Three Souls by Janie Chang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Description: An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love
We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this ...
So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the
ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from
above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside
her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin;
and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must,
they tell her, make amends.
As Leiyin delves back in time with
the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged
teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires
while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party,
she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and
instantly falls in love with him.
When Leiyin defies her father
to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over
her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted
marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she
discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife,
Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she
Suffused with history and literature, Three Souls is an
epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are
willing to pay for freedom.
My thoughts: Just in case you miss the description, the protagonist dies. Bummer way to start a book yet it certainly works. Leiyin can't move on in the afterlife until she resolves some unfinished business. What is the unfinished business? Her three souls, yin, yang and hun take her on the journey to reconstruct the events leading to her young death and the part she plays in others' lives.
The story is strong, the voice of Leiyin, consistent and well developed. I'm typically not as interested as Eastern history as European yet Leiyin's story leads me to a greater understanding of this time period which is crucial to the story.
The time is late 1920's to mid 1930's. China is on the cusp of political and social change. Nationalism and Communism are vying for the forefront. Western culture is peppering the traditional Chinese culture. Leiyin meets a young revolutionary, Hanchin, who inspire her and her decisions are based on her imaginations. She belongs to a generation split between tradition and modern Westernized thinking and Communism. It is fascinating to watch how Leiyin's life plays out with all of these forces, including her own free will.
The story is slightly reminiscent of the film "Raise the Red Lantern" in that in most instances, women are property and only esteemed by giving birth to a son. Even knowing the protagonist dies, there is a civil war being fought, and Japan is within a decade of invading, the book is not as dark and foreboding as the film mentioned. The story is filled with much more hope and interspersed with characters with strong and good hearts.
If not reading for the historical aspect, it's still a great story all on its own with a few surprises that leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope.