Three Souls by Janie Chang

Source: William Morrow and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 502 pages
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Three Souls by Janie Chang — a stunning debut — is a sweeping novel set in late 1920s China when factions were battling for supremacy over land, wealth, the people, and politics — the Nationalists versus the Communists.  Song Leiyin is the third daughter in a large and wealthy family, and she loves pleasing her father with her good grades and is dutiful to her sisters and her father’s concubine, known as Stepmother.  She’s young and impetuous, and like her father often acts without taking a breath and thinking before she acts.  When she’s introduced to Yen Hanchin, a poet, her heart is captured by his intelligence and charm, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s translated Anna Karenina, which has been banned by her school but that she’s reading anyway.  Leiyin soon discovers that while her father had a Western education he’s still a very traditional man and not as liberal as some of their social peers, and when she pushes his limits of tradition too far, she has to live with the consequences.

“We have three souls, or so I’d been told.
But only in death could I confirm this.” (page 1)

Chang’s approach to story-telling is not unique, but how it is presented is. We know at the start that Leiyin is dead, but like her we learn through her memories — siphoned through her three souls: yin, yang, and hun — how she came to be in limbo and how she lived her life. She was a young, headstrong girl in love with a Communist leader of sorts, who was also a poet and an editor of China Millennium. While he filled her head with new ideas about what China could become, he also filled her naive head with longing and lust. Her infatuation with him led her to defy her father, and while the consequences were overly harsh, they were in line with traditional Chinese thinking and practices.

Chang’s story unfolds slowly and Leiyin is forced to think about her actions without hindsight, but as an observer of her own life — reminiscent of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes before death. However, her struggle is only beginning as she learns how her actions had farther reaching consequences than she ever imagined.  She must come to terms with her behavior, life choices, and learn that things are beyond her control.

With allusions to the Leo Tolstoy novel, Chang brings to life the class struggles in China, the inspiration the Communist movement strove to ignite, and the tangled web of lies that many leaders on both sides pursued to craft future China.  Three Souls by Janie Chang is epic, heart-warming, and multi-layered, incorporating Chinese tradition, class struggle, and the burden of a life cut too short.

About the Author:

Born in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

Find out more about Janie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.

12th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.




8th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.


  1. Definitely adding this one to the TBR pile. Love Lisa See’s books so glad to see you equate this one to hers.

  2. This is on my wishlist to read. I wish I could fit in every new book that comes out. There are just too many good ones lately!

  3. I love that the author explores how someone’s actions can have far reaching consequences. That’s something I think about a lot!

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  4. I love it when a book stays with you, long after reading it.

  5. If you compare it to Amy Tan, then I want to read it. Great review.

  6. Beth Hoffman says

    Your review is lovely! I keep hearing good things about this book so on my list it goes!

  7. I love books set in China. This sounds marvelous!