I love books that take me somewhere else entirely, especially if I learn new things in the process, and Three Souls (HarperCollins) by Janie Chang manages to hit both marks. Set in China in 1935, the novel follows the ghost of young Leiyin who seeks entry to the afterlife, but must first make amends. To achieve this, she runs through the events leading up to her untimely death, starting with a forbidden schoolgirl crush on a charming poet.
As she uncovers her missteps along the way, she must learn how to right wrongs from the spirit world, guided only by her three souls. Yang is rather harsh: “You were dreaming to think he would approve of your marrying such a man.” Yin, naïve and romantic: “But you did so enjoy being in love. It’s like being pleasantly ill.” And Hun, the mentor of the bunch, says that “That’s the trouble when you’re young. You think you have all the time in the world. You think the world will wait until you’re ready…”
I read this with hunger, interested in every layer of the story— romance, class hardship, betrayal, historical context, and a series of complex family dynamics. Chang uses language that at times reminded me Ken Follett:
“She was a merchant’s daughter. Her father owned several silk and cotton mills and she tended to classify things simply, as either wasteful or worthwhile.” She has a way of moving the story forward without needless words. I highlighted passages throughout, but the line that pierced me the sharpest was “How cruel we can be to the ones we love.”
Three Souls is now available for purchase.
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About Janie Chang
Janie Chang writes historical fiction with personal connections, drawing upon a family history with 36 generations of recorded genealogy for inspiration. She grew up listening to stories about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War and tales of ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals.
Her first novel, Three Souls, was a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prizes (Fiction) and one of nine Canadian books nominated for the 2015 International Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, Dragon Springs Road, was a Toronto Globe and Mail national bestseller.
Janie was the founder and main organizer of Canadian Authors for Indies, a national day of support by authors for independent bookstores. This ran for three years from 2015 – 2017 and has been handed over to the Retail Council of Canada, which now runs it as Canadian Independent Bookstore Day.
She has a degree in Computing Science from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada, but had a much better time earning her creative writing certificate from The Writer’s Studio at SFU. Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada with her husband (imported from New Zealand) and a rescue cat, Mischa, who thinks the staff could be doing a better job.