Our next book club meeting is on October 26th from 10:30 – 12 at Arden Dimick Library. We are reading The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. Comment in person or on the blog!
Here are the discussion questions from the publisher. I may add more before we meet, but please keep these questions in mind as you read. I also encourage you to form connections between this book and others we’ve read!
1. Perplexed by her father’s absences and worried by finances and marriage negotiations, Li Lan wonders, “What was happening out in the world of men?…Despite the fact that my feet were not bound, I was confined to domestic quarters as though a rope tethered my ankle to our front door.” How does Li Lan chafe against notions of femininity, and in what ways does she rebel?
2. Malacca is a city settled by various ethnic groups over the centuries, with a long colonial history as well. The Chinese in Malaya, like Li Lan’s family, keep their own practices and dress, but don’t follow tradition as rigidly as in China. How does Li Lan benefit from this blending of tradition?
3. After Li Lan gives in to Amah’s superstition and visits a medium at the temple, she observes a Chinese cemetery that has been neglected due to fear of ghosts: “How different it was from the quiet Malay cemeteries, whose pawn-shaped Islamic tombstones are shaded by the frangipani tree, which the Malays call the graveyard flower. Amah would never let me pluck the fragrant, creamy blossoms when I was a child. It seemed to me that in this confluence of cultures, we had acquired one another’s superstitions without necessarily any of their comforts.” What do you think the comforts of superstition are? As Li Lan interacts with the spirit world, does her perspective on superstition change?
4. Why is Li Lan drawn to Tian Bai when they meet? How do her feelings for him change over the course of the novel, and why?
5. The ghost world Li Lan enters is a richly imagined place governed by complicated bureaucracy. How does the parallel city reflect the world of the living, and in what ways is it different?
6. When Li Lan thinks that she has found her mother — “a second wife in the ancestral Lim household” — she is shaken by how horrible she is. How does meeting her real mother, Auntie Three, help Li Lan understand her own family?
7. When Li Lan is a wandering spirit, able to observe from another perspective, what does she realize about herself and her world? Are there positive aspects to her time spent outside her body?
8. Li Lan thinks, “All who have seen ghosts and spirits are marked with a stain, and far more than Old Wong, I have trespassed where no living person ought have.” How has Li Lan’s time spent in the realm of the ghost world — “speaking with the dead, eating spirit offerings, seeing Er Lang’s true identity — changed her? Is it possible for her to go back to normal life?
9. When Er Lang proposes to Li Lan, he warns her, “I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of family.” Were you surprised by Li Lan’s decision at the end of the novel? If you were in her shoes, do you think you would have chosen the same route, with its sacrifices?
10. Did you know anything about traditional Chinese folklore before reading THE GHOST BRIDE? What did you find fascinating or strange about the mythology woven throughout the novel, and the Chinese notions of the afterlife?