Summary and book reviews of The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

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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  • Published:
    Feb 2019, 384 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A sweeping historical novel about a dance-hall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers, set in 1930s Malaysia.

Quick-witted, ambitious Ji Lin is stuck as an apprentice dressmaker, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to help pay off her mother's Mahjong debts. But when one of her dance partners accidentally leaves behind a gruesome souvenir, Ji Lin may finally get the adventure she has been longing for.

Eleven-year-old houseboy Ren is also on a mission, racing to fulfill his former master's dying wish: that Ren find the man's finger, lost years ago in an accident, and bury it with his body. Ren has 49 days to do so, or his master's soul will wander the earth forever.

As the days tick relentlessly by, a series of unexplained deaths wracks the district, along with whispers of men who turn into tigers. Ji Lin and Ren's increasingly dangerous paths crisscross through lush plantations, hospital storage rooms, and ghostly dreamscapes.

Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger pulls us into a world of servants and masters, age-old superstition and modern idealism, sibling rivalry and forbidden love. But anchoring this dazzling, propulsive novel is the intimate coming of age of a child and a young woman, each searching for their place in a society that would rather they stay invisible.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel's title evokes the story of the weretiger, "a beast who, when he chooses, puts on a human skin and comes from the jungle into the village to prey on humans." What is the significance of that Malayan folktale in the novel? What does it represent for the different characters?
  2. Discuss the structure of the novel, alternating between Ren's and Ji Lin's perspectives. How do their narrative styles and worldviews compare? Do you prefer one to the other? How would the novel have been different had it only been from one perspective?
  3. Discuss Ren's relationship with Dr.MacFarlane. Does Ren's desire to bring the finger to his former master's grave come from a place of love or fear? How is Ren's life shaped by the masters for whom he works,...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A tale of love, loyalty, food and perhaps even weretigers gives insight into Malay/Chinese traditions and folk legends (Gail B). I love a novel that pulls me into an unfamiliar time period, geographical area and/or culture. This one did all of that! (Kathryn F). The writing is beautiful, the story line multi-layered, and the main characters are richly developed (Carole P).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (652 words).

Media Reviews

Nancy Pearl, NPR’s Morning Edition
This is the kind of book that when you read it, you really are transported back to that time and place… [Choo has] captured, in a very atmospheric way, the time period and the superstitions [of colonial Malaysia in the 1930s]. It’s a pretty wonderful book.

PopSugar
Fans of Isabel Allende will likely soar through Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger at a breakneck pace, so you might want to clear your schedule before sitting down to read it.

Publishers Weekly
Starred and Boxed Review. Mythical creatures, conversations with the dead, lucky numbers, Confucian virtues, and forbidden love provide the backdrop to Choo’s superb murder mystery. Mining the rich setting of colonial Malaysia, Choo wonderfully combines a Holmes-esque plot with Chinese lore.

Booklist
Starred Review. A work of incredible beauty...Astoundingly captivating and striking in its portrayal of love, betrayal, and death, The Night Tiger is a transcendent story of courage and connection.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A sumptuous garden maze of a novel that immerses readers in a complex, vanished world…Choo weaves her research in with a feather-light touch, and readers will be so caught up in the natural and supernatural intrigue that the serious themes here about colonialism and power dynamics, about gender and class, are absorbed with equal delicacy.

Reader Reviews

Leia C. (Jacksonville, FL)

For fans of magical realism
I did not expect to be so entranced by this book. The variety of characters and the exotic setting, 1930's Malaya, was a positive aspect for me. Books that draw me in to an unknown time and place are high on my list for readability. The young ...   Read More

Carole P. (Framingham, MA)

The Night Tiger
Even though I have finished the book, I find myself picking it up again and again. The writing is beautiful, the story line multi-layered , the main characters are richly developed. Each time I reread a section I find a new discovery. I initially ...   Read More

Judith S. (Binghamton, NY)

Enchanting
Yangsze Choo tells an enchanting story in The Night Tiger. Her writing is skillful, lyrical and exciting which is quite a feat. The reader sees, tastes, smells and feels Malaysia of the 1930's in a truly wonderful and entertaining way. There is a ...   Read More

Alissa C. (Woodstown, NJ)

Such an interesting and different book
I want to begin by saying how much I enjoyed this novel! It surprised me just how much I liked it, because I don't typically read supernatural books. But this was so well-written, with such engaging characters and interesting twists, that I couldn't ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Five Confucian Virtues

Painting of Chinese philosopher ConfuciusIn Yangsze Choo's The Night Tiger, the two main characters, Ji and Ren, are named for two of the five virtues that make up the ethical system of Confucianism. Confucianism is a spiritual/philosophical tradition born out of the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius (who is believed to have lived circa 551-479 BCE), and it has been profoundly influential on the cultures of many Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea. The five virtues come from the Confucian texts known as The Analects and The Book of Mencius (both originally published circa 475-221 BCE). They have been an integral part of the Chinese ethos for millennia, and continue to serve as moral guidelines in contemporary life.

The first of these virtues is ...

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