Book Review: 'Black Water Sister' by Zen Cho

Five stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was drawn to the book because of its setting. My parents were born in Malaysia, and many of my relatives still live there. Zen Cho definitely is an authentic voice for that part of the world. Her dialogue is spot on, and her characters feel so real they could be my relatives. Not only that, her description of how people in Malaysia and Singapore view the supernatural is funny, and devastatingly accurate.

Cho’s protagonist Jess is a sympathetic figure. Brought up in the U.S. by conservative Malaysian-Chinese parents, she has a foot in both the West and the East, and a hard time belonging to either. Her problems are compounded when she moves with her parents back to Malaysia. She is haunted by her deceased grandmother and dragged against her will into a world of gods, gangsters and Chinese mediums.

The book is an engaging read with many layers. It’s about the clash between cultures, generations, religions, and the modern versus the old. It is about the clash within Jess herself over her need to be the daughter she feels her parents deserve, and the individual she is.

One warning: some of the local dialect may be challenging for people used to American or British English. Beyond that, however, this book will transport you to a part of Southeast Asia that is especially exotic because it's rarely featured in movies or books.


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