Black Water Sister

By Zen Cho,

Book cover of Black Water Sister

Book description

'A sharp and bittersweet story of past and future, ghosts and gods and family, that kept me turning pages into the dark hours of the night' - Naomi Novik, author of Uprooted

This mischievous Malaysian-set novel is an adventure featuring family, ghosts and local gods - from Hugo Award winning…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked Black Water Sister as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I adored Cho’s Black Water Sister for the wit, verve, and humour with which its protagonist, Jess, newly returned to Penang from the USA, faces down being possessed by the spirit of her dead grandma, a former medium. Jess, despite her Harvard degree, hasn’t found a job and is unable to tell her conservative family about her Singapore-based girlfriend. How Jess manages to negotiate the contradictory demands of pushy aunties, powerful businessmen, and a furious goddess known as the Black Water Sister, whose temple is threatened by property developers, makes an immersive and absorbing tale.

From Gita's list on myths beyond the Greco-Roman Canon.

Jessamyn Teoh was raised in the US, but when her family moves back to her birth country of Malaysia, she’s forced to deal with culture clash, her extended family, being in the closet, and getting haunted.

Set in contemporary Malaysia, Black Water Sister invokes history via dreams from Jess’s ghostly grandmother, who has passed on a bunch of intergenerational trauma. Cho writes much of the dialogue in Manglish (Malaysian English), which was so nostalgic for me—disapproving aunties surround poor Jess, showering her with both their expectations and their love.

The Black Water Sister herself is a deity of female vengeance…

Penang is not a city I know or have ever been to. So when Black Water Sister became one of my favourite fantasy books, I knew it wasn’t helped by familiarity with its setting from life or fiction. The story of Jess and her adventure as a relative stranger in her family’s city, navigating social and familial rules along with gangsters and angry gods while resolving issues ranging from deeply personal to interdimensional, is fascinating in pretty much every aspect of storytelling and craft. But on a reread, I appreciated with greater clarity the skill Zen Cho brought to exploring…

From Samit's list on real-world cities in SF and fantasy.

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