Aug 18 2015

Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho

I was initially resistant towards reading this book. If it was bad, I would feel a certain kind of “malu,” the nearly indescribable shade of embarrassment Malaysians feel when one of their own commits a faux pas, akin but not quite the same as the East Asian concept of losing “face.” And if it was good, I would just writhe with jealousy, because this is the kind of thing I’m supposed to be doing but keep finding excuses not to.

But of the two, I’d rather the latter, especially when the writing is as thoughtful and witty as Zen Cho’s. Her short stories transported me back to living in Malaysia, with its rich and unique assortment of supernatural beings. That said, it wasn’t a short story regarding a phenomenon unique to Malaysia that truly gripped me, but The Fish Bowl, the most affecting short story I’ve read in a long time. Su Yin’s pain, and the lengths she’d go to in order to preserve her careful facade, made me hurt for her. The only unsuccessful story in the collection, I felt, was The Earth Spirit’s Favorite Anecdote, which read like not great fanfic ahem.

One thing that bothered me about this collection was the need the author felt to add trigger warnings to her stories. I think it’s considerate of her, but this is a book of supernatural short stories, ffs. Any reader going into this without being prepared for disturbing imagery needs to maaaaybe not read books for grownups.

Anyway, loved this collection, tho some stories were definitely better than others. I wonder how it would read to someone unfamiliar with Malaysia, whether it would have the same resonance. Hmm, maybe I should press it one of the other women in my Ingress book club and find out.

And another after-effect of the book? It’s inspiring me, ever so slightly, to write more, tho at present, I’m still just germinating ideas in my brain. Maybe when the kids are in school :P.

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