Review by Stacia Oparowski, Library Assistant
It’s hard enough to find a suitable partner for your son in rural China, but it’s even more difficult when he’s dead.
Wei Li is dead, and it’s his younger brother Deshi’s job to find him a bride in one week so that his spirit will not be eternally lonely. Sure, grave robbing is an option, but the women aren’t much to look at. Only when travelling through the remote Qiuling Township does Deshi find the perfect bride for his brother: beautiful, great body. The trouble is that she isn’t dead.
Enter Lily Chen. Her parents are considering marrying her off to their slimy landlord in one week so that they can keep their home. Lily will do anything to avoid being married off to some creep. On the night Deshi Li is passing through her town, she begs to be taken away. He doesn’t argue with her, and the two venture off with two different ideas about where they are going and where they’ll end up. As they travel together, Deshi and Lily fall for each other, but Deshi is torn between his emotions and his loyalty to his family.
You’ll have to read it to know what happens in the end. I felt deeply satisfied when I finished the novel. It was beautiful the whole way through. One of my favorite quotes comes from an elderly man walking through a graveyard at night where Deshi is searching for brides:
You can recognize a ghost because his skin is see-through like salt water, like seawater with a million billion amoebas. His organs are an archipelago. It’s very beautiful to look at … if you’re not too scared to look.
I’m looking forward to reading more of Novgorodoff’s work, namely Slow Storm. The way she paints weather is one of the most compelling things about her art, I think. The library doesn’t have Slow Storm yet, but after reading The Undertaking of Lily Chen, I think we should. Stop by and ask us to order it!
Novgorodoff’s use of watercolor conveys the incorporeal like no other. Smoke, spirits and light exist in this graphic novel without ink linework. They float through lines, over and under them.
This is not Danica Novgorodoff‘s first graphic novel, it’s her fourth. Aside from being a graphic novelist, she is also a children’s book illustrator, a painter, a designer, and a runner. She lives in NY.
Ghost marriage is still sometimes practiced in rural china. For further reading: