One of the trickiest writing obstacles to navigate is writing authentically about a culture that is not your own. Very few authors have managed to do so successfully — Tony Hillerman and his Navajo mysteries are a prime example — but with love and care and research, it CAN be done.
Enter M. H. Boroson. His biography makes it VERY clear just how much time and research he has put into Chinese culture, and it shows in his writing. Come see what I thought of The Girl with Ghost Eyes!
First, a little plot synopsis from our friends at Amazon:
It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.
When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.
With a rich and inventive historical setting, nonstop martial arts action, authentic Chinese magic, and bizarre monsters from Asian folklore, The Girl with Ghost Eyes is also the poignant story of a young immigrant searching to find her place beside the long shadow of a demanding father and the stigma of widowhood. In a Chinatown caught between tradition and modernity, one woman may be the key to holding everything together.
I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. THOROUGHLY. It was so well written. Li-lin was a fully fleshed out character, and her thoughts and actions rang true to the little that I know about Chinese culture. I felt like I was learning something, but without being distracted by annoying information dumps.
As I mentioned before, Boroson is neither female nor Chinese, so writing as a Chinese woman was a huge risk. However, his extensive immersion in Chinese culture and history for the last twenty years has paid off. This is a respectful and eye-opening use of Chinese mythology, and even his writing of the opposite gender was well done.
The writing itself was polished and interesting, and the plot was well paced. Li Lin faced obstacle after obstacle, but it wasn’t fatiguing to the reader. Her transformation over the course of the narrative was genius as she came into her own power and found her own place in the culture surrounding her. I was very satisfied with where she ended up.
The supporting cast also gets lots of love from me — the talking eye spirit, the tiger monk, and even the shadow that her beloved dead husband cast across everything gave a unique and wonderful depth to the story. I loved what little I did get to see of their relationship — it was an emotional match of equals.
I would definitely recommend The Girl with Ghost Eyes to avid drama fans and readers who love expanding their horizons. I’m definitely planning on reading the sequel!
Until the next page turns, I remain —
Karie the Maknae
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi