Jul 11, 2013

The Black Isle

The Black IsleThe Black Isle by Sandi Tan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassandra has a unique ability to see things ordinary people can’t, just like the Greek God who has the exact name. Born as Ling in Shanghai, Cassandra moved to the Black Isle with her father and twin brother, seeking for a better life. What she found was that the isle was no less haunting than Shanghai. In fact, ghosts were everywhere. Cassandra then tried to ignore her ability. She succeeded. She attracted a wealthy man in the isle. Being in a relationship with this man distracted her from seeing things. But then came the war. Cassandra could not ignore her ability any longer. She realized it was her only chance to free her isle from being haunted.

Ok. So this book is more of a coming-of-age novel, for it tells the story of Cassandra’s since her childhood until she is 90 years old. The setting of the story is from Shanghai in 1920s to Black Isle in 1940s and Japan in 2000s. It took me more than two weeks to finish this book. Yet, feeling bored was not the reason. I happened to have other important stuff to finish first. Then again, there is no regret finishing this book. At first I was scared, the story was dark and somehow haunting me. But I like the flow. It is true, that some events are happening very fast, but it does not distract me.

Tan uses Black Isle as the setting of most events in the book. Looking at the map in the front page of the book, I can assume that Black Isle is Singapore. What is told in this book is pretty much similar to what happened in the real life. For example, the WWII, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and started to invade British colonies. Black Isle is one of them. So Cassandra, from being colonized by British, is now being colonized by Japan. Historically, this book gives me a similar feeling when I read about colonization in my history books back then. I felt angry, sad, and scared at the same time, because similar thing happened in my country during the same time when Japan took over the world.
History put aside, the culture aspect in this book gives another sensation. Living in Indonesia makes me somehow understand some myths in the isle. The use of Malay in this book also helps me understand the gist.

The portrayal of women in this book is really something (I really cannot find any word). There are only two women in this book; Cassandra and her mother. They are opposing one another in both characteristics and perspectives. Mother is a very old-fashioned woman. She is afraid of what is outside of her house. She believes in the existence of ghosts and bad things outside her house, hence she never once leaves her house, even when her husband and children leaves her to another country. In contrast, Cassandra is very modern when facing the supernatural or/and myths. She does not like the idea of women come second. She is very independent and adventurous. However, there is one thing that Cassandra fails to achieve: the freedom from men. Almost all her life she lives under the power of men. Brutal men, to be exact. It is rather funny how Cassandra tries so hard to be free from men, yet she comes back again, knowing that her thirst for men only grows bigger and bigger every time.


Oh! There is a twist in the last pages of this book. Makes me went OMG.

Nah, this book is haunting in a supernatural way and touching in a feminism way.

Always that word: time. It is a convenient illusion, beloved by so many, that time -meaning patience, meaning passivity-is able to heal all wounds. What people fail to reckon is that time is the sore itself, a greedy, devouring mouth.

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