I’m a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon, as an actress, a person, and a book advocate. So when one of her book club picks became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to review. Granted, I’m a year behind (The Night Tiger was her April 2019 choice) but good books are worth the wait. And this one definitely ticks the good book box.
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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Ren is a young house boy, serving a foreign doctor after the death of his previous master. But he has been sent on a mission to find his old master’s severed thumb, so it can be reunited with his body. Without it, his soul cannot rest.
Ji Lin works as a dressmaker’s apprentice, moonlighting as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s Mahjong debts. She dreams of becoming a doctor but stepfather forbids it. After a dance with a strange man, she finds herself in possession of what appears to be a withered thumb.
In the meantime, a tiger is roaming the village. People are mysteriously dying. Could the stories be true, about men who turn into tigers and haunt the living?
Time is running out for Ren. He fears he knows who the tiger is. And it’s up to him to make it stop. His frantic journey and Ji Lin’s misfortune eventually lead them to each other, revealing a destined connection that neither could have anticipated.
“That’s where the were tigers live, the harriman radian who change their shapes. Some people say that they’re beasts possessed by the souls of dead people.”
A historical tale seeped in superstition
When books incorporate fate or superstition into a story, it can make it feel too coincidental and unrealistic. However, the superstitions explored in The Night Tiger were each grounded in recurring incidents, which made them feel impossibly real. It was an authentic insight into Chinese folklore and cultural beliefs. Here are just some that are mentioned:
- When a person dies, their body must be buried whole – anything added needs to be removed and anything missing must be replaced within 49 days of death. Otherwise, the soul cannot rest peacefully.
- Natives believe in weretigers (the opposite of a werewolf) where the beast can take the form of a man and prey on humans in the village.
- A pontianak is a beautiful female spirit who has died during pregnancy or in childbirth. She roams around at night, angry and drinking men’s blood.
- The five Confucian Virtues stand for knowledge, benevolence, righteousness, order, and integrity. Many people (like Ji Lin and Ren) are named after the virtues. To possess all five qualities makes the perfect man.
“In Cantonese, two was a good number because it made a pair. Three was also good because it was a homophone for sang, or life. Four, of course, was bad because it sounded like death. Five was good again because it made a complete set, not just of the Confucian Virtues, but also for the elements of wood, fire, water, metal, and earth.”
Character development with a dash of romance
One thing I loved about this book was the characters. Connections were slowly developed and fate intervened to bring them together. The budding romance didn’t feel essential to the story, but it represented the characters ‘coming of age’ and also tied in with one of the Chinese tales (not mentioned so as not to spoil). This gave it a reason and I’m ok with that (I really hate when books add romance just for the sake of it).
This did fall short as a five star because there were a bunch of unanswered questions at the end. However, most of these I’m happy to speculate in my head, it’s more a case of I would have liked to know more. I’m definitely going to be Googling some of these superstitions though!
As a final note, I’ll just say that if you pick this book up, I recommend going in blind. Don’t get too wrapped up in the summary (which sounds a little crazy, let’s be honest); instead, let the words transport you straight into the story and everyone will start to make sense (I promise).
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 496 (paperback)
About the author: Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. Her first novel, The Ghost Bride was released in 2013 and is now a Netflix Original series. The Night Tiger is her second novel and featured as a pick in Reese Witherspoon’s ‘Hello Sunshine’ Book Club and Amazon’s Spotlight.