Three Souls (Paperback)
William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062293190, 496pp.
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
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.
About the Author
Janie Chang writes historical novels that draw upon family history for inspiration. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about family life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War. Her second novel, Dragon Spring Road, was released in January 2017. Her first novel, Three Souls was a finalist for the 2013 BC Book Prizes fiction award, one of 9 Canadian novels long listed for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada with her husband and Mischa, a rescue cat who thinks the staff could be doing a better job.
Praise For Three Souls: A Novel…
— NYT Bestselling Author Tara Conklin, author of THE HOUSE GIRL on THREE SOULS
“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.”
— Beverly Swerling, author of City of Dreams and Bristol House on THREE SOULS
“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.”
— Daniel Kalla, author of The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow on THREE SOULS
“A glorious, deeply readable novel-the kind you pick up and read voraciously, every chance you get. The kind you get lost in.”
— Shaena Lambert, author of Radiance and Oh, My Darling on THREE SOULS
“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.”
— NYT Bestselling Author Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Painted Girls and The Day the Falls Stood Still on THREE SOULS
“I absolutely couldn’t put it down. . . . One of the most satisfying, enjoyable and interesting books I’ve read in a while.”
— Nancy Richler, author of The Imposter Bride on THREE SOULS
[ Three Souls bristles with freshness and heart.
— Publishers Weekly on THREE SOULS
“Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Janie Chang’s first novel is an immersive and enjoyable read.”
— Booklist 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.”
— Historical Novel Society 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.”
— Providence Journal 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.”
— Asian American Literarature Fans on THREE SOULS
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Leiyin’s three souls manifest three very distinct and different personalities. What do you think the souls represent, individually and collectively? What do you think their role is in the story?
- Pre–World War II China was a time of great turmoil. What details and descriptions of ordinary life does the author use to evoke the social and political transitions taking place?
- Think about the conflicts that women of Leiyin’s generation experienced during this time of transition. How are they similar to the experiences of immigrant women today? How are they different?
- Three Souls makes a strong statement about how women were treated in Chinese society. Of all the examples showing how women were oppressed, which affected you the most, and why?
- What new information did you learn about Chinese history, society, or family dynamics? Were there any passages or scenes in the novel that you felt gave you fresh insights into that time and place?
- In Leiyin’s memories of her times with Hanchin, what tips us off that he is just toying with her? Discuss what Leiyin doesn’t see or won’t acknowledge that she sees.
- Throughout Part One, Leiyin is warned repeatedly to obey her father. What do we know about her father that might cause her to believe he will eventually give in to her or at least forgive her?
- Many readers consider Stepmother the most interesting secondary character of the novel. Do you agree? What makes her so memorable and admirable— especially given the constraints of the era and her status in the family?
- The female characters are not the only ones whose lives are constrained. Discuss how some of the male characters are also trapped by tradition.
- In many ways this is a coming-of- age story—in which the final coming of age happens after the protagonist dies. In each of the three parts of the novel, how does Leiyin grow and mature? What does she learn about herself or the way the world works?
- At the end of the novel, do you think Leiyin will succeed in ascending to the afterlife? Why or why not? Do you find the
- Consider the structure of the novel. The author changes between past tense and present tense. Do you feel this is confusing or effective?