This “ambitious, supernatural coming-of-age story” (The LA Times) is a sweeping tale of ghosts in the modern world, and one woman's struggle to create her own destiny.
There are ghosts on the Black Isle.
Ghosts that no one can see.
No one...except Cassandra.
Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle's bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarming with ghosts.
Haunted and lonely, Cassandra at first tries to ignore her ability to see the restless apparitions that drift down the street and crouch in cold corners at school. Yet despite her struggles with these spirits, Cassandra comes to love her troubled new home. And soon, she attracts the notice of a dangerously charismatic man.
Even as she becomes a fearless young woman, the Isle's dark forces won't let her go. War is looming, and Cassandra wonders if her unique gift might be her beloved island's only chance for salvation . . .
Taking readers from the 1920s, through the Japanese occupation during WWII, to the Isle's radical transformation into a gleaming cosmopolitan city, The Black Isle is a sweeping epic--a deeply imagined, fiercely original tale from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
Tan's ambitious debut is a gripping historical novel set on an exotic island in Southeast Asia during a 60-year span that encompasses the island's primitive condition as a British colony, the WWII Japanese invasion, and its postwar transformation. Thanks to a deep natural harbor, fine climate, and convenient position between India and China, the island becomes "the shiny opal in the empire's Far Eastern crown." But since the heroine has the gift or curse of seeing the dead, this is also a gothic tale with scenes of grisly supernatural horror, its atmosphere full of dark omens and a sense of the macabre. Narrator Ling, who later changes her name to Cassandra, is born in early 1920s China. As an adolescent, she goes with her father and twin brother to the aptly named Black Island, where she lives through one harrowing event after another as she's forced to summon spectral apparitions in order to placate the men who rule her life: her feckless father, the Japanese officer who makes her his mistress, and the ruthlessly ambitious Oxford-educated politician in whose bed she finds herself next. Tan's imagination seems boundless as she involves her protagonist in events that force her to evade moral scruples in order to stay alive. Conveying an atmosphere of corruption, violence and betrayal, Tan anchors the narrative with authoritative details of time and place, and social and ethnic rituals. Her descriptions of the supercilious British and the arrogant, depraved Japanese are brutally candid. Her stark, knife-sharp images of horror-inducing events a woman in sexual congress with an octopus, a schoolgirl's body dangling from a ceiling fan, forced sex in public as entertainment for Japanese army officers, occult rites in a cemetery, prisoners forced to harvest fleas from bodies to make pathogens, sharks bursting out of an aquarium tank and devouring children, a huge gathering of ghastly corpses are not for fainthearted readers, but the tale as a whole maintains its mesmerizing power throughout.