KUALA LUMPUR: Author Yangsze Choo (pic) was ecstatic when she found out that her debut novel The Ghost Bride was listed as Oprah Winfrey’s “Book of the Week”.
She was told of the news by her friend, who e-mailed her that the novel was among 48 books in the autumn list, of which the editors of oprah.com “couldn’t stop reading”.
“At first, I couldn’t believe it. Then I ran around the house shouting ‘Oprah! Oprah!’. It was a wonderful endorsement,” said the Malaysia-born Choo, who is based in California.
Her novel, a love story in the Chinese world of the dead, was described by the reviewer as “the kind so full of longing, the pages practically sigh as you turn each one”.
The Ghost Bride has also earned reviews in USA Today and is listed in Barnes & Noble’s Fall 2013 Discover Great New Writers selection.
Despite the accolade, Choo, 40, said her life had not changed much since the book came out two months ago.
“It’s just the housework that has fallen by the wayside. I recently had to catch up on two weeks of ironing!” she said.
And she misses the clouds back home in Malaysia.
“There are some spectacular cumulus cloudscapes that you can see almost daily.
“Now that I live in dry and arid California, I miss those clouds.
“At sunset, they sometimes look like an enchanted land of mountains and islands in the sky,” she said.
Choo, whose parents are from Perak and whom she contacts frequently via Internet phone, said she had always liked “the limestone ridge of hills that look bluer and mistier as they recede into the distance”.
“We spent a lot of time driving to see my grandparents (near Ipoh) before the highway was completed.
“There’s something very nostalgic about driving through rubber plantations and past tin-mining dredges on a hot, still afternoon.
“Along the way, we’d have certain must-do stops, such as eating duck noodles in Bidor,” she recalled.
Her novel took her about three years to complete.
When it appeared on the bookshelves, it felt surreal to her.
“I wrote the book without thinking of getting it published, so I didn’t anticipate anything,” she said.
“I’d been writing short stories for years and this book was originally intended to amuse family and friends.
“It was low key because I just wrote as the story occurred to me.”
As a child, she was a bookworm.
“My mum was always sending us outside to ‘run around and get some exercise’. Instead, I’d climb the mango tree in front of our house and hide there with a book.”
A book of strange Chinese tales fascinated her back then.
“One of the most interesting tales in it was The Painted Skin, about a demon who wore the skin of a beautiful woman,” she said.
Choo, who did Social Studies in Harvard University and once worked as a management consultant, is married to a Chinese-American whom she met while studying. They have two children.
“My kids love roti canai, char kuay teow, beef ball noodles and sardines (must be Ayam brand). They also like fried ikan bilis and green coconuts, which my dad buys for them and opens at home with a parang. They’re always so thrilled by this,” she added.
As for her next plan, Choo said she and a comic book artist were working to make The Ghost Bride into a graphic novel.
“I’m also working on another novel although I’m a bit stumped right now,” she said.