Despite its scary title, this book is less threatening and not as disturbing especially when compared to the previous reviews we have posted thus far (as could be found here). Set in contemporary Shanghai, China, the narrative revolves around young Li and her family. She introduces herself in this fashion:
My name is Li, and I am my parents’ only nuer. I would love to have a didi (even though boys can be a real pain), but that is not possible. The government does not advise families to have more than one child in China. And anyway, our apartment is already small for the three of us, even with the bathroom.
The story actually reminded me of Fats’ review on the Diary of Ma Yan,
Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese school girl for our October Diary Special. Similar to Ma Yan’s story, The Ghost of Shanghai also characterizes how difficult it was for Li’s family to make ends meet, how both her parents work long into the wee hours of the morning and the simple unadorned lifestyle they lead wherein their one-bedroom home can be easily transformed into a dress shop by merely folding away the roll-away couch and stacking blankets on the shelf. This is a fairly common theme among most Chinese narratives that I have read so far – the premium placed on hard work,
perseverance, diligence and the self-sacrificing nature of parents to provide a better future for their children. And if I may quote from one of my teacher-students who used this book in their last workshop on ‘using picture books to enhance emotional intelligence’ (link for that blog post could be found here) – the value of task completion and commitment to seeing a task through.
The tale took on a haunting twist when Li fell from her bicycle as a three-wheeled cycle crashed into her. Her head was off in the “land of dreams” while
on her way to deliver a wedding dress (“a special wedding lifu made of organdy and silk”) that her mother had painstakingly woven for one of her more-affluent customers. When Li fell down unconscious from the accident, that was when she saw her gui – her ghost, Master Chen.
Similar to most stories which deal with restless spirits who have a message to convey to their family members and loved ones, Master Chen vowed to help Li if she promises to do something for him in return:
Do not be afraid, little Li. I have the power to send you back from where you have come. In exchange, I will ask you to take the time to write a xin to my son, the oldest of the Chen of Canton clan. You must tell him of our meeting.
The ghost was not scary in the least, not like the way ghosts were depicted in Kate Culhane or in movies like The Sixth Sense. However, Master Chen continues to stay around the same area where he was killed in the hopes of finding someone who could convey his message to his family so that his name would be cleared and he would get the proper burial that he deserves. Thus, this ‘haunting tale’ showcases the value of justice, preserving one’s honor, and the strong integral bonds that exist among families.
I tried to look for the bio of author Claude Guillot but was unable to find anything on the web. The jacketflap of the book indicates that he has extensive travels around the world and that this book was influenced by his many trips in China. He currently lives in France. He also included an extensive Author Note at the very end of the book which situates the narrative within Chinese history – making references to the different dynasties of China, the many political changes that happened, The Great Leap Forward and the host of socio-political struggles that formed the societal backdrop of Li’s family’s story. A glossary of terms was likewise added so that the reader would have a first taste of Mandarin words such as didi (brother), gongchang (factory), gui (ghost), xin (letter) among others.
The illustrations are likewise colorful, vibrant, and very European in its flat two-dimensional style. The artist Fabienne Burckel is said to have graduated from the Ecole National des Arts Decoratifs in Nice, France (as the jacketflap of the book indicates). She is said to work as an illustrator in both journalism and advertising.**Book photos taken by feature author. Book bought from Discount Bookstore at Lucky Plaza (now closed)