Three Souls: A Novel

Three Souls: A Novel

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by Janie Chang

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An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this....

So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she

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An absorbing novel of romance and revolution, loyalty and family, sacrifice and undying love

We have three souls, or so I'd been told. But only in death could I confirm this....

So begins the haunting and captivating tale, set in 1935 China, of the ghost of a young woman named Leiyin, who watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she is being denied entry to the afterlife. Beside her are three souls—stern and scholarly yang; impulsive, romantic yin; and wise, shining hun—who will guide her toward understanding. She must, they tell her, make amends.

As Leiyin delves back in time with the three souls to review her life, she sees the spoiled and privileged teenager she once was, a girl who is concerned with her own desires while China is fractured by civil war and social upheaval. At a party, she meets Hanchin, a captivating left-wing poet and translator, and instantly falls in love with him.

When Leiyin defies her father to pursue Hanchin, she learns the harsh truth—that she is powerless over her fate. Her punishment for disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and, ultimately, her death. And when she discovers what she must do to be released from limbo into the afterlife, Leiyin realizes that the time for making amends is shorter than she thought.

Suffused with history and literature, Three Souls is an epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are willing to pay for freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Chang’s moving fiction debut, the ghost of a young woman, Song Leiyin, recalls the civil war period of the late 1920s and early 1930s in China. As the narrative begins, Leiyin is observing her own funeral and has no memory of her past life. Her three souls—yin, yang, and hun—help her begin to recover her memories so that she can atone for her wrongdoings and earn a chance for reincarnation. The smart but naïve daughter of a wealthy man, Leiyin’s troubles begin when she falls for Yen Hanchin, a charming, self-serving socialist. He encourages Leiyin to defy her father and pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. When her disobedience is discovered, her father angrily betroths her to a man she’s never met, the barely literate Lee Baizhen. Chang deftly conveys how the initially despairing Leiyin comes to accept her kind-hearted husband, particularly after they have a daughter, Weilan. Hanchin’s reappearance, however, shatters Leiyin’s peaceful existence. As the book nears its suspenseful climax, Leiyin struggles to protect her daughter as well as her own soul. Though Chang slips into cliché when describing Leiyin’s relationship with Hanchin, the majority of her novel bristles with freshness and heart. Agent: Jill Marr, Dijkstra Agency. (Mar.)
Booklist on THREE SOULS
“Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Janie Chang’s first novel is an immersive and enjoyable read.”
Providence Journal on THREE SOULS
[D]elightful. Chang skillfully weaves China’s story with the fate of her characters, giving the novel a tone of importance that never becomes dull or pedantic.”
Asian American Literarature Fans on THREE SOULS
“Chang’s heroine is crafty and that’s the biggest strength of this book: we want Leiyin to succeed in her various quests (both in life and in death) because we know so many cards are already stacked against her.”
Historical Novel Society on THREE SOULS
“A remarkable, exquisite work of historical fiction, Three Souls is highly recommended as a wonderful read and an experience of creative, brilliant writing.”
NYT Bestselling Author Tara Conklin
“Compelling and utterly original. Janie Chang’s riveting debut gives us so much: a complex heroine, a window into the vanished world of pre-Communist China, a fascinating plot and language that sings. An intoxicating story of family, ambition and the risks we take for love.”
Beverly Swerling
“A triumph. There is so much magic here, such generous imagining. The prose sings while the story is told in surging crescendo that makes us race to know what happens.”
Daniel Kalla
“A tour de force. Evocative of Lisa See at her best, Three Souls vividly conjures life in pre-Mao China, and runs the emotional gamut from playful to haunting. This original story and its sympathetic heroine will stay with you long after the final pages.”
Shaena Lambert
“A glorious, deeply readable novel-the kind you pick up and read voraciously, every chance you get. The kind you get lost in.”
NYT Bestselling Author Cathy Marie Buchanan
“In this highly original, capriciously imagined tale, Song Leiyin journeys to the afterlife in the company of three guiding souls. As her life in tumultuous 1920s China is recounted, readers are treated to a deft examination of the woe and splendour of family and the human heart.”
Nancy Richler
“I absolutely couldn’t put it down. . . . One of the most satisfying, enjoyable and interesting books I’ve read in a while.”
Kirkus Reviews
Revolutionary and domestic politics collide in this tale of a woman's ghost attempting to understand her life decisions and make amends for her transgressions. Set against the Chinese civil war, Chang's debut novel explores the frustrations of intelligent women valued only for beauty and obedience. A young woman's consciousness awakens at her own funeral, surrounded by her three souls: her yin, manifesting as a dancing schoolgirl; her yang, manifesting as an elderly scholar; and her han, manifesting as a silhouette of light. Until she can remember her sins, she cannot ascend to the afterlife and reincarnation; she runs the risk of becoming a hungry ghost, roaming the Earth for eternity. To help her remember, Song Leiyin's souls make her watch her own life unfold again, beginning with the evening of her sister's engagement party, the night she met Yen Hanchin. Born into a traditional and prosperous family, the three Song daughters realize their dreams are circumscribed. Leiyin's eldest sister, Gaoyin, already married, worries that if she doesn't conceive a child soon, her husband will take a concubine. Leiyin's second sister, Sueyin, is betrothed to a well-connected young man far more interested in opium than the business world. Leiyin's eldest brother, Changyin, waits in the wings to become the family patriarch, while her second brother, Tongyin, squanders his educational opportunities at college to drink and mingle with friends. Leiyin herself longs to continue school, to become a teacher, to make a difference in China. When she meets Hanchin—poet, translator and political agitator—Leiyin's aspirations gain a romantic edge. Her plans to escape her father's oppressive household, however, quickly land her in an unexpected marriage. Still, her ambitions and her desire for Hanchin simmer, waiting for a startlingly tragic opportunity. Now, her ghost must find a way to repair the damage wrought. Historically and politically compelling, yet the three-soul plot device is contrived.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer's Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

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Three Souls 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
Three Souls by Janie Chang is a novel tak­ing place in China before World War II. This is Ms. Chang’s debut novel. In China, 1935, Leiyin watches her own funeral and wan­ders why she has not been per­mit­ted to the after­life. Leiyin dis­cov­ers that she is not alone; three souls are there to guide her along the way until she make amends. But first she has to find out what she has to make amends for. Dur­ing her life, Leiyin fell in love with a rad­i­cal com­mu­nist named Hanchin, but at the cost of dis­ap­point­ing her fam­ily and pun­ished for dis­obe­di­ence and ulti­mately he death. Slowly Leiyin dis­cov­ers what she must do to exit limbo and go on to the afterlife. Three Souls by Janie Chang is a very lyri­cal, poignant and inter­est­ing novel which give the uni­formed reader, such as myself, an inter­est­ing back­ground about recent Chi­nese his­tory and cul­ture. While the book does not delve into much phi­los­o­phy, it does give a cer­tain ref­er­ence about the loom­ing Japan­ese inva­sion, people’s fears and the strug­gle between the Nation­al­ists and the Communists. The novel is told through the eyes of the pro­tag­o­nist, Leiyin, who is spend­ing the time in the after­life, reflect­ing back on her life and try­ing to atone for some­thing she has done wrong. The reader doesn’t know what she is try­ing to atone for until the end. I liked the way the author cap­tures the after­life, with the three spir­its who guide us through life, are also our guide in the after­life, each with their own unique per­son­al­ity and advice. The author builds her char­ac­ters well, while I didn’t con­nect with any of them (usu­ally the sign that I won’t like a book), I did feel as if I know them and cared about them. Leiyin strug­gles to get her mes­sage from a state of limbo to the liv­ing were poignant and the solu­tion was unique and interesting. The book lagged at some points, inter­est­ingly at the sec­ond quar­ter, but I did enjoy read­ing the novel and learn­ing about Chi­nese cul­ture, his­tory and belief sys­tem. I am look­ing for­ward to read more books by the author.
yarrow More than 1 year ago
After she dies, a woman rights the wrongs she did during her life.