Read Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho Online


"If you live near the jungle, you will realize that what is real and what is not real is not always clear. In the forest there is not a big gap between the two."A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an a"If you live near the jungle, you will realize that what is real and what is not real is not always clear. In the forest there is not a big gap between the two."A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate metaphor for the Chinese diaspora.Straddling the worlds of the mundane and the magical, Spirits Abroad collects ten science fiction and fantasy stories with a distinctively Malaysian sensibility....

Title : Spirits Abroad
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9789670374987
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 284 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Spirits Abroad Reviews

  • Whitaker
    2019-06-02 04:00

    I have to admit it was with some trepidation that I received the news that I had won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I've not had great experiences with works set in South-East Asia (e.g., The Book of Salt, The Harmony Silk Factory). I am happy to say, however, that this work was head and shoulders above them, both as an authentic South-East Asian voice and as an engaging read. As a Singaporean, I can tell you that her depiction of Malaysia and Malaysians is the real deal, folks. For example, she does not make the egregious mistake of describing the smell of a durian from the POV of a South-East Asian as "the odour of rot and decay". Instead, she describes it as a "creamy rank richness". She does not have uneducated Hokkien hard labourers fling out statements in the images and rhythms of educated Englishmen, saying things like "Will I fight for the liberation of man's soul from the chains of bourgeoisie?". Instead, she captures to a T the rhythms and cadences of English as spoken by Malaysians:“But you, Ah Lee, you have all the opportunities. We have lived so long, we have saved enough money. Maybe if you study hard, if you get a scholarship, you could even go to England like my uncle the doctor, your Tua Tiao Kong. Your English is so good. You have a good chance.”And she even has the quiet confidence to unapologetically use Manglish (i.e., Malaysian English) vocabulary:"Maybe they didn’t shout, “Oi, macha!” when they saw him, or request that he “relaklah, brother,"…This may not seem like much to readers whose literature's acceptance of the vernacular dates back to Chaucer, but let me tell you, but its authenticity is very grounding to someone like me. So, please Ms Cho, if you ever read this, please please please don't ever sell out to commercial interests by tailoring your representation of Malaysia to suit a Western market. The fantastical elements of her short stories are firmly based on Malaysian / Chinese myths and folklore. Among the mythical creatures she features are: The Pontianak or female vampire of Malay mythThe toyol, a demon baby of Malay myth The 殭屍 (kuang shi), the Chinese version of the zombieHappily, she uses these myths not as exotic appendages but as potent metaphors for issues close to her heart, most notably, inter-ethnic relations and feminist issues. "House of Aunts", for example, which features the Pontianak touches on issues of teenage romance and teenage pregnancy; and "The Mystery of the Suet Swain" a la The X Files touches on stalking. The only clanger for me was "The Earth Spirit's Favourite Anecdote" which flirted dangerously close to ethnic stereotypes notwithstanding its ostensible message of peace. For all my talk about issues, Zen Cho's stories abound with humour and compassion. The fantasy writer she most reminds me of is Connie Willis, in particular, Willis's short stories, and I hope she regards this as a compliment. If Connie Willis is a writer you've enjoyed, I'd thoroughly recommend this collection. Happily, while I do think this collection is well worth getting, you can sample some of the stories in it (entirely legally) at the links on her site,

  • K.J. Charles
    2019-06-14 05:47

    This was absolutely fantastic. Funny, sad, deeply anger-inducing, warm and fuzzy by turns. Steeped in Malaysian mythology, which sounds purely amazing, as well as Chinese and some English, and written in switching voices with loads of Malay-English and no concessions to non-speakers so you just have to immerse yourself. This is not a hardship. There is undoubtedly a huge amount I didn't get because I don't know the legends, but I got enough to put this squarely into my fave specfic reads of the year. Also, these stories are mostly about women--families, female friends--and it's gloriously Bechdel-shattering. Friendship is one of the major themes at work here (depicted unsentimentally and often hilariously) which is I suspect why the overall effect of the book is so engaging and uplifting, even though many of the stories tackle dark and bitter themes. Prudence and the Dragon has to be my favourite: millennia-old dragon in human form falls for plain dumpy girl because she's funny and offers her the world; girl is mostly concerned with getting her university work done and not falling out with her bestie over it. Bestie is stunningly beautiful, doesn't get to be the heroine, and has her own companion story that works out perfectly. A wonderfully satisfying and immersive reading experience. Get it, stat.

  • Sunil
    2019-06-22 02:06

    Zen Cho utterly charmed me on a Loncon panel about South and Southeast Asian SFF, so of course I bought her book of short stories, which do indeed reflect her boisterous, whimsical personality. As a Chinese Malaysian living in London, she draws from several cultures in her storytelling, and the book is divided into three sections: "Here" (stories set in Malaysia), "There" (stories set in England), and "Elsewhere" (stories set, well, elsewhere). For the non-Malaysian reader, it's a great way to be introduced to various aspects of the culture, including food, language, and folklore, and for the Malaysian reader, it's SFF for YOU.Every story is good, and one of my very favorites, "One-Day Travelcard for Fairyland," is only available in this collection, which contains seven reprints and three new stories. I love Cho's dry sense of humor. "The House of Aunts" describes eating people in such mundane terms that I regularly burst out laughing, and "Prudence and the Dragon" has such an offbeat wit that I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe. But the stories aren't comedic romps; they're character-based with heart. The collection ends on a strong note with "The Four Generations of Chang E," which the blurb helpfully informs the reader is a metaphor for the Chinese diaspora, even though it is fairly clear from the story itself, which packs quite a punch.I devoured this book in a single day. Zen Cho's voice needs to be heard: it's fun, fresh, and important.

  • j
    2019-06-20 08:00

    One of the best speculative fiction collections I have ever read! Loved.

  • Rebecca
    2019-06-24 08:01

    I could not have loved these stories more. I always want to be reading books that make me feel like this one did, and I will definitely be reading it again. I loved Sorcerer to the Crown with all my heart, but these stories are even more original and definitely more poignant. FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND STARS. In summary, I will be preordering every future book Zen Cho writes, setting up a google alert now.

  • Shira Glassman
    2019-05-29 02:46

    This Malaysian and Malaysian-diaspora fantasy shorts collection brings extremely intimate and personal concepts into the sphere of fantasy fiction--like unexpected difficulty in schoolwork or performing arts after being at the top of your class, or blooming into your suppressed bisexuality. Far from being the fantasy of broad, sweeping, epic stories about clashes between dynasties or magical orders, this is the fantasy about household magic, about supernatural creatures that have the same feelings and hopes and family structures we mortals do, and about one-on-one friendships and relationships. They even enjoy the simple, hedonic pleasure of food.Other key themes of the book's fifteen stories include Malaysia's multiculturalism, with Chinese traditions coexisting alongside Christianity and Islam plus all the legends and fantasy creatures that are uniquely Malaysian, and women, both mortal and supernatural, interacting with their female family members, especially across the generations. I was fascinated, incidentally, by the variety of undead within Malaysian mythology, with the type of ghost varying by gender, manner of death, etc.Some of my favorite moments:The House of Aunts, which is available to read for free here, is a sweet YA paranormal romance starring a teenage vampire who lives with all the protective, overbearing yet nurturing female relatives of her family who share her condition while posing as a living student at school. At one point in the story she won't let the Muslim boy she has a crush on share her lunch, telling him that it's pork. (Readers: it's not pork.) This is just so goddamn cute and grisly at the same time that it made me smile, and also is a model way to recognize ethnoreligious diversity in a spec fic setting."The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life", also available free, is about a young woman who suddenly acquires a supernatural shadow: her own self, as a teenager. Through a series of amusing or poignant moments she interacts with her old self as she travels to Japan to teach English and learn Japanese, until finally the two selves merge again and she becomes the whole person she was meant to be from the beginning. This is one of the anthology's two stories about women who like women. The other one is:"The Mystery of the Suet Swain", in which a lesbian fights a demon Nice Guy. I mean all of that literally, including the demon part! The story leaves it unclear whether or not she and the "I said no to the last eleven guys who asked me out" best friend will date after the main character rescues her, but I think it's a good story either way (and I say yes, sure, they date.)This one is a darker moment, but there's a part in the self-harm/self-destructive metaphor story "The Fish Bowl" where the MC is struggling with performing music she hasn't practiced, so as a price for the magic to make her get through the piece, the titular magic fish drains blood from her in a way that shows up as four angry red streaks down her arm representing the four strings running down our fingerboards. As a violinist, this is a sharp and accurate piece of imagery. In fact when I read that line I immediately fired off a tweet to the author saying "you get us."There are so many other creative ideas in this book that I could go on and on -- including the old favorite fantasy setting of an English boarding school but still populated by Malaysian diaspora characters, and another one where a troupe of Chinese dancers in England are secretly ghostbusters also, but hopefully by now I've convinced whoever's reading this to give the book a whirl. Every once in a while I add a line to my reviews to the effect of "if you like my books, try--" and this is one of them.I advise buying the eBook so that you can stay abreast of trigger warnings without my help, since the author has commendably included a lot of warnings and clicky-things that go to her notes and "skip this story if you don't want to read about X" and other helpful tidbits. Obviously stay out of "House of Aunts" if cannibalism is a major squick, although I found myself craving gribenes (chicken skin fried in chicken fat) after I read it because I am, truly, a trash can. :P

  • Siao
    2019-06-20 07:05

    GOT STORIES ABOUT ORANG BUNIAN LAH, GOT TEENAGE PONTIANAK LAH, GOT ORANG MINYAK ALSO. The orang minyak a bit gross lah, Facebook stalk pretty girls and take pictures. Also leh, the language is memang like that one. A lot of slang, so leh...quite fun to read. But not as contrived as the Rose Chan one. This one's a little more believable. I didn't know ghosts also got such a sense of humour. Keong Si also can make jokes leh.

  • Suzainur K.A.R.
    2019-06-20 09:03

    Short stories with local supernatural bent voiced artlessly by Zen Cho. Her characters are quirky but not annoyingly cute, the landscape lush with Malaysian mystical lore and the dialogue is just so real. Something to devour in a single sitting.

  • Coolcurry
    2019-06-07 02:58

    Spirits Abroad is a delightful collection of short stories by Zen Cho. I’d previously enjoyed her novel The Sorcerer and the Crown and a couple of her short stories (specifically “Prudence and the Dragon” and “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Life“). Zen Cho is a Malaysian fantasy author who often combines English fantasy tropes with Malaysian life and folklore. While many of her stories deal with serious topics (such as Angela disconnecting herself from her heritage and repressing her bisexuality in “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Lives”), they are often humorous at the same time. Zen Cho is an immensely talented writer, and I enjoyed this collection to no end.If you want to get a taste of Zen Cho’s work without investing in an entire collection, many of these stories are available for free online. In “Prudence and the Dragon,” a Dragon visits London and becomes enamored with Prudence, an ordinary med student. “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Life” is a sequel story focusing on Prudence’s friend Angela. The only other connected stories in the collection are “起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion–The Lion Bows)“ and “七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum),” which follow a lion dance trope in England which uses their dances to perform exorcisms. “The Four Generations of Chang E” is a science fiction story about immigration and the different generations of one family that immigrates to the moon and assimilates (or tries not to assimilate) with the local lunar people. I’ll admit to being a bit confused by all the women being named “Chang E.” Was each successive daughter given the same name, or was this supposed to be the same woman somehow? Then again, the ambiguity only makes the story more interesting.The last short story also available online is “The House of Aunts,” the story of Ah Lee, a young Malaysian vampire who lives with her five aunties. When Ah Lee begins to fall in love with a boy at school, the aunties are disapproving and full of dire warnings, but Ah Lee wants a life apart from them. There’s a free audio version available at PodCastle.Other stories are only available in print, and some are specific to this collection. “The First Witch of Damansara” is the opening story, in which a young woman who’s immigrated to England has to return home for her grandmother’s funeral. Complicating matters, Vivian’s grandmother was a witch and her sister has inherited the power. Oh, and her grandmother’s spirit is hanging around and emotionally blackmailing the family to try and get the burial she wants.“First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” might be the funniest story in the collection, despite the title. A forum on minorities in Malaysia is derailed when an orang bunian (a mythological invisible race that lives in the jungle) arrives wanting to discuss invisible people’s rights. Oh, and the failures of the modern education system.Probably my favorite story of the collection is also the darkest: “The Fish Bowl.” Su Yin is a student under intense pressure to perform perfectly. She’s struggling to get by when she encounters a magic koi fish. The fish will grant her wishes, but in return, she’ll have to pay in pain and blood. It’s clearly a story about academic anxiety and self harm, and it’s one I related to a tad too much. My high school could be incredibly intense when it came to academics, and it wasn’t until after graduation that I realized so many of peers were also having mental health trouble. For all its fantastical elements, “The Fish Bowl” was a little too real.My second favorite story is “The Mystery of the Suet Swain,” which deals with stalking and harassment. Sham and Belinda are both Malaysians attending college in England and are best of friends. When someone named “Suet” begins posting photos of Belinda online, Sham is determined to get to the bottom of it and support her friend.“Balik Kampung (Going Back)” tells of a hungry ghost returning home to see her husband and finding out why she died. In “The Earth Spirit’s Favorite Anecdote,” an earth spirit has a series of exasperating encounters with her landlord. “One-Day Travelcard for Fairyland” takes the English boarding school setting, populates it with international students, and puts them in battle with local fairies. In “Liyana,” a girl is born from a pineapple. “Jebet Dies” is my least favorite story in the collection. I can’t begin to tell you what it’s about; it makes no sense to me. Maybe I just don’t have the cultural background to understand it?Cho uses content warnings on all her stories with options to skip to the next one if you so choose. I decided to read them all, but I appreciated the warning. It might have been useful if I was having a bad anxiety day. Anyway, this was a fantastic collection that I highly recommend.Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.

  • Josie
    2019-06-16 05:05

    I'm in two minds when it comes to this book.I honestly thought the book was phenomenal. It is everything I love about speculative fiction - funny and folkloric, dry yet dripping with wonder. However, that wasn't what made the book so special. The book was especially special because Zen Cho made it Malaysian. She took speculative fiction on its head and applied it to the Malaysian context, using local imagery and drawing from the rich lore of Malay and Chinese paranormal superstitions. Here the characters don't have beans on toast for breakfast, but we do see lots of them spreading kaya and going to kopitiams for a snack. Our characters here talk about exams, piano and violin lessons, gripe about bossy aunts and Mat Rempits. All so painfully Malaysian ... it feels less like a book than it did a portal to a childhood I had that is now long gone. Except, you know, infused with paranormal stuff, like the undead and magical dragon dances and weird wish-granting fishes.The best part about the book was undoubtedly its dialogue. Here we have ghosts and schoolgirls and earth spirits talking in full blown Rojak language. It was refreshing to read writing that so very clearly elucidates the nuances of Manglish, such as how characters subtly shift the content of their speech compared to which ethnic group they speak to (peppering in more Malay words for inter-ethnic communication and more Hokkien/Mandarin when talking with their grandmothers). Look, Manglish isn't very beautiful. It's not elegant. It is dry and choppy. It is hardly the dialect you want serenaded at you. Which was probably why it was a little jarring to see it spoken by kuntilanaks and pretty ladies and vampires. But it is what truly encapsulates Malaysia - without it, you won't understand the country. It's not elegant, but it is unbelievably witty. It carries with it the dry humour and vivid scepticism of a populace often underlooked in global media. It is the tongue of old wives tales, of mothers scolding their children, of schoolkids playing football in the field, of wry banter. It was incredible to see the language - often blatantly ignored in 'higher circles' because of its low-brow quality - reflected so acutely on paper like that. It made Zen Cho's writing truly irreplaceable. But here's the thing. This is a book written for a Malaysian audience. Zen Cho adds in short cultural notes after every story, but they don't help unless you're already familiar with Malaysian society. I cannot guarantee that even Singaporeans or Indonesians will understand it - the former will be able to understand Manglish and the subtle irony behind the stories and the latter will be able to understand the intricacies of Malay folklore motifs ... but only Malaysians will be able to understand both. It will be even worse for those who are not from the two countries; you will have to look up words at every turn of the page because of how culturally-specific every single line of her writing is, half the dialogue will whiz by you, and you won't be able to truly capture the comedic effect and satirical motifs of topical Malaysian issues such as racism and inter-ethnic relations. I don't know if this is something I can gush about with everyone and anyone that I meet. But perhaps that's the point. Perhaps it's not the kind of book I'm meant to gush about and recommend. Perhaps it really is the kind of book that I'm supposed to leave fondly simmering in my kindle, waiting for me to open it once more and read stories from a bygone era of my life.

  • Yadira
    2019-06-17 06:00

    Empecé el libro con muchas ganas y el primer cuento no me gustó para nada. Ya temía que había elegido un mal libro para mi, pero decidí darle un chance y seguir leyendo. Menos mal! Todos los demás cuentos me encantaron. No sé qué pasó con el primero, si es que me esperaba otra cosa y luego cambié mis expectativas con los demás cuentos o si simplemente no es de mi gusto. Son todos muy distintos entre sí con diversos temas, como la bisexualidad, los acosadores, la inmigración, etc. Algunos muy graciosos, unos macabros y otros algo tristes.No es fácil de leer. Me debo haber perdido un tercio de la gracia de los cuentos por no conocer nada del folklore malayo y porque está escrito en manglish con mucho slang. Pero igual por contexto uno entiende y las notas del autor al final de cada cuento ayudan.Quedé con ganas de más. Tal vez otro día busque otras cosas escritas por la autora."Oh, that smells delicious. What is it?""Potatoes, carrots, swede, some grated apple for sweetness, fairies for protein. But only non-sentient ones," said Zheng Yi reassuringly. "Fairies are terribly good for you."They were also quite crunchy, and froze well.

  • Abdullah Hussaini
    2019-06-08 09:04

    Best buku ni cuma cerpen dia panjang2 laa. huhu.

  • James
    2019-05-28 03:00

    Oooooh, this was good.Cho excels at two things in this collection: attention to character and attention to texture in the story's details. Which are great things to excel at when drawing on folkloric ideas of fantasy, in my opinion; there's just enough of a rough surface to the glamorous or intriguing fantastical ideas on display to get a grip on it, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing through the eyes of every character here.She has a good mix of tone going on. There's the thoroughly macabre, the downright depressing, the amusing, the ironic, the daft, the awe-inspiring. Every time you wonder if it's puffing itself up just a little too much, there'll be a moment to deflate and have a laugh at how weird and confusing the world can be. I like that in fantasy, the willingness to tip the reader a wink about the fact we're reading about dragons every once in a while.Also a selling point: totally a dragon in this book. I'm gonna end this on that note- I like dragons.

  • Jaymee Goh
    2019-06-09 04:44

    IF YOU ARE MALAYSIAN YOU NEED TO READ THIS, LIKE, YESTERDAY. Besides being a complete delight to read with very strong craft, Zen's writing is a great example of how Malaysians can write SFF without relying on Western perspectives of Malaysia. I personally do not care much for her protagonists, who are mostly rather bland made interesting through the situations they are in (I suppose they are meant to be EveryWoman, but something about many of them, like Prudence and Vivian, rub me wrong, despite that they are my absolute favourite stories) but the handling of the speculative elements, re-presenting cultural issues and myths, is masterful and wonderful. Zen is a gold standard every aspiring Malaysian writer should aim for <3

  • jetlag620
    2019-06-24 04:55

    I'll admit that I only picked this up because it was on a list of books by authors from Southeast Asia (which I needed for the Read Harder challenge), was fantasy related, and was cheap as an ebook, but it was really good! I really want to read her other stuff now. All of the stories touched on something Malay, even if it was just in the way people spoke, and she wrote little commentaries for each story. I liked that she also put in possible trigger warnings and a link to skip to the next story if wanted. It was a nice touch for people who might be sensitive to certain things.

  • Michael Fierce
    2019-06-05 06:43

    * Includes, The House of Aunts - one of my favorite short stories I've read in the last decade.

  • Neenee
    2019-06-05 02:52

    Interesting concept. Some stories were executed well while others were not. Zen Cho is a gem. I'm looking forward for her other books.

  • Lindy
    2019-06-03 06:09

    I wanted to like these stories more than I did. The author's tendencies towards sparse description and explaining all her metaphors made it difficult for me to really immerse myself. Volume highlights: "The House of Aunts," "The Mystery of the Suet Swain," and "Balik Kampung"

  • Larou
    2019-06-08 02:09

    This is a collection of Urban Fantasy stories – “Urban Fantasy” in the more traditional (think Charles de Lint etc.) sense of magic spilling into everyday life rather than the more recent (think Charlaine Harris) of sexy vampires and werewolves. It also is a collection of stories by a Malaysian author, and the tales are deeply steeped not only in Malaysian folklore but also in the languages of Malaysia – a very distinctive way of using English which is generously peppered with (presumably) Malaysian terms, not to mention all kinds of exotic foodstuffs. I was glad to be reading this on a Kindle, as that way I could at least easily look up the latter, but of course I did not get very far with the words from Malay that way; so be prepared to be puzzled a lot or have frequent recourse to the internet search engine of your choice.This might have come across as an affectation, the real world equivalent of third-rate Fantasy authors splashing made-up words all over their texts to make them look more exotic, but you never get that feeling reading Spirits Abroad: For one thing, Zen Cho is emphatically not a third-rate writer, but emphatically first-rate and her generous use of Malayan terms is actually a case on point – even if you do not the meaning of the words she uses (and I admit to having often been too lazy to look them up), there is a rhythm to her sentences, a rhythm that is slow and easy but none the less compelling for that, and a melody to her sounds, a melody made of vivid and intense tone colours (and on a side note, the cover of the e-book version of this collection really fits the stories perfectly).It all combines to a very distinct, unique narrative voice that remains identifiable and close to itself even through various narrators. In fact that is the single small niggle I have towards this collection – the narrators, in particular those in first person, always seem in danger of becoming indistinguishable, of running together in the larger auctorial voice. It never quite happens (hence this is a really minor thing) but I at least felt there was a potential problem here. In any case, if one was to describe Zen Cho’s narrative voice, I think the term that will most likely come first to one’s mind is “charming” – there is such an obvious delight the narratives take in themselves, in the sheer act of their telling, the spinning out of their tales in this colourful, highly rhythmical manner that it seems impossible for any reader to not become enchanted by that voice and then enthuse about it in turn.So far so remarkable – but what I think makes this collection really stand out and lifts it from the merely very good to the truly excellent, is that Zen Cho somehow manages to use that charming voice – which seems made for cute, lovely stories – to tell some very dark and occasionally even gruesome tales, the apparent innocence of the narrator’s tone heightening the haunting effect these stories have on the reader. While there are several quite wonderful stories in Spirits Abroad that are funny and heartwarming, the one that tend to stick in the reader’s memory (this reader’s, anyway) are the ones where the charm is layered over or shot through with a darker tone, like “The First Witch of Damansara” or “The House of Aunts”. The latter one in particular (according to the author, her take on Twilight – and in retrospect, you can see where she is coming from there, although I never would have noticed just from the story, it is just so different) has a huge emotional impact and I can understand why that is apparently the most popular of her stories.This was a really enjoyable collection, and I’m eager to read more by Zen Cho – she has a novel coming out in September, described by Naomi Novik as “An enchanting cross between Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke, full of delights and surprises.” Needless to say, it went on my preorder list straight away.

  • Choong JayVee
    2019-06-11 02:41

    I'm almost afraid to write this review.I discovered Spirits Abroard from a friend, who said she HAD to support Zen Cho because there aren't many Malaysian SFF writers. Now I'm pretty sure there ARE Malaysian SFF writers because I personally know one who ONLY writes SFF, just that they're not published.It's good that this book came out, because look at all the good reviews! She's taken Malaysian culture, full of superstitions and mythical creatures, and given it a realistic spin, given context and space and relevance to current events, and thrown in a metaphor or two as a sly wink to race relations (because that is the sum total of a Malaysian, not gonna lie).My only problem is the language; It's in English, it's comprehensible. It's Manglish so readers totally get the feel of HOME and LOCATION because Malaysians do not speak proper english at all. Ever. Not even the Malaysian Chinese regardless of economic status or age, and I can comment on this because I am the exact demographic she writes about.ESPECIALLY the Malaysian Chinese, because they ALL talk Manglish! Don't believe me? Fine, have an example. You know what, have one from each story:(view spoiler)[- "They could have call me on Skype," she said. "Call my handphone some more! What a waste of money."- "Ah girl," said Ah Ma, "you don't talk like that, please."- "Eh, that's our provisions leh," Hui Ann protested. "Cannot simply eat!"- "Like that, of course the ghosts are not good mood!"- "Cannot see," said Belinda. "Can see face only, out of the corner of my eye."- "It's not like he's my friend what," said Prudence.- I never like to make promises - after cannot keep, then how? So I left loh. (hide spoiler)]Seven out of ten stories prominently feature a female chinese character who speaks manglish because there is no such thing as a Malaysian Chinese girl who attempts to speak like an angmoh. I included a line from 'The Earth Spirit's Favourite Anecdote' even though the protagonist is an earth spirit because what's one more female chinese-ish character in a different physical form? This isn't thematic consistency, this is one actress with one shtick starring in eight TVB dramas. One review mentions how Cho inhabits stereotypes and renders them ineffective. It's half right - it invents a new stereotype by overusing a good thing.Shame about the language, because the stories are solid. My faves were "The House of Six Aunts" and "Chang E Goes to the Moon". The former was a bit confusing with the aunts' nicknames (I reckon those who know Hokkien could parse some hierarchial order), but the ending felt tacked on. It would have been stronger if it ended just before the last part and instead inserted it somewhere in the middle or scattered throughout, but it's no mean feat juggling seven characters with a few lines of dialogue and history and making each of their individual stories stand out. The latter story is a relief after the manglish barrage, which is a damn shame it's spoiled by the back blurb. One line and now I know the whole plot. Good job Fixi Novo, I was worried I wouldn't be smart enough to get it!These gripes I have is why I'm afraid to write this review; The praise for this book is universal, with some reviewers urging to buy the book immediately because You Will Love It. I believed the praise, and realised RM20 later it was good, but no keeper. My advice is to borrow the book - my copy's soggy from an accident but you're more than welcome - and read the first story. If you like what you read, go ahead and grab a copy. You'll appreciate its value more than I.

  • feux d'artifice
    2019-06-24 02:08

    I love this story collection soooo much!!!! Coming into the collection, I already read quite a few of Zen Cho's works so I knew I was gonna love it in either case, but like, I just didn't realize how much I would end up liking having all her works bundled up in one book. Like, I can read House of Aunts (!!!!! The besttttt) and The Earth Spirit's Favorite Anecdote all in the same collection???? And that cover OMG, I want to craddle it in my arms. And all the author's notes at the end of the story!!!!! Too cute. Ok but enough raving, lets get to the actual contents of this book:The First Witch of Damansara - **** it's so weird, i distinctively remember not liking this short story that much when I first read it? Wasn't a fan of the protagonist. Oh, but I forgot how awesome her grandma was, as I became very fond of her sister on rereading this. Hence the one star bump.First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia - ***** OMG SO FUNNY. This is a New To Me short story by Zen Cho and I love it. Reminds me of certain conversations that I end up hearing in my extended family or those family friend house parties.The House of Aunts - ********** !!!!!!!! READ IT!!!!!! I love the cuteness (these teenagers in love such losers istg) and the aunts and just dhsksnkskmd. One-Day Travelcard for Fairyland -**** new to me, very cute boarding school shenanigans Rising Lion - The Lion Bows - **** I remember when I first read this I was very invested in the fate of the ghost. :D(Seven Star Drums) - *** only interesting if you care about Boris, side character in previous short story. Fortunately I was. New to me.The Mystery of the Suet Swain - ***** oh my prickly bad at people Asian lesbian detective, I would read anything starring you and your case investigation ways. Petition to have a Sham series, anyone??? Also new to me.Prudence and the Dragon - **** cute fluff. (The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life) - **** ok I need a sequel starring Angela and romcom shenanigans.The Earth Spirit's Favorite Anecdote - **************** THESE LOSERS ISTG!!!!! My feels holy shit.Liyana - * :(((((( this story made me sad!!!!!! Not a reflection of quality of work, just sadness. I am a fan of happy endings and I just.... Why?????!!!!!!! New to me.The Four Generations of Chang E - ***1/2 when I first read this, I kinda wish Zen Cho did more with the whole immigration allegory. Reading her author's notes reconciled me with this story a little, but still.(The Many Deaths of Hang Jebat) - * I confess, I didn't get it. New to me.(The Fish Bowl) - **** Wah, also sad one!!!!!! But it was very good kind of sad, I guess.(Balik Kampung) - *** liked it more on reread, demon was the best.All the stories in brackets are extras in the ebook versionIn conclusion, if you love Zen Cho, run, don't walk, and give her all your money.

  • Richard
    2019-06-16 02:57

    This is a delightful collection of colorful little stories. They seem to span a few years in the author's career, and many/most were previously published elsewhere. While the locations range between England and Malaysia, the stories all involve ghosts, spirits, or supernatural beings in some way. A few are serious, some are humorous. Most involve young people as well, often university or high-school aged students. While the narrative prose is clear and facile, the dialogue is often different: an apparently Malaysian dialect of English is frequently used by the characters and it has an interesting flavor. A reader will soon get used to that; and there's a lot of Malaysian vocabulary sprinkled about. I suppose it would be helpful to have some cultural background, but that's not really necessary to understanding or enjoying the stories. Some stories are related to others, but they're mostly independent, so a reader could easily skip around and take small bites here and there. Overall I'm going with a three-star rating, but some of the stories are really very delightful and exotic; some are slightly less successful, but that's expected in a collection with so many different stories. And the whole thing is well worth reading; carry it around with you, like I did. (Also, this took a long time for me to read only because I read it mostly at odd moments on my phone while waiting, etc.) The author's prose is quite fine; copy-editing of the volume is excellent. Full disclosure: I do not know the author, and I paid full retail price for the e-book.

  • Hesper
    2019-06-14 06:11

    Does anyone remember the Amazing Race? This book is kind of like that. If you're not Malaysian, you get dropped in the middle of the culture and then have to figure your way around based on textual clues. I thought this was pretty cool. I'm sure there were plenty of things I missed, but that was no obstacle to enjoyment.It succeeds the way it does because the folklore isn't just the backdrop, but a living fabric that shapes and informs relationships between characters. And relationships, mainly those between women, are at the core of every story here. Some things I learned while reading it:-Manglish has great rhythm, but apparently Zen Cho is one of the few authors who uses it-toyol is a type of spirit summoned from a dead fetus; it can be trained to steal things and commit petty mischief, but presumably it may learn other tricks ("The Earth Spirit's Favorite Anecdote" has some tips on the latter)-some paranormal investigators in Singapore have scads of info on pontianak (this pertains to the excellent "House of Aunts")-the orang minyak is basically Fedora Guy's ascended form (and "The Mystery of the Suet Swain" is by turns whimsical and chilling in laying this out. It has a thematic companion in "Prudence and the Dragon" but with less grease and realism, and more dragon.)-it takes serious writing skill to be hilarious yet unsentimental, whimsical and realistic, dark yet optimistic (ok, I knew this already, but Zen Cho's writing is such a fantastic example of striking that balance that I feel I learned it all over again)A seriously good collection. Read it.

  • Kathleen
    2019-06-21 07:02

    I read this on the recommendation of... basically everyone whose opinion about books I respect? But especially Isanah and stardust-rain and THANKS GUYS IT IS AMAZING. It is actually quite hard to get hold of a physical copy of Spirits Abroad, since it was only physically published in Malaysia (I think?) but I managed in the end through the magic of interlibrary loans. The lending institution only let me keep it for two weeks but that was okay because I basically only needed two days, it is that good. Spirits Abroad is a collection of short stories about various spirits set in Malaysia and abroad, and it's a joy. I wasn't familiar with most of the spirits that Cho selected, so I learned a lot, and I also enjoyed that they were very... mm, down to earth is the wrong phrase. Perfectly at home, I think is better. Everything felt completely real in a way that a lot of modern urban fantasy doesn't. Cho is a master of language, of evoking a specific time and place, and of making fantastical elements seem absolutely ordinary. Particular favorites include House of Aunts, which.. oh my lord just read it it's fantastic and I will never be over Ah Lee yelling at her aunts for trying to kill the boy she likes. The Mystery of the Suet Swain is great, feminist and brave and touching on themes of stalking and feminine terror as well as bravery. Oh, and Prudence and the Dragon, in which a dragon courts a young lady named Prudence who isn't having any. The stories are clever and feminist and beautifully written and really smart, and for me, really enlightening as I am a pasty white girl who's never been to Malaysia. 100% would recommend and read again. A+++++

  • heidi
    2019-05-27 05:44

    I was madly in love with Cho's The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. This is not that book. I love it in a different way. This is the best kind of assorted chocolate kind of short story collection, where each one is a distinct flavor, and I never felt like I was getting repeats.I've always been the kid who loved reading fairy tales, and this book is filled with all sorts of stories I hadn't met before (except the hopping ghost/vampire). The best part was that it wasn't abstract retellings of stories, but real, very human interactions with the supernatural that made me laugh and wince sympathetically. For me, the most resonant part was the way women use guilt as a generational control method. I've known far too many circumstances where that's the way it works for it to seem abstract. I also really identified with the student who had been skimming along adequately because she was smart, and then when she hit the point where she had to work and practice and she didn't have the skills for it.I'm also really excited to hear that Cho has a full length novel coming out this fall. YAY.Read if: You love human/fairy tales. You will sympathize with characters who get nagged by their moms and aunties. You are part of a diaspora.Skip if: You want stories that are all one thing.Also read: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

  • Sara Norja
    2019-06-22 01:43

    What a delightful range of stories in Spirits Abroad! This is one of the best short story collections I've ever read. I often seem to describe Zen Cho's writing as "delightful", but really, it is! Reading Spirits Abroad was so great. I couldn't wait to get to read each story. Cho gives us vivid characters, usually Malaysian, with wonderfully natural speech patterns (complete with Malaysian English discourse markers), and inventive settings and concepts that spin each story forwards. True to its name, Spirits Abroad involves a lot of ghosts and other spirit creatures. The living are in conversation with the dead here. And the stories are in conversation with each other: the collections forms a very coherent whole.I loved the emphasis on families, both difficult and dear. Friendships too. There is such a wide range of relationships in these stories, not just limited to romantic. Also: I was really impressed by how the ebook had content warnings in front of stories with potentially upsetting content, complete with an ebook link to the next story. So considerate!All in all this collection is an utter delight. I will be rereading many of these stories, so much comfort read potential here! I clearly need to just get anything that Zen Cho writes in the future, because I've loved everything I've read so far.

  • Claire
    2019-06-07 07:10

    Spirits Abroad is easily one of the best short story collections I have ever read. A blend of urban fantasy and speculative fiction, every story has the power not only to amaze, but to move readers. The struggles of a teenage vampire had me tearing up. One of the stories was so funny that I sat giggling on the train, much to the exasperation of my fellow passengers. This collection demonstrates everything great about the short story, and does so with real style.Zen Cho's writing is delightful. Her way of exploring traditional lore in a contemporary setting was totally fascinating - every story worked due to the strength of her prose. All of the characters were fascinating and, most impressively, relatable even if they weren't human. Cho had me empathising with an earth spirit - if that isn't skill, I don't know what is. Another aspect of the collection that stood out was Cho's consistent use of Manglish, Malaysian English. This gave real context to her stories. One thing I enjoy in my native Scottish fiction is the use of regional dialect & slang - as is the case here, I think it shapes the narrative in a way that standard English couldn't. The stories all have real character.Utterly magical collection, seamlessly put together. I'd recommend it to anyone, particularly a reader looking for something original.

  • Tsana Dolichva
    2019-06-15 06:46

    Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho is a collection of short fiction by the author of Sorcerer to the Crown and several other works of fiction that I've enjoyed. I bought the book some time ago, when I read Cho's other work, but only just got around to reading it, mostly thanks to challenging myself to read more short stories. I'm a bit disappointed in myself for putting it off for so long.Overall, I loved this book. Of course, I didn't love every single story, but I thought most of them were great and there were only a few stories that didn't click with me. The collection is divided into three sections: Here, There, Elsewhere, and Going Back, which is an interesting thematic grouping of stories. The "Here" stories were mostly set in Malaysia, the "There" stories were mostly set in the UK, the "Elsewhere" stories were either set in non-Earthly or non-specific locations, and the "Going Back" stories were mostly set in Malaysia but perhaps not quite. All the stories had some sort of fantasy element to them. For the most part this structure worked well. Out of fifteen stories, there were only four I didn't love, which is a pretty good hit rate. I also liked how the stories had author's notes which could be read after the story or skipped entirely and the ebook was set up with handy links to take you between story and notes and back to the next story with minimal effort.The stories all (I think?) have some Malaysian elements to them, which Cho does not shy away from. We are treated to Manglish and mythology/folklore and a good dose of humour (although I should note that not all of the stories are funny — some are a bit depressing). There were a few stories that were linked by being about some of the same people, including two set in a contemporary version of the Sorcerer to the Crown world, which I would love to read more of.If you've been following my short story reading challenge, you will have seen some of my comments on the individual stories in this collection. I am still including my usual story-by-story commentary, but it might feel a bit repetitive. Sorry about that.~HereThe First Witch of Damansara — A delightful story about a Malaysian woman living in the West who goes home to KL for her grandmother’s funeral. An excellent and very entertaining read that reminded me how much I love Cho’s writing.First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia — This story had a bit of a slow start before the spec fic element came to the fore. It was interesting, but it was a bit sad and less inherently amusing by its nature. House of Aunts — a longer story about a teenage girl with a surfeit of aunts, all of them undead. Being sixteen and undead is not so bad when you have so many aunts looking after you, but not being allowed to have friends at your new school is a bit harder. An excellent story on the longer side (novelette range by Hugo definitions) that’s slightly gory (people are eaten) but otherwise a fun read. ThereOne-Day Travelcard for Fairyland — Malaysian (and other nationalities) girls at an English boarding school in the present-day countryside come up against fairies, the malicious kind. An amusing and quick read.起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion — The Lion Bows) — A lovely story about a lion dance troupe and the ghost they’re paid to get rid of. 七星鼓 (Seven Star Drum) — Another lion dance story which, I was delighted to learn, has some crossover characters with the previous story. It also conveyed the main character’s love for the lion very well. The Mystery of the Suet Swain — A story about boys being creepy and a stalker and female friendship, set at university.Prudence and the Dragon — A hilarious story set in a present day version of the Sorcerer to the Crown London. I think the most I’ve laughed in this collection so far and there were heaps of delightful background/worldbuilding details that really made the story.The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life — Sort of a sequel/companion story to the previous, focussing on Prudence’s best friend Angela. Unlike Prudence, Angela is very sensitive to magic and close proximity to a dragon caused some of her issues to physically manifest. Another amusing story. I would be more than happy to read a novel set in this time period of this world. ElsewhereThe Earth Spirit’s Favourite Anecdote — the story of finding a hole in the forest and dealing with a forest spirit, told by an earth spirit. Not my favourite story in this collection. Liyana — a depressing but really fascinating story. A class of folklore idea that I don’t think I’ve come across before. But also, more than metaphorically about women’s sacrifice for the family.The Four Generations of Chang E — A story about being the child of immigrants and fitting in or not. Also aliens on the moon. And from the authors notes, some mythological subtext that went over my head.Going BackThe Many Deaths is Hang Jebat — was a bit confusing and I was a bit lost as to where it was going until I read the author’s notes and saw that it was based on mythology I had no knowledge of. The summary in the author’s notes made yet a bit clearer and I can now see what the author was trying to do, but the story doesn’t work that well on its own.The Fish Bowl — a dawning horror story about the pressure to do well in school and a concerning bargain with a magic fish. Harrowing. I quite liked the story, but I wanted a bit more from the end than we got, I think.Balik Kampung — a story about a ghost returning to earth for the Hungry Ghost Festival and, in the course of events, finding out how she died. A good story to end the collection on. Some humour, some sadness.~In general, I want to read more of Cho's writing and look forward to getting my hands on the short stories not included in Spirits Abroad while I wait for the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown to come out. I highly recommend Spirits Abroad to fans of short fiction and spec fic. There's a lot to like about this collection and I think more people should experience it.5 / 5 stars You can read more reviews on my blog.

  • Stephanie
    2019-06-18 08:05

    *4.5 stars*Witty, delicious and enormously fun, this was my favorite short story collection in years. Zen Cho's voice is entirely her own, but the closest comparison I can come up with is Connie Willis for the wonderful combination of humor and intelligent fantasy.Usually when I read a single-author short story collection, I need to take breaks between reading each story. This time, though, I just devoured the whole book and had a wonderful time doing it. There are stories that are incredibly funny and also surprisingly romantic, like "The Earth Spirit's Favorite Anecdote"; there are stories that are dark, truly scary AND funny and sweet, like "The House of Aunts"; there are a few stories that are just heartbreaking. Most of them made me laugh, but a couple made me nearly cry. Out of the 15 short stories in the collection, the very last 3 were the only ones I didn't thoroughly enjoy, but even those had a lot of good points and might work better for other people.I will definitely be re-reading this collection many times in the future - it was just so smart AND so much fun - a wonderful combination!

  • Alyssa J.
    2019-06-15 04:11

    This would be my first Zen Cho book (and my first local read in quite a while).Spirits Abroad is a collection of short stories about spirits of every kind - orang bunian, toyols, dragons, fairies, etc.As a Malaysian (or if you're familiar with the Malaysian myths and legends), these stories will leave you in stitches. As someone who isn't Malaysian/familiar with the myths and legends, they might leave you slightly confused.What I loved about most of the stories is the homage to Malaysia's various ethnicities' tradition and culture. There's something that's heartwarming about seeing yourself represented in print. Most of the stories have an element of quirky but somewhat confusing element of romance. The stories even deal with social issues (racism, for example) and offer good representation (LGBTQ+).I think the only story that I really, REALLY didn't like was the one with the orang minyak. *shudders*Overall, it was a good read because its light and humorous.