As always, my reviews will stay spoiler free, but these buddy read discussions will be riddled with spoilers because there is no filter. Seriously, there’s a lot to talk about for this one. You’ve been warned!
Yay for my second buddy read discussion for the year! I absolutely love these posts because I get to read and talk about books with some of my favorite people in the entire world. This time, I’m talking with Sammie @ The Writerly Way on The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo.
British Rule in Malaysia but Maintaining Chinese Culture
One of the first things that I thought about while listening to this audiobook was how the local Malay people had to deal with British colonization as well as maintaining their Chinese culture. I don’t know much about the history of Malaysia and the British Occupation, but just going based on this novel, it’s easy to see that they had a big influence in the culture during the 1930s. I think about some of the concepts like the dancehall and their concepts of hotels back then (apparently they were more like “love hotels” than regular hotels to stay in when you’re visiting a city or town), it just made me wonder how much of that the Malay people actually had a say in creating or maintaining. Of course, they would have to be the workforce for a lot of these things since the British would feel like it’s beneath them, but did they even want to? Also, I could see that the British would see their myths and superstitions were deemed almost “savage” or “barbaric” for no other reason than they couldn’t explain it.
I feel like if you’ve read other British occupation stories, this mirrors that pretty nicely. I mean, the British basically Britished wherever they went, with reckless abandon. I liked that the book obviously didn’t shy away from the narrative of the inherent caste system between the “native” Malaysians and the British. It was super interesting how the country was considered a place that British go in exile, and so if someone was there, it was natural to wonder what they had been fleeing from back home, as that was the only reason to be there, it seemed. Also, the men left their wives and children at home, because the country wasn’t suited for their delicate dispositions, of course, but it was totally commonplace to take up Malaysian lovers. It’s a narrative I’ve read quite a bit with colonialism, but I’ve never read one set in Malaya, so it was something slightly new for me.
Ji Lin forced to choose an English name when working at the Dancehall
This kind of goes along with the previous topic, but something that I thought of when I was reading it. It also reminds me of how strippers have to choose a different name when they work so that their customers don’t try to take things “in real life” or at least outside of the club. While the dancehall that Ji Lin works in is really just a dancehall, where the girls teach the men how to dance, there are instances of customers doing “callouts” where they will hire some girls to provide entertainment in private homes for gatherings and parties. While Ji Lin doesn’t engage in any other physical activity, it’s not really uncommon for some of the other girls to do so. Ji Lin’s name becomes “Louise” while she works at the dancehall, and I guess it’s a good thing she has a different name because she can tell where she knows someone from based on what name they call her.
It isn’t just for anonymity, though (which is a really good point, and it does serve a great purpose as far as that in this book). This is something that was quite common under colonialism, and it’s still fairly common today. When the British take over, they expect English names. Even though this is historical fiction, there are so many modern examples of this, too. A lot of Chinese children, for example, have English names as well as their Chinese name (which is something also touched on in this book). When people used to enter the US at Ellis Island (like my great-grandfather and hubby’s great-great-grandfather), any names that sounded too foreign were basically given a more English equivalent (which is how a lot of immigrant surnames ended up changed in America). To me, this is yet another subtle reminder the book uses to highlight the colonialism. It’s not okay for her to be Ji Lin in the dancehall, and she isn’t allowed to choose her own alias. It’s just expected that they will bend to the whims of the British, like you do.
The role that superstitions and myths play in society (and some of our favorites)
I don’t remember what they called it when Ren would go into the spirit world – well when he almost died – but I really liked that myth. It really felt like there was a way for him to communicate with the recently dead, although I know the one person he really wanted to talk to was his twin brother, and surprisingly whenever he would dream about him, apparently that was his brother trying to lure him to the Other Side. I don’t know if I really liked that part, but then I have to remember that he died when he was 8 years old, of course he’s going to be lonely without his twin brother. I also kind of liked the idea of a weretiger, because that would have been really cool. There’s always werewolves and stuff, but tigers are so much cooler.
So … ever since I read The Astonishing Color of After, I’ve been obsessed with the 49 days of mourning that a soul has following death to get right with themselves and move on or risk being stuck here. It’s one of my favorite beliefs. But there are so freaking many awesome hints of the supernatural or superstition in this book. There’s even some numerology, which was super interesting to read. I thought the harimau jadian, or the weretiger, was fascinating, because let’s face it, wolves are overrated. Tigers is where it’s at. What I thought was even more interesting, though, was the idea that if a tiger devours too many humans, they can take the form of one and walk among us. Because that is downright terrifying, right? But I love it.
I didn’t like it. I get that human urges happen, and you can’t help who you are attracted to, but just knowing that they grew up together for at least 10 years and knowing that Shin felt that way about Ji Lin since they were teenagers (I don’t remember what age Shin’s father broke his arm) made me feel weird. I remember Ji Lin saying that Shin was always attractive, but it was only in this book that she started feeling attracted towards him. I’m also a little surprised that Shin’s dad was able to pick up on Shin’s feelings back then, and somehow got him to “stop”. Although, if I remember correctly, Shin agreed to stop thinking of Ji Lin that way if his dad “left her alone”. What did that mean? Did that mean that he was going to do something to her as well? That part was never really explained, so that part really freaked me out. I also really, really didn’t like that Shin almost forced himself on Ji Lin when they were staying in that hotel. I’m glad he didn’t rape her – I would have stopped reading – but just the fact that he wouldn’t take no for an answer for a while rather than the first time she said “no” pissed me off. Also, William was a man whore and not in a good way. His sleeping around was the reason why so many people ended up dying – yes, Lydia was the one that actually killed them, but she did it because she felt like William and her were meant to be together. If he had just been straight forward and said no, she wouldn’t have felt like these other women were in the way.
See, I don’t really have a problem with the step-sibling thing, honestly. They’re not related by blood, and by the time they were a family, they were both old enough to have gone through puberty and to be attracted to each other. As a step-sibling myself, sometimes you immediately click with someone and feel just like family, and sometimes … you don’t. And if you don’t, you don’t, regardless of what someone says, so even though you may be friends, you may not feel like siblings. It happens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What I thought was super creepy was the way Shin just sort of took all autonomy out of the relationship by scaring away suitors and deciding that they’re obviously destined to be together. Talk about a creep. BUT STILL … but still … he was the best choice of all the suitors she mentioned. Which is super sad, yet fits with the time period (since it is historical fiction). He allowed her to put the engagement on hold and not only allowed her to pursue her dreams, but encouraged her to do her dreams and supported her pursuits, even when neither of their parents were willing to do the same and were pushing her to get married. So I was so conflicted because he was obviously a super creeper, yet he did clearly care about her and gave her a future she couldn’t have hoped for otherwise and just … yuck, okay? This whole situation was yucky.
The Five Virtues of Confucious (Did the Characters Live Up to their Namesakes?)
Ren was named after benevolence. I feel like Ren matched his namesake. He was extremely kind, and always meant well for everyone that he encountered. He was so young too, and just trying to make a living and not be alone anymore. I’m surprised that he was able to stay this way after everything he had to live through. Ji (Wisdom and pronounced Zhi) didn’t really match as much as I wish she would. I liked that she had wisdom enough to turn down Shin in the hotel and I don’t think they ended up getting married like Shin wanted them to, so I guess that counts for something. I don’t feel like Yi (Ren’s brother) was very righteous at all. He kept wanting Ren to die so that he wouldn’t be alone, although he did protect Ren from dying by William when he shot him, and saved Ji Lin and Shin from death when they were pushed off the roof. I wouldn’t say any of that was “righteous” though. He messed with the cosmic order of things instead of letting things happen the way they were supposed to, even if it ended up saving certain people. Shin (spelled Xin) means fidelity and ugh… I guess he was since he didn’t actually cheat on anyone. I don’t know. I feel kind of eh about him as a whole.
I think I liked this book better than you did, overall. I thought this naming convention was really interesting and a fantastic theme. This is a decent spoiler, so I’m going to say that here: SPOILER, SPOILER. Not too far in, Yi mentions that they’re all named after the virtues, but they’re all broken. And gosh, I just loved the way this played out in the book. Ren was super kind, but was also told that it would inevitably be the death of him, and it almost was and very well could be, so that generosity becomes a negative. Yi is honesty and uprightness, but he’s being dishonest with regards to Ren, and he knows it. But like you mentioned, he’s just eight, so it’s hard to blame him for that. Even though he realizes he’s being selfish and dishonest, he’s acting like an eight-year-old. Zhi is knowledge, but Ji-Lin is pulled out of school and prevented from gaining knowledge, and she’s extremely bitter about that. Xin is faithfulness and integrity, and I think we can all agree that he’s pretty faithful, but he’s not exactly the pinnacle of integrity, now is he? Especially how long he lied to Ji Lin. And then there’s Li … and it’s never confirmed exactly who is supposed to be Li, or if they’re both Li, and I really liked that. But neither of them exhibited propriety, good manners, or politeness, I can tell you that. Well, not more than on the surface, anyway.
The weretiger – Was it real or an easy scapegoat?
I wish it was real. I feel like it made an easy scapegoat to explain why certain things were happening, why people were being killed when they didn’t have a suspect. Maybe if the weretiger was real, I think that would have been way cooler to meet it and see what’s going on in its mind.
I want it to be real, toooo. Death is such a drag. If I have to be dead, I’d like to think I could come back as a ghost weretiger, please and thank you. I loved how a lot of the supernatural is never really confirmed or denied. It gave a really creepy atmosphere that made you consider whether it was superstition or supernatural and you have to decide for yourself if you believe it’s real or not. *insert Twilight Zone music here*
Ugh I absolutely loved this discussion with Sammie! I love talking with her through our blog comments and I’m glad I found her on both Twitter and Goodreads so we could plan this out! Stay tuned for her review coming up in the near future! I also love that we were able to bring different thoughts and experiences to this novel. This is why I love doing buddy read discussion posts. These are my absolute favorite types of posts whenever I get a chance to do them.
After reading both of our thoughts, what do you think about The Night Tiger? What about those that have already read the book? What are your thoughts on the topics that we talked about? I’d love to hear what you think!