Reed’s Recommendation Corner: The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo

 A mysterious girl. An aging detective. Revenge. Foxes? In an absorbing tale that takes place in 1900s Manchuria, we are brought to a world that clashes between Chinese folklore and the encroaching modernities of the Western world. 

Welcome to The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo.

The world is not an easy one for Snow, as both a fox and a woman. After the loss of her cub, she decides to search out the one who was responsible for its death. This book switches between her perspective and that of Bao, an aging private investigator with the ability to tell when someone is lying. Their stories are inexorably intertwined, even if one seems always just a step behind the other. Snow spends her time telling of her search for a photographer (a relatively new technology) was responsible for the death of her cub, while Bao is contracted to investigate the strange death of a working girl. As Snow (or Ah-San, as her employer calls her) tells her story as part history, part lesson on how foxes live, Bao finds foxes hinted at wherever he turns. He’s a methodical man while he works, while Snow seems guided by the animal instinct from her true form. Together, they form a story of a world stuck between the old ways and the new, trying to find their own bit of happiness, and processing parts of their lives that have left their marks.

Snow strikes me as a woman with a ferocity and wildness that isn’t tamed in her human form. She lives moment to moment, moving forward, and staying only in accordance with the revenge she seeks. She is thwarted by how women are viewed in Manchuria, but she finds connection with an older woman who effectively runs the medicine shop that her late husband owned (and which she runs, although others try to make it seem otherwise). 

Bao spends most of his life trying to fit between the narrow lines that the expectations of his family and society have set for him, all while living with a gift that is some ways a gift, but can feel like a curse. He seeks out the name of the dead girl, giving it to the person who contracted him so that respects might be paid. He goes out of his way, often only guided by the scraps of information he gathers. 

Both represent how the expectations set for them, both by themselves and others, can cause us to lose direction and lose the things that are most precious to us. Snow’s untamed wildness and Bao’s gentle firmness might seem to contradict each other, but they carry us through the story in somewhat unexpected ways. 

I recommend this for people who enjoy fantasy outside of the normal Western influences, narratives that include the fantastic in mundane settings, and explorations of cultural norms.

And remember, my friends, when the last chapter is read and the last page is turned, I will be here with a new recommendation, should you desire it.