Rebellion, Regret, Redemption. Three Souls by Janie Chang [Review]

I ‘ve had an ongoing streak of reading Asian authors lately. It’s been this organic transition as my reading plans have changed based on recent books I’ve read. After loving the Vagrants which I reviewed awhile ago, I wanted some more Asian historical fiction but Three Souls has a bit of magical realism going on with the three souls concept giving a good twist. Mild spoilers.

Leiyin is dead. She is accompanied by her three souls: stern, old man yang, innocent; impulsive young girl yin and wise hun, manifested as a ball of shining light. Leiyin is in limbo with no memory of her past life so she must relive it along with her three souls; each soul seems to be a a different side to Leiyin, providing insight and opinions to actions and the events of her past life.


China. 1928. Leiyin is a young girl wanting to go off to university in order to better serve her country during a time of political unrest. Stoking this desire, among others, is Hanchin who is a political activist and poet. Leiyin dreams of becoming a teacher and being with Hanchin as they travel setting up schools and teaching the illiterate. Her desire for Hanchin leads her to defy her father’s wishes and go off to university. For her disobedience she is married off to a stranger.

Now that I’m dead, why bother feeling ashamed? Yes, I admit to lust.


The consequences of her actions land Leiyin in a marriage to a stranger in a place far away from home. Now, she must make peace with her situation. The next few years she must contend with regret; balancing between a life that may or may not make her happy and her unfulfilled desires.

He gave no reason, but in families such as ours, when it comes to shame, it’s possible to gauge with exquisite precision its depth and degree by the surrounding silence.


Leiyin is in limbo and she must make amends for something she has done but doesn’t remember. As Leiyin looks back on her life, she must come to terms with her actions, her death and the lives that move on without her and figure out how she can make amends in order to ascend to the afterlife.

No matter how pretty and talented she might be, a woman’s true value is measured by the size of her dowry.

My thoughts

There are things that I enjoyed and things that were just ok. Leiyin lives a comfortable life since her family is wealthy which makes for some uninteresting reading in the beginning. Leiyin is basically a somewhat spoiled teenager and the only thing I found remotely likable about her is that she likes to read. The book is largely plot driven and I felt, at times, Leiyin had no real depth, no driving force until the second half of the book maybe; or at least no driving force that resonated with me since she is mostly motivated by her schoolgirl crush with Hanchin in the beginning.

What makes for interesting reading are the nuances and glimpses into Chinese culture, the good and the not-so-good (arranged marriages to strangers). Also, having to look back on your life and reconcile with all the good and bad you’ve done, along with the regrets. There was some emotion for me when Leiyin watches her family move on without her. The thought of watching one’s family move on in a world without you and seeing how your place in their lives diminishes as time goes by is dismal.

It was interesting the insight she gained looking back on her life. Things come full circle when she finally got to see things from her father’s perspective after becoming a mother herself.

Readers of historical fiction (especially asian-inspired) this one’s for you.

Have you come across this book before?

Tomorrow I’ll be posting on Instagram about this review and anyone interested can comment.

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