Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: February 2014
Format: Paperback, 496 pgs
"We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this...."
And so this begins the haunting story of a young woman named Song Leiyin, in which her death means she was denied entry to the afterlife due to the things she had had committed during the time she had lived. Wandering about as a ghost, she has to seek answers on gaining entry to the afterlife as well as to make atonements for the things she had committed.
Alongside with her are three souls - the stern and scholarly 'yang'; the impulsive, romantic 'yin'; and the wise, shining 'hun'. They are all part of her and with their guidance, Leiyin would delve back in time to witness and review her life for her understanding to all the events which had happened would release her current denial and eventually make her realise that there is no reckoning of motives good or bad; there is only a life, a death; and what was averted and what was caused.
Set between 1928 and 1936 China, Leiyin tells us her story being a young schoolgirl to a young woman in the wealthy Song family. With a backdrop of the civil war and the Communist movement, Leiyin also shares with us the turmoil the Chinese face during the tough times as well as the roles and difficulties of how women were treated in that generation.
Being a Chinese, I fully understand the traditions and the history of this story through Leiyin's journey. What makes me so thankful of the generation we are currently living is having the freedom; for women during the older times were trapped in strict rules and traditions. For example, many of their marriages are arranged through matchmakers; men are allowed to have concubines and that sons are looked upon as compared to daughters. Although I think some Chinese families do adhere to these traditions to this day (well except the concubines, I think!), I have to say times have changed and that Chinese women today are more independent and have much more freedom and for these I'm thankful in living in this modern generation.
The characterisation of Leiyin is interesting; unlike many young Chinese women who are docile and shy in those times, she is actually a feisty girl who is not afraid of voicing her thoughts and acting on them. Her infatuation with a left-wing poet and translator shows us that she takes matters in her own stride no matter how her father has strongly opposed. Alas, her strong-willed has led her towards exile and eventually death and all I could think of is how vulnerable our life is and how powerless we can be over our fate. Leiyin's story may be a fiction but it allows us to think and reflect of the things we do and that it is always better to make amendments now than to make atonements later for time may be shorter than we thought. I highly recommend Three Souls as it is a remarkable well-written story - both the characterisation and the historical plot. Janie Chang's first novel has definitely left a deep impression on me and I look forward to her future releases.