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Three Souls by Janie Chang

Three Souls

by Janie Chang

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1402685,666 (4.22)12
  1. 00
    The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Both are historical fiction mixed with fantasy set in East Asia.
  2. 00
    Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: For more about Chinese society during the rise of communism, read the acclaimed memoir Wild Swans.

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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This was a lovely book - I loved the primary character and enjoyed seeing her come of age against the backdrop of 1930s China. She was a rebel during a time that that was not tolerated in young women of her class and her issues and challenges, from an unrequited love to an arranged marriage that contradicted everything she'd dreamed of made her fully come to life on the page. The story had many unforseen twists that made it an intriguing read, and the author's use of life review with 3 souls worked well and added a creative touch. I read the book in 3 sittings and enjoyed it a lot. ( )
  njinthesun | May 13, 2017 |
I couldn't put this book down even for a second until I finished it, and even afterwards I went over it again. That's how good it is.

Three Souls is set in 1935 China, but flashes back to the 1920s when the main character, Song Leiyin, is an educated yet naive young woman from a wealthy and traditional family. Leiyin discovers that not only is she dead, but she can't remember what led to her death and subsequent retention in between life and afterlife. She's not alone. She also has her three souls stuck with her, for better or worse: the yang soul which is strict and judgmental, what you'd probably call an "old fart"; the yin soul which exudes youth, optimism, and playfulness; and the obscured hun soul which is like an ethereal voice of reason. Leiyin's ghost knows that she has a daughter but requires assistance from her souls to recover and sift through the rest of the story in order to find out what went wrong. This is all necessary because Leiyin must make amends for her Earthly sins in order for her and her souls to move on.

Some of the themes incorporated into this book are those of: family, first loves, conformity and rebellion, afterlife, oppression of women, civil war, disillusionment, class warfare, suppression of desires, motherhood, social mobility, betrayal, redemption. It's all done masterfully.

The story within Three Souls flows beautifully. I think the way it is told is perfect because the reader is discovering things just as soon as the protagonist is. Her souls provide commentary and advice, kind of like a chorus in a Greek drama except individualized and distinct with their own quirks. There was never a time when I felt the author was injecting filler material into the story and I was never bored, which is rare for me.

Leiyin's wistful character is well developed and you get a real sense of how her personality came to be. Her attempt to break away from social constraints, both for the right reasons and the wrong ones, is moving. Other characters we get a sense of by looking through Leiyin's eyes as a reckless young girl, a resigned wife/protective mother, and then a reflective ghost. Given the opportunity to look into her past, Leiyin's ghost-self develops even more through reconciling with her past actions.

The story and characters felt real, probably because Chinese history as well as Chang's familial history influenced them. Chang based Leiyin as well as other characters, like Yen Hanchin and Lee Baizhen, on her actual ancestors' stories, which are equally as fascinating. If, when you finish reading this book, you suffer from withdrawal like I did, Janie Chang's website (self-named) has other short stories about her family's history as well.

Excellent debut, HIGHLY recommended. I'd give it 6 stars if I could. ( )
  cosiari | Jul 3, 2016 |
I quite enjoyed this novel. It wasn't your typical ghost story, but it wasn't your typical historical fiction either. It was a very good mix of both.

The characters were all intriguing and the little bits of background given about the side characters made you that much more involved in the story.

The locations were richly described without bogging down the story and I genuinely felt for Leiyin even when her actions were a bit stubborn.

Definitely pick this novel up! ( )
  keyboardscoffee | May 30, 2016 |
A fascinating tale that describes the brief life of a young woman named Leiyin and what led to her early demise. It is a story that is drenched with colorful descriptions of the afterlife, which are based on the rich history of the Chinese culture. Amazing details are given to background scenes as each character in the book seems almost lifelike. The souls of Leiyin are introduced and an amazing introduction to the spiritual side of old China seems to emerge. As the story progresses Leiyin is forced to face her past involvement with a scandalous criminal, who happens to be involved with the communist movement. Against all odds and embarrassment, Leiyin must overcome her pride and discover why her spirit is unable to cross over to the other side. Something has tethered her soul to the land of the living and her three souls are slowly being driven insane. Desperate to save those she loves and her sanity, she realizes that the only way to move up is by righting all of her wrongs, but how can she possibly do that?

This book was a wonderful read and I truly enjoyed it. I have not come across a book like this before and found it to be truly unique. I found the concept of the three souls tethered to one person fascinating and wondered if it were true. At times the characters seem to come to life on their own. I found myself wanting to pummel Leiyin’s brother and throw something at Leiyin for being so naïve. I enjoyed the plot behind the story and thought it flowed well. I was not disappointed and am looking forward to the next book written by the author. I highly recommend this book to anyone and especially to someone who is looking for something new to read. ( )
  Jennifer35k | Mar 16, 2015 |
historically and politically compelling, this is a very good debut novel. set during the 1920s and 30s in revolutionary china, chang weaves the threads of family life, domestic routines, and cultural traditions with political and military upheavals as the communist party evolved, challenging nationalist rule. power, position, connections and sons were important in securing a family's legacies and successes. this is very much a patriarchal world. women were just getting away from the custom of foot binding, but their roles were very much relegated to obedience as a daughter, then as a wife and daughter-in-law - though they wielded some power in running their homes. marriages were still arranged, not based on love, but on what the families' names could do for one another. educating girls was okay... to a point. women's dreams were set aside for duty. it was difficult to be a smart young woman during this time in china. and if a young woman thought she was in love, well, this can complicate life ever further. chang conveys all of this so well.

on the very fist page of the novel, we are told leiyin has died. (this is not a spoiler - it's right in the book's description, so i am giving nothing away here.) she is stuck with her three souls (yang soul, yin soul, and hun soul - though chang has taken creative liberties here), unable to move forward to afterlife and reincarnation until she recognizes the reasons for her detention in this place, and somehow figures out a way to atone for her sins. this spiritual dilemma anchors the novel. and while i found it very interesting, i didn't find the interactions with the souls to be particularly strong. chang does connect, abstractly, the role of each of the souls (stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun), but because she has taken liberties, i would have liked a bit more... grounding, i suppose (which i realize seems a ridiculous thing to want from three entities not of this world). perhaps context is a better word? the three souls just didn't feel fully realized to me. i also had a bit of an issue with the ending - it was fine, but it felt a bit rushed. but these two criticisms aren't huge.

i very much enjoyed this novel and read through it so quickly because i needed to know what was going to happen next. i think people will make comparisons to Lisa See - i certainly thought back to some of her novels, which i've enjoyed (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love). if you are a fan of see's, i think you will like janie chang's novel. both authors bring to life vivid worlds and dynamic times, and with both writers i have felt engrossed in their stories.

aside: i was quite interested in the early and repeated mentions of Anna Karenina in changes novel. clearly it must be a beloved work for the author. the fact that bookishness was a part of the story was a bit of a bonus that i quite enjoyed. characters excited and motivated by books, reading, writing and learning - well, i could genuinely feel the enthusiasms in these moments.

for reference: an interview chang did for the international festival of authors (toronto). ( )
  Booktrovert | Mar 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Revolutionary and domestic politics collide in this tale of a woman’s ghost attempting to understand her life decisions and make amends for her transgressions.

Set against the Chinese civil war, Chang’s debut novel explores the frustrations of intelligent women valued only for beauty and obedience.
added by Nickelini | editKirkus Reviews (Feb 25, 2014)
Three Souls, the debut novel by Vancouver’s Janie Chang, will inevitably draw comparison to the work of Amy Tan and Lisa See. Each author explores the fates of fictional Chinese women against period backdrops, delving into the strictures of time and tradition, but cursory parallels distract from their respective merits as storytellers.
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"In the tradition of Lisa See and Amy Tan, Three Souls is a captivating debut novel about a young woman who must make amends on earth to earn her entry into the afterlife"--

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