Book Review // Linghun

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Book Name: Linghun
Author: Ai Jiang
◐ Genre: Gothic, Speculative Fiction
◐ Pages: 178
◐ Synopsis (Goodreads):
Follow Wenqi, Liam, and Mrs. in this modern gothic ghost story by Chinese-Canadian writer and immigrant, Ai Jiang. LINGHUN is set in the mysterious town of HOME, a place where the dead live again as spirits, conjured by the grief-sick population that refuses to let go.

Recommended for those who enjoy short books containing complex themes centered around grief, cultural identity, exploration of death and living, for anyone who has lost a loved one

Content Warning:
death, child death, grief, ghosts, racism, graphic violence

Review: 5/5 ⭐
I’ve been searching for a book to seize my soul and captivate me. This is the book. I don’t remember how or when it came across my radar, but when I added it to my TBR list, it had not yet been released. By chance as I was looking for what to read next, I came across it and decided to download it.

It’s September, after all—the time for spooky, atmospheric reads.

The premise intrigued me. It brought to mind works like Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, The Haunting of Hill House, and the BBC series, The Living and the Dead.

Really, these all begged the question, “How far would you go to be with your lost loved ones again?”

The answer is not an easy one to consider.

I could probably write essays on this book; it is so complex and deep.

In this story, Wenqi’s parents, grief-stricken over the death of her brother years prior, move to the town of HOME, where people live in haunted houses to reunite with their dead. In grieving their lost child, they have forgotten the living one. Wenqi wrestles with her sense of value in the family (an experience further compounded by traditional Chinese values of prioritising sons).

Jiang writes from three different perspectives: Wenqi’s in first person, Liam’s in third, and Mrs. in second. Such perspective shifts could be jarring, but they are done deftly, and as you continue reading, they make sense. She writes with such seeming simplicity and subtlety, that an unsuspecting reader might miss the many themes and messages incorporated throughout the book. I know I will read this more than once, yet still be able to discover something new each time.

This is a book about grief, how it literally becomes a home for us, how it can cause us to alienate the living as we also forget to fully live–how it leaves us stuck in the past. The residents of HOME only move out when they have made peace with their loss; for some people, that day never comes. Outside the houses, “lingerers” camp on the lawns and sidewalks of homeowners. They wait for a chance to occupy one of the haunted houses, some for years.

Between these themes, there are also threads of cultural displacement and grief for a homeland, as Wenqi’s family are immigrants from China, and Mrs. was a mail-order bride from China.

Linghun made me feel understood, embraced, and challenged. I started it before bed, thinking I’d only read a little bit before sleeping, and ended up reading it straight through. I, too, have been in that place of clinging so desperately to the dead that I neglect the living who are still with me. I still return there from time to time.

But as the book challenges, grief is not a place to live. One of the ironic things is that though the town is called HOME, residents never seem truly at home, but rather in a sort of purgatory where time has stopped. All focus is placed on the ghosts to keep them “alive.”

“The dead deserve our full attention.”

Ai Jiang

Ai Jiang’s writing is melancholic and beautiful, unique and atmospheric. It’s refreshingly different.

I will not be forgetting this book anytime soon.

↠ Get your copy of Linghun ↞
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Their stories are different, but what they seek is the same. They all want to find meaning, make meaning, see patterns where none exist. I wonder how long they’ve been trying to make sense of death.

Here, friendship is more of a quiet understanding that everyone is stuck, whether they chose it or not, in a place not meant for the present, but the past.

This town worships the dead, but it has no respect for the living.

What is the point of youth if you spend it hiding in the dark, waiting alone for something that never comes?

Goodbye. Hello. What’s the difference to those who are suspended in time?

HOME is a place where all times meet, intersect, disconnect from those for whom time still marches on.

I’ve always wanted to become a librarian, to live in a place of timelessness and immortality, where the past, present, and future exist all in one place through words and within books.

You are the mountain I cannot climb and the wound that refuses to heal.

When we think about grief and spirits, we mostly think about people and the dead. But I think grief can be tied not only to people but to places, memories, cultures, languages, and identity.

Memories often work to confuse us, showing us the most glorious idealization of images or the most traumatizing instances of our pain, and sometimes, everything is repressed, and so we see nothing at all.

I’m not a pessimistic person, so I often think that when we are born, we are simply walking the land of the living, waiting to be reunited with those who have been waiting for us on the other side—a family, a community, unlike the ones we have or will have here on Earth, but one that will be equally welcoming. It’s a community that I imagine, hopefully, will feel a lot like home.

Grief is a language that tears us apart, but it is also what brings us together.

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