Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ghost Cave: A Novel of Sarawak by Elsie Sze

About the Book

Title: Ghost Cave: A novel of Sarawak
Author: Elsie Sze
Publication: Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society (26 Feb 2014)
Summary: Ah Min, a young Chinese immigrant, follows his best friend to seek his fortune in Sarawak in the mid-19th century. They labour in the mines alongside fellow Hakka and some native Dayak. Ah Min explores a humid land of beguiling women, of fragrant spices and of ghosts. But the oppression of the English White Rajah draws the men into a rebellion that will have catastrophic consequences.
Over 100 years later, Ah Min’s descendant Ka Ming joins communist guerrillas in the jungles of Sarawak. Facing danger at every turn, he and his friends must fight for their ideologies against British and Malaysian troops. The stories of Ah Min and Ka Ming are told through the eyes of a modern young woman, Therese. A tattered journal, a mysterious stranger and the voice of Ka Ming ultimately reveal that the two men are connected by more than blood.

What I Think

I was very interested in reading this book as I enjoy books about people, places and cultures. Living in Hong Kong I know a little about Chinese culture, but previous to reading this book knew nothing about the area in which this book is set (Sarawak, Borneo) or its history. Spanning roughly 150 years, this novel, through three different perspectives, gives a good overall picture of what it was like living in Sarawak from mid-19th century until the present. 

There are three different stories in this novel: Ah Min, a Chinese immigrant who moves to Sarawak temporarily to earn money to provide for his family; Ka Ming, a communist guerrilla and Therese, a young woman interested in her family history. Therese, who we learn very little about, has Ah Min's journal and she talks to Ka Ming to get his story. I think I would have preferred to have Ah Min's story in journal format. This would have made the different voices more distinguishable and added variety to the different perspectives. 

Overall this was an informative and interesting novel and I feel that I learned a lot about the setting and the time in which it took place. I would recommend this to people interesting in reading historical fiction. 

About the Author

ELSIE SZE grew up in Hong Kong and currently lives in Toronto with her husband, Michael. They have three sons, Benjamin, Samuel and Timothy. A former teacher and librarian, she is an avid traveller, often to remote places which form the settings for her stories. Her first novel, Hui Gui: a Chinese story, was nominated for Foreword magazine’s Book of the Year Award in Fiction, 2006. Her second novel, The Heart of the Buddha, was published in the United States in 2009 and was shortlisted for the Foreword Magazine 2009 Multicultural Fiction Book of the Year Award. In 2013, Elsie’s manuscript “Ghost Cave” won the inaugural Saphira Prize, a literary prize offered by Women in Publishing Society, Hong Kong, for unpublished writing.

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