Home > Book Review, Genre, horror, Length - average but on the shorter side, Reading Challenges, short story collection > Book Review: A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Book Review: A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

A bone hand holds chopsticks.Summary:
According to Chinese tradition, those who die hungry or wrongfully come back to haunt the living.  Compestine presents here eight different ghost stories, each correlated along with a course in a banquet and richly steeped in Chinese culture and history.

I picked this up because I had previously read Compestine’s book Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party (review) and when I looked up what else she had written, I was deeply intrigued by the premise.  This is a strong short story collection, featuring diverse yet related short stories, each beautifully written.

The eight short stories are organized into appetizers, main courses, and desserts.  The titles are for the food being served that course, such as “Tea Eggs” or “Long-life Noodles.”  The food mentioned in the title also appears somewhere in the story as a key part of the plot.  It’s a gorgeous way to organize the short stories and makes them also feel like diverse parts of a whole.

The short stories are mostly set in 20th century China, but a couple feature 20th century characters investigating something from the more distant past or being haunted by more ancient ghosts.  One story is set in New York City and features a Chinese-American family.

The stories, universally, quickly establish the setting and characters.  They all subtly teach some aspect of Chinese culture or history.  For instance, one story looks at medicine under Communism in China, while another features preying mantis fights.  At the end of each story, a brief blurb gives further details about two to three aspects of Chinese culture or history featured in the story.  Most surprising, and incredibly welcome, at the end of each short story, Compestine gives a recipe for the featured food!  It reminded me of how cozy mysteries often feature patterns or recipes at the end of the book, only this time the recipes are found in a shorty story horror collection.  Brilliant!

What about the horror aspect of the short stories?  I found them simultaneously plausible and sufficiently scary.  I was a bit on the edge of my seat without being scared out of my wits, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed each of these short stories, from the touch of horror to the settings to the amount I learned about Chinese culture and history to the wonderful recipes.  Highly recommended to anyone with even a moderate interest in China, Chinese culture, or Chinese food.  Even if horror isn’t usually your genre, give these ghosts a chance.  You’ll be glad you did.

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5 out of 5 stars

Length: 192 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Better World Books

Buy It

Counts For:
Banner for the RIP IX challenge.

  1. September 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Wow–I love the premise. I’m a short story fan, and like collections best when the stories are loosely linked like this. Plus I’ve been wanting to branch out internationally in my reading. The level of scary sounds about right for me as well.

    • September 16, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Wonderful! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks for commenting!

  2. September 19, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    You read the most interesting books! You’re often reading something I’ve never heard of and which has a unique premise. It’s great! 🙂

    • September 20, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Aw thank you! What a lovely complement! 🙂

  3. September 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    This sounds excellent. I’ve read a few modern Japanese ghost stories, but I don’t think I’ve read any Chinese ones yet.

    • September 23, 2014 at 9:41 am

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  4. Cat
    September 24, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    This sounds another interesting collection of short stories to look out for.

    • September 25, 2014 at 11:12 am

      It is definitely a fun one!

  1. September 19, 2014 at 8:41 am
  2. October 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm
  3. January 8, 2015 at 10:15 am

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