In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.
It’s a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn’t choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she’s reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.
Yonghua is an artificial woman crafted from terracotta. What she is may change hell for good. Who she is will transform Siew Tsin. And as they grow closer, the mystery of Yonghua’s creation will draw Siew Tsin into a conspiracy where the stakes are eternal life – or a very final death.
After reading Cho’s spectacular Sorcerer to the Crown, I was an instant fan. I was thus inevitably drawn to The Terracotta Bride – a fantasy short story that plunges us headfirst into the throes of the Chinese afterlife.
Drawing from Chinese mythology and and folk religion, Cho evokes dark, haunting, but strangely beautiful imagery when describing the tenth court of Hell. The portrayal of Hell was fascinating, particularly the commentary on what we carry onto the afterlife – greed, bureaucracy, and avarice. True, this portrayal is deeply rooted to Chinese folklore, but Cho offers a fresh perspective by crafting a complex setting.
As someone familiar with the folklore and mythology surrounding The Terracotta Bride, I enjoyed the nuances of the story. Some parts of the story, particularly the dialogue, brought back memories of when I attended a traditional funeral (which, I have to admit, informed a lot of my understanding of this book) and was surrounded by family – some of whom I had never met before. I particularly enjoyed the cheeky prods at filial piety or lack of as well. In a way, reading this story was also a nostalgic experience.
Perhaps my favourite part of The Terracotta Bride is it is ultimately about life, death, and where love fits in between. There were subtle questions about existence – what it means to exist and what makes someone human – and whether existence and life/death are irrevocably tied together. This is explored through the eponymous terracotta bride – is she a what or a who? What does it mean to love? What is existence in the context of the afterlife? Mixing robots and the Chinese afterlife is a combination I would never have imagined, but its originality was ultimately genius and it worked wonderfully. Reincarnation/rebirth is briefly but profoundly explored as well, and I loved how it was so heart-wrenching but also how, at the end (or beginning?) of all things, it is a hopeful and transcendent path.
The beautiful thing about this story is that it paints a vivid picture, but also leaves room for your imagination and thought-provoking questions. Despite its very short length – a mere 11,000 words – The Terracotta Bride was absolutely brilliant and had the depth of a full-length novel. An exquisite short story.
Book Name: The Terracotta Bride
Author: Zen Cho
I know this short story is very difficult to get a hold of, but if it helps, you can purchase the eBook on Amazon! (Link to Amazon here.) But I loved this story, friends. It was quite an experience to read something that is associated with some sad memories, but it was nice. Good. Validating.
- Have you read The Terracotta Bride? Or, have you read any of Cho’s other work?
- What is a short story, that is about your heritage/identity, that you like? Any recommendations?
- Do you like books that explore fate or transcendence?