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The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds (Malayan #1) by Selina Siak Chin Yoke: A Book Review

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds (Malayan #1)
Author: Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 476
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Synopsis: Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.

     Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).

     But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.

     My Review: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds tells the story of Chye Hoon, a woman of mixed Chinese and Malayan heritage. Chye Hoon is a young girl in Malaya who learns about her distinct heritage. She also yearns to go to school to learn how to read and write like her brother, Chong Jin. Because she was a girl, she learned how to cook instead.  When she grew older, she had a hard time finding a husband. She was unsuitable because she had shown her temper in public. 

     When a husband was found for her, he was a Chinese man who already had a wife and son in China. He had left his family there and planned to make a new one with Chye Hoon in Malaya. Their marriage was peaceful and they had ten children. When business brings Chye Hoon’s husband back to China, she dreads him leaving, for she fears she would never see him again. Her husband dies in China leaving Chye Hoon alone with ten children. Chye Hoon decides to run a business as a cook. However, her hardships are just beginning. Chye Hoon struggles to maintain her identity and her tradition as her country becomes more modernized.

     I really love Chye Hoon. She was a woman whom I could relate with. She is strong, determined, and wise. She is also very feisty and energetic. She does have a temper, which is often looked down upon. However, her best quality is that she never let her trials and tragedies get to her. Thus, her endurance is her strength. I also like how she excelled despite her weaknesses. Therefore, readers will greatly admire Chye Hoon and will want to know what happens to her.

    Overall, this book is about family, friendship, love, identity, and tradition versus modernity. The characters seemed very realistic and complex. After reading, I felt as I if I had known them. The writing is lyrical and evocative. The story itself was hard to put down and was so enthralling that readers will want to turn the pages to know the ending. I also loved the setting of Malaya, and I learned a lot about the Chinese and Malaysian culture. The only thing that I did not like about it was there were a few drawn-out scenes. Still, this is a book that you do not want to miss! I can’t wait to read the sequel, When The Future Comes Too Soon, which focuses on Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei. Thus, I recommend this not only to those interested in Malaysia, but also to readers of Lilli De Jong, Threads of Silk, and The Ohana

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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