Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.
Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).
But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.
About the Author
Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends, always knowing that one day she would write. After an eclectic life as a theoretical physicist, investment banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009, Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer, the second major illness she had to battle. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer. She is currently working on her second book and also writes a blog about Malaysia at www.chinyoke.wordpress.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds is a fascinating story about Chye Hoon, a Malayan-Chinese woman who struggled to keep her Nyonya/Baba heritage alive; in an ever-changing world. The story takes place in Malaya (old Malaysia) during the 19th and 20th century. The book begins with Chye Hoon, the narrator, as a high-spirited child, known by many, for her dragon temper. Chye Hoon envied her brother’s education and privileged life. Girls in her family weren’t allowed to go to school. They were taught instead, at home to cook, sew, and clean. Although Chye Hoon didn’t care for spending her days in a kitchen, she accepted her role, in the family, and made the most of it. Chye Hoon’s parents were afraid that their strong-willed daughter would never marry, but Peng Choon, an accountant, proved them wrong. It was Chye Hoon’s robust and independent spirit that attracted him to her. They had ten children together, and Chye Hoon made sure, that every single one of them, including the girls, had an education. To keep from losing her sons, Chye Hoon reluctantly allowed Western ways to infiltrate her world. In the end, though, Chye Hoon wished that she had been more welcoming. She regretted calling her friend’s Scottish husband, a White-Devil, because, in truth, he was not a devil at all, but a good man. A man who had helped her. The book captures the essence of Malaya, the culture, the people, and their dialect. The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, brought Malaya, alive for me, so much so, that I felt as if I had been there. This is not an easy-breezy read, but a book that will stay with the reader, long after they’ve turned the last page. Many thanks to the publisher, and NetGalley, for allowing me to read this advanced review copy.
This is the story of Chye Hoon, a Chinese Malayan who wanted to preserve her heritage while all around her things were changing and evolving. She married a Chinese man by the name of Wong Peng Hoon and together they were blessed with 10 children, While her children were growing up in the new world, and embracing the ways of the "white devil", she was pushing back as hard as she could to keep things the way they were. This book was engrossing... I could not put it down. This is definitely a must read!