Three Souls: A Novel by Janie Chang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.]
I don't even know where to start with my review. This book was downright fantastic, hands-down the single best First Reads win I've ever received. There are 496 pages in the book and I read almost 400 of them in one day. I never do that!
I adored the main character, through all her faults and inability to understand she was dealing with things that were much too adult for her. Her character in death was beautifully contemplative and I loved how she was able to see, along with the reader, the impulse of youth contrasted with the reflection of consequences. We all forget, as teenagers, that our actions have repercussions. Even in our adult life it's hard to picture what will happen if we make this decision or that one. In death we are able to see exactly how everything Leiyin did in her youth contributed to the events around her, even without her knowledge or comprehension.
I did not imagine Hanchin to be the character he ended up as. It was an interesting turn to experience the realization of his true character alongside the woman who loved him.
The only thing I didn't fully connect with was the idea of three souls. It certainly was a great thing to have the commentary of each different personality throughout the book, encouraging Leiyin, reproaching her, understanding and commiserating with her, and telling her flat-out she was wrong. I loved having them around, but it was difficult (for me personally) to tell the souls apart, and I often found myself reading them as pretty much a single character. I also did not quite follow with the tastes and smells that they projected onto her, as I don't know what most of them meant. Maybe this is something that would be better understood by someone with Chinese heritage.
The writing style was exceptional, the language was poetic and flowed so easily that it was difficult to stop reading once I'd started. You might think that a book that's almost 500 pages long might be wordy, and it was, but in a way completely necessary to tell the story. Chinese culture and traditions were explained so well they felt familiar to me. I could picture the landscapes and gardens and houses (I'm sure I got them wrong but the point is I could see them in my head), the parties and offices and even the most downright heartbreaking things. I felt along with Leiyin, and experienced her emotions and mourned with her when things went badly. I never felt like a word was out of place. (Also, thumbs up to whoever edited this proof copy - I only caught ONE typo!)
If you liked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan or any other Lisa See novel, this one is a must-read and something you will not regret picking up. What a beautifully told story. This is going to stay with me, I can tell.
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