Complex, ambitious ... In less capable hands, this could feel gimmicky. But Choo pulls it off brilliantly, never once slipping into territory that feels silly or coincidental ... The magic of The Night Tiger, then, is not in where or what or even who. It is in the why ... Choo builds characters that are rich and nuanced, with fully imagined backstories that are revealed slowly as the story builds ... a fine example of historical fiction, a work of magical realism, a ghost story, a mystery, a romance, a coming-of-age tale. Each of these is impressive, but most impressive is Choo's ability to weave them all together in a way that feels authentic, and to use that intricate process to tell a story of colonialism and self-determination, love and death, family and tradition.
The Night Tiger is a galloping good read that’s blessedly free of political polemics and post-colonial self-righteousness. Instead, what author Yangsze Choo has given readers is a darn good yarn ... To her credit, Choo manages to intertwine...plots and subplots with themes of superstition, Confucianism, and the desire for personal fulfillment versus the tug of familial loyalty. Altogether, a bravura performance ... Choo’s skill in creating a dynamic, vibrant, non-Western cosmos rivals that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half of a Yellow Sun ... Ren’s porous sense of reality (and Choo’s smart use of the present tense) gives his passages a propulsive vitality that grips the reader’s attention. Ren doesn’t know what is going to happen next, and neither does the reader. Conversely, Ji Lin relates her story in the past tense, but neither she nor the reader benefits from hindsight. But perhaps this is just as well. Any probing self-analysis might have resulted in a more plodding novel, one that wouldn’t have been half as entertaining. As it is, readers may not be moved by The Night Tiger. But they certainly will be grabbed.
Choo... clearly delights in sharing her knowledge of Chinese and Malay folklore, traditional belief, and magical practices ... Choo holds back much information, in particular insights into Lydia’s character, that, had it been delivered earlier, might have made the resolution to this tangle more plausible ... Choo is fond of retelling her characters’ dreams—the dead communing with the living—but as a plot device, it can feel a bit contrived, constraining the story from developing naturally ... The many culturally-specific references—the scent of clove cigarettes; comparing a girl’s calves to lo bak, giant white radishes—give Choo’s work richness and sensual depth. The command of local detail and interest in the sensual sometimes combine in striking ways.
Choo sympathetically outlines the prospects (or lack thereof) for young Chinese women like Ji Lin living in Malaysia at that time. In addition to these well-researched details, she infuses her novel with folklore and superstition, as well as more than a little bit of magic ... [Several of the book's] elements combine with the Sherlockian murder mystery structure to create an unusual and surprising blend of mystery and magic, one that takes readers into historical realms both real and imagined.
Choo continues her exploration of Malayan folklore here with questions that point to the borders where the magical and the real overlap ... Choo weaves her research in with a feather-light touch, and readers will be so caught up in the natural and supernatural intrigue that the serious themes here about colonialism and power dynamics, about gender and class, are absorbed with equal delicacy ... Choo has written a sumptuous garden maze of a novel that immerses readers in a complex, vanished world.
Riveting ... mythical creatures, conversations with the dead, lucky numbers, Confucian virtues, and forbidden love provide the backdrop for Choo’s superb murder mystery. Mining the rich setting of colonial Malaysia, Choo wonderfully combines a Holmes-esque plot with Chinese lore.