Yangsze Choo's first novel, The Ghost Bride, set in colonial Malaya and the elaborate Chinese world of the afterlife, is about a peculiar historic custom called a spirit marriage.
From the author's Q & A with Miwa Messer, Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program:
The Ghost Bride centers on a girl who marries the ghost of a wealthy family's recently deceased son. Can you please explain the concept of a "ghost marriage"? When did you first become intrigued by this practice?Visit Yangsze Choo's website.
I think I was vaguely aware of this practice as a child. My grandmother lived in a small town in Malaysia opposite an old cinema that often showed scary Chinese movies. We children were not allowed to go and watch them, although from the front window we could see people lining up to go in. I remember the gigantic cinema posters that would cover the billboard in front. In those days, they were all hand painted so that they looked even more lurid - both fascinating and forbidden to us!
The folk tradition of marriages to ghosts, or between ghosts, usually occurred in order to placate spirits or repair familial relations. There are a number of allusions to it in Chinese literature, but its roots seem to lie in ancestor worship. Matches were sometimes made between two deceased persons, with the families on both sides recognizing it as a tie between them. However, there were other cases when a living person was married to the dead. These tended to be the fulfillment of a dying sweetheart's wish, or to give the rank of wife to a concubine who had borne a son. Sometimes, an impoverished girl was taken into a household as a widow in order to perform the ancestral rites for a man who died without a wife or descendants. This is the case for Li Lan, the main character in my book.
More recently, however, one of the things that sparked this novel was a sentence in an old newspaper article. While researching another book I was writing, I happened to go through the archives of our local Malaysian newspaper and found...[read on]