Excerpt from The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Night Tiger

A Novel

by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo X
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2020, 400 pages

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1

Kamunting, Malaya, May 1931

The old man is dying. Ren can see it in the shallow breaths, the sunken face, and the skin stretched thinly over his cheekbones. Yet he wants the shutters open. Irritably, he beckons the boy over, and Ren, his throat tight as though he's swallowed a stone, throws open the second-story window.

Outside is a brilliant sea of green: the waving tops of jungle trees and a blue sky like a fever dream. The tropical glare makes Ren flinch. He moves to shield his master with his shadow, but the old man stops him with a gesture. Sunlight emphasizes the tremor of his hand with its ugly stump of a missing finger. Ren remembers how just a few months ago that hand could still calm babies and suture wounds.

The old man opens his watery blue eyes, those colorless foreign eyes that had frightened Ren so much in the beginning, and whispers something. The boy bends his cropped head closer.

"Remember."

The boy nods.

"Say it." The hoarse rasp is fading.

"When you are dead, I will find your missing finger," Ren replies in a clear, small voice.

"And?"

He hesitates. "And bury it in your grave."

"Good." The old man draws a rattling breath. "You must get it back before the forty-nine days of my soul are over."

The boy has done many such tasks before, quickly and competently. He'll manage, even as his narrow shoulders convulse.

"Don't cry, Ren."

At times like this the boy looks far younger than his years. The old man is sorry—he wishes he could do it himself, but he's exhausted. Instead, he turns his face to the wall.

2

Ipoh, Malaya

Wednesday, June 3rd


Forty-four is an unlucky number for Chinese. It sounds like "die, definitely die," and as a result, the number four and all its iterations are to be avoided. On that ill-fated day in June, I'd been working at my secret part-time job at the May Flower Dance Hall in Ipoh for exactly forty-four days.

My job was a secret because no respectable girl should be dancing with strangers, despite our services being advertised as "instructors." As perhaps we were for most of our customers: nervous clerks and schoolboys who bought rolls of tickets to learn to foxtrot and waltz or do the ronggeng, that charming Malay dance. The rest were buaya, or crocodiles, as we called them. Toothy smilers whose wandering hands were only deterred by a sharp pinch.

I was never going to make much money if I kept slapping them off like this, but I hoped I wouldn't need to for long. It was to pay a debt of forty Malayan dollars that my mother had incurred at a ruinously high interest rate. My real day job as a dressmaker's apprentice wasn't enough to repay the money, and my poor foolish mother couldn't possibly come up with it by herself; she'd no luck at gambling.

If she'd only left statistics to me, things might have turned out better as I'm generally good at numbers. I say this, but without much pride. It's a skill that hasn't been very useful to me. If I were a boy, it would be a different matter, but my delight in working out probabilities when I was seven years old was of no help to my mother, who'd just been widowed at the time. In the sad vacuum of my father's passing, I spent hours penciling numbers on scraps of paper. They were sensible and orderly, unlike the chaos our household had descended into. Despite that, my mother kept her sweet vague smile, the one that made her look like the Goddess of Mercy, though she was probably worrying what we'd eat for dinner. I loved her fiercely, though more about that later.

The first thing the dance-hall Mama told me to do, when I was hired, was to cut my hair. I'd spent years growing it out, after teasing from my stepbrother Shin about how I looked like a boy. Those two long braids, neatly tied with ribbons just as they'd been all the years I'd attended the Anglo-Chinese Girls' School, were a sweet symbol of femininity. I believed they covered up a multitude of sins, including the unladylike ability to calculate interest rates on the fly.

Excerpted from The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. Copyright © 2019 by Yangsze Choo. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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