Title: Three Souls
Author: Janie Chang
Source: from publisher for TLC book tour
Review Summary: This was a beautiful, thoughtful book with a creative, new to me mythology and a vibrant setting.
Despite being a ghost, Leiyin has a lot to accomplish. To learn why she hasn’t moved on to the afterlife, she has to relive her memories of a life she’s forgotten in death. Along the way, her three souls (valuing duty, love, and wisdom) will help her achieve understanding. As she learns when she relives her life, a selfish decision made in the pursuit of romance led to her punishment with a hastily arranged marriage. These events started her on the path towards her death. However, she left behind a daughter she loved dearly and who she’s willing to protect at any cost – even if that means being stuck in limbo forever. (I’m not sure my description did this wonderful, complex book justice, so you might also check out the goodreads description. )
Not only is this book set in China, it’s set in the 1920’s and 1930’s, a time period during which I know next to nothing about China. As a result, I particularly enjoyed discovering the incredible events shaking Chinese society during this time period. The author did a spectacular job bringing the culture, the society, and the political atmosphere to life. The relationship of personal events to political ones gave the bigger issues a face and made them all the more affecting. The mythology the author created sounded vaguely familiar, but was almost completely new to me. From the reader’s guide, it sounds as though this is indeed a new take on an old mythology and I loved the author’s version.
The way the author chose to tell the story was also unique. The first half of the book is spent learning about Leiyin’s life. Her ghostly commentary truly added to the story, making her younger and sometimes more foolish self sympathetic through her ghostly self’s explanations. The souls’ different perspectives on her actions encouraged the reader to think about all sides of every issue. One of the few things I didn’t like about the book were a few decisions she made which even her ghost’s explanation couldn’t make me sympathize with. I especially disliked that these choices led to a sudden and rather pointless end to her life. The ending to the book was similarly abrupt. I did, however, love the parallels of her life to Anna Karenina and the author’s references to that book. I always enjoy literary references to books I love! At the end, I appreciated that Leiyin was able to influence events, despite being a ghost. I dislike characters who lack agency, but that wasn’t a concern here. Despite the abrupt endings, I found this a beautiful and thought-provoking read. Perfect for book clubs.