of cookies and crackers. He slid a plastic bucket of water and a small towel underneath the table, so the ghosts could wash up before and after eating. He lit up incense for the table and sneezed hard twice. Finally, he touched his lighter to a sheaf of paper and dropped it in a metal bucket to the right of the table. Black smoke from the burning money for the dead snaked toward me.

A motorcycle-repair shop on the north side of the noodle shop simultaneously set up its offerings table. Judging by the outsized table and offerings, the owner was either less lucky or more fearful than the guy who ran the gods store. Incense smoke as thick as a movie special effect streamed out of a censer on his table.

The makeshift offering tables were meant to appease not only the spirits of one's ancestors, but also those of people who died with no heirs. Supposedly if no one was around to pray for you and offer money and food throughout the year, you really suffered in the afterlife. You might be pierced with hooks, hung upside down and set on fire, depending on what your specific beliefs were. After eleven months of pain and hunger, these ghosts were looking to take out their wrath upon anybody alive.

I looked over at the gods next door and choked on the spiced air.

THIS MORNING, EACH OF the seven twenty-four-hour news channels had been going off on the betel-nut girl who was shot and killed, replaying computer-animated reenactments of the crime. If the surveillance-camera footage had been available, that would have been played in endless loops, too.

Excerpted from Ghost Month by Ed Lin. Copyright © 2014 by Ed Lin. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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