The Night Tiger is a combination of history, superstition, beliefs, family, home, culture, and mystery sprinkled into the setting of Malaysia a long time ago. I had high hopes for this book… being highly regarded from the Reese Witherspoon bookclub, and from all the many book reviews in general. It has had mainly positive reviews all over the internet.
The story focuses on two main characters who begin in two different locations: we have Ren, a little boy whose master, a foreigner living in Malaysia, just died and has given him a task to find the master’s missing finger and bring it back to his dead body. And we also follow Ji Lin, a young girl who lives in a broken home, struggles to find money through ways she doesn’t like and has a difficult relationship with her step-brother.
Themes of the mystical night tiger is embedded inside this book. It is a belief of the local citizens that a so-called tiger will prowl around the forests and farms and kills people. This tiger was known to be able to shape shift into humans. This is an aspect that would make the book as what I expected to be more of a fantasy book. After reading the book, I wouldn’t really say that the main genre of this book is fantasy. It’s more of a mystery, thrilling, family drama that involves some fantastical, or more like magical realism aspects. The vagueness of these magical themes makes the whole story captivating and really unique.
We were a chocolate-box family, I thought. Brightly wrapped on the outside and oozing sticky darkness within.
I loved reading about Malaysia. As someone who was born and raised in the neighbouring country, who also is of Chinese descendant, so many things in this book reminded me of home. The Malay words and phrases were mostly the same as Indonesian ones, the food so similar, and so is the atmosphere and weather, such as the heavy rain, tropical trees, humidity that you feel in the air while reading the book, the way local people interact and the small things like the buses and trains. It really brings me back home and such a joy to read.
As for the characters, I wasn’t a huge fan of any of them. None of them felt too fleshed out to me so much for me to really care for them. Although I do like Ren, I think he was so young, the same goes with Ji Lin. Overall that was one of the weaker points of the book. Plot-wise I began being very invested in the main problems and the characters’s goals. However as we progress more into the book I felt like the entire mystique of the things that were the main problem in the beginning of the story took the back seat and it focused too much on the more supernatural elements or the romantic relationships of the characters. Though I still enjoyed the storyline, it was not what I really expected.
Even though I loved the themes explored in this book, the characters and slow, almost-boring plot wasn’t what I expected from it. I really enjoyed what the author was trying to deliver, making us more aware of Southeast Asian culture, and her writing is indeed truly wonderful to read about. The entire mysterious aura of the story is just a pleasure to read, though at times it did feel a little too long. I just expected more of a fantasy book than the more family drama. All in all a very unique book that I am glad more people have read.