Interview: Yangsze Choo, Author

YSChooByEeKimMalaysian writer Yangsze Choo’s debut novel, THE GHOST BRIDE (Morrow, August 2013) is Oprah.com’s Book of the Week, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and an Indie Next List Pick.

Set in 1890s colonial Malaya and the elaborate Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities and burned paper offerings, it’s about a young woman who finds herself betrothed to a dead man. Yangsze eats and reads too much and can often be found doing both at her blog.

Let’s see how Yangsze answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
Eating a delicious meal with family and friends, with everybody talking and sharing about what’s been going on. If we’re eating crab or lobster, it’s even better!!

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
Oh dear, there are so many favourite songs! When I was writing this book, I listened to a lot of Chinese classical erhu music to develop the atmosphere of 1890s colonial Malaya amongst the Chinese population. Lei Qiang has a couple of good erhu albums to listen to.

GhostBrideFINALREVWhich talent would you most like to have?
I would really like to be a good oil painter. I was recently at the National Art Gallery and was struck by the Vermeers. They were not large, but very beautiful. I felt like I could look at them all day.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and I think that the situation is innocuous enough to do so without harm. Now that I have children, however, I try not to lie. There’s usually a kinder or gentler way to communicate something – it just takes more work.

What is your present state of mind?
Tired. THE GHOST BRIDE was just published last week, and it was exciting, yet also stressful. It was such a new experience that I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m very very grateful to be published. :)

What is your motto?
How about the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seems like a fairly good rule of thumb (unless you’re a masochist…)

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Kindness and honesty. Plus a good sense of humour.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“You know what?” When my 7 year old started doing this (and holding up his forefinger for emphasis) I realized that it’s a purely rhetorical question that’s mostly unnecessary in conversation.

Le verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), John Singer Sargent (1884)

Le verre de porto (A Dinner Table at Night), John Singer Sargent (1884)

Your favorite painting?
John Singer Sargent’s “The Glass of Port”. A very small painting (by Sargent’s standards) but incredibly evocative of an evening spent with friends. I first saw it in a museum, tucked away in a corner, and I fell in love with it. In that moment, I totally understood why people covet works of art…

What is your favorite journey?
When I was a child, I really enjoyed the long drive from Kuala Lumpur to my grandparents’ house in Perak. This was before the North-South interstate highway was built in Malaysia, and the 2 lane road wended its way slowly through small towns and rubber plantations. Sometimes it took an exasperatingly long time, especially if you got stuck behind a lorry. But I loved that drive when I was a child.

What is your favorite time of day?
Long, hot, sleepy afternoons when you have nothing to do but curl up with a good book.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Haruki Murakami’s protagonist from “A Wild Sheep Chase”. Love that book!

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
To have had deep, meaningful, and joyful relationships with other people.

Who or what is your first love?
My first love was probably a small white rabbit that I had as a pet. Then I successively fell in love with dogs, a kitten, and a boy in elementary school who always used to turn the tap on for me to wash my hands.

But I’d have to say that the love of my life is my husband, whom I met in university when we were still teenagers. ;)

What’s the last dream you remember?
Gosh, I can’t remember. But I do recall once having a dream in which I’d written an amazing story. In fact it was so fantastic that I’d jotted down notes on it in the middle of the night. In the morning, all I could see were some random chicken scratchings on the paper!

What’s your madeleine?
The smell of tropical rain. Instantly brings me back to my childhood in Malaysia, when the air cooled suddenly and everything smelled wet and alive with monsoon rains.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Journey.

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