The Ventriloquist’s Daughter, by Lin Man-Chiu

Translated by Helen Wang (Balestier Press 2017)

See our Author of the Month feature on Lin Man-Chiu here.

Publisher’s blurb

After the tragic death of Liur’s mother, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes to study in America, leaving six-year-old Liur in the care of her grandparents, promising to return with a special doll for her.

But instead of studying, her father travels to the Andes, where he meets a mysterious ventriloquist who takes him as a pupil.

Five years later, he returns home, bringing with him one of the ventriloquist’s dolls. But it is not a present for Liur; instead, it becomes a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.

Reading Chinese School Bookclub Reviews

Review from Sophie Mitchell, Y10 (S3), Jordanhill School, Glasgow, 10/10/18

I loved how well described the thoughts and feelings of the characters were, this gave me a good description of how the characters are. I also loved the fact that the book included mandarin characters for the family members to the book which helped me understand the mandarin characters more. Overall the book was Zhēn bàng.

My favourite character was Luir because when everyone thought she was crazy when she stuck with her gut. I also loved how open Luir was with her family, telling us all about what happened before her mum died. I lastly liked how the author, Lin Man- Chiu portrayed Luir as someone who just kept going even if her whole life was hard and even when she forgave her dad when he favourited the doll over her. I thought that was very brave.

The way the dad reacted to the doll was because he was weak from his wife’s death. He used the doll as a shield to make him more confident, a bit like a safety blanket. The reason why he didn’t talk to his daughter in person and instead used the doll as a way to communicate to her, was because he was ashamed of himself for not saving his wife and by leaving his own daughter to go to America to work as a doctor but then dropped out without telling his family.

I thought the ending was a very bittersweet situation, because I liked how the daughter went on in her dad’s footsteps by travelling where he travelled to and how she faced her fears by buying a doll from the same place where he bought it. However I did not like how the daughter was in a car crash and the dad just went on with his life with the doll, by being a ventriloquist. I think it should have ended with the dad throwing away the doll for his own daughter after everything the doll made her feel he also should have started to talk to her more and I think the dad should have listened to his daughter more. Overall the ending was fēi cháng hâo.

Reviews from Y9, Devonport High School for Girls, 16/5/18

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter book reviews from Devonport High School

Lara’s Review

This novel is a psychological thriller that has a very creepy and mysterious tone to it. I thought that it was a very interesting presentation of sibling rivalry, and trauma within families and the effects of it in Chinese culture.

Luir’s mother dies tragically, after she lost her second child, a son, and became seriously ill. Luir’s father is an artist who is forced to work as a doctor in his father’s hospital; he is overcome with grief and tells Liur’s grandparents to take care of her while he goes away to study. Instead of studying, he travels to the Andes where he meets a ventriloquist who teaches him, and he returns five years later with a doll. However, the doll is a very demonic presence that begins to cause chaos in Luir’s household- although nobody will believe or help Luir when she tries to explain this.

The dynamics of the family seem to be very common in Eastern culture: that the family traditions should be passed on and kept through the generations, and respect for elders is extremely important. Luir’s grandparents live in the same house as her and try to keep their hospital in business through Luir’s father. Another less positive aspect of family in this novel, is the value of a male’s life over a female; Luir feels jealous of her unborn baby brother as he is seen as stronger and more important than her even before he is born. Men in the family face the burden of having to continue traditions and run the family business, while the women and girls (like luir) have to step aside and be supportive but quiet in the background. Luir’s mother felt that her only role in the family was to give birth to a son, and she would be worthless if not.

I think that this book was very well written and scary (in an atmospheric way), and that the struggles that Luir faces with her father and the doll might have just been symbolic of the struggle of a young person reconnecting with her father after many traumatic years and loneliness in her life.

Ellie’s Review

Basically, the girl’s mother died and her dad travelled to the USA for 5 years. While he was there, the daughter received a postcard from her father; she was very happy. However, when he returned, she noticed he had changed, her father had become a ventriloquist and he brought back a doll called Carola, after that, a series of mysterious things happened to the family causing all sorts of dilemmas.

I couldn’t put the book down, it was so gripping. It is filled with suspense which can be frightening at times, but it was so heart-warming too. In my opinion, I think that this book is great as it is an action-packed book with both heartening and creepy moments. I would definitely recommend this book to someone who enjoys a little scare and wants to learn more about the Chinese culture.

I hope we get more chances to read books like this in the future.

Stephanie’s Review

The Ventriloquist Daughter is an interesting book. The story line is good and the characters are exciting. The story contains lots of information about Chinese culture and allows the reader to again good in-depth knowledge about culture. The story is easy to follow with slightly darker undercurrents adding to the story. Overall it was an interesting book.

 

Reviewed by Amna Khan, Y7, The Crossley Heath School, 14/5/18

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter

Author: Lin Man-Chiu

Review by: Amna Khan, The Crossley Heath School

It is a very upsetting story, written in a way that conveys emotion effectively. The story is written from the point of view of Liur, the protagonist, who is a lonely and misunderstood character.

After the death of her mother, her grandfather pays her father to go on a medical course in America (so he could take hold of the family hospital in the years to come) but instead, he travels to the Andes where he learns ventriloquism from a mysterious ventriloquist. They both do not understand each other yet the man takes Liur’s in and teaches him the fascinating art. Liur’s father sends them a postcard, “Gone travelling. Will come back when I reach the end of the road.” For months, Liur and her grandparents wait for him, Liur being the only one not angry with him; reading and devouring the words of the short postcards he irregularly sends. Liur’s only comfort is talking to her friend Qing Qing — who sympathises with her but nobody can truly understand the mixture of emotions bundled in Liur’s heart. After five years, he returns with a doll (as promised to six-year-old Liur) but it is the ventriloquist’s doll which becomes a “menacing presence” in the house, causing issues. Her father has not the same personality as the man who left her and after seeing her father behave strangely with the doll, the naïve girl must find a way to defeat Carolo.

The general field or genre is mythical and presents the views of some people in the Andes.

It is a gripping, heart-rendering read.The characters were very credible and could easily be based on reality. My favourite character is Liur’s mother. Although dead, she plays a vital role in providing reassurance and her presence is felt in her daughter’s heart.

I think the key theme in this book was loneliness and gender equality. Constantly, Liur mentions how her parents wanted a boy to run the family business. Throughout the book, the protagonist is lonely and everyone thinks she is mentally ill.

My least favourite part of the book is the climax because the doll is her father is not communicating with her directly.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a gothic or legend fan but children 12+ due to the strength of emotions portrayed.

I rate this book 5/5.

A teacher's perpective: by Jane Woo, Christ's College Finchley, 19/4/18

First of all, many thanks to the Reading Chinese Project team to have supported us with setting up the book club; we could not have done it without their help.

Our students were thrilled to read The Ventriloquist’s Daughter: they particularly loved that it gives perspective of the Chinese culture. Many said that the storyline is gripping and intriguing, some even wanted to read the whole book all over again!

We started the book club small: we had a few complimentary copies of the book to circulate between our students. We spent around 15 minutes of lesson time per week to talk about the book, such as the storyline, interesting cultural points and what students like/dislike.

As a teacher, it was very encouraging to see students being motivated to learn more about the Chinese culture through such high-quality and authentic literature. I would certainly recommend all teachers to start a book club with the recommended books.

Reviewed by Ms Jane Woo, Christ’s College, Finchley, 19/4/18

Reviewed by Miran Beka, Y7, Christ's College Finchley, 19/4/18

Summary: The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is about a doll that was possessed. It tried to kill and replaced a girl whose father was confused about the two.

What I liked about the book was the similarity between the girl and the doll’s destiny: the girl’s baby brother died so did the doll’s sisters. I found it fascinating that both of them crossed path in such a mysterious way.

My favourite part was when the father saved the daughter in the end instead of the doll because he knew which one meant more to him and his life. It was suspenseful and very touching.

Star Rating (out of 5): 5/5 I will definitely read it again

Reviewed by Miran Beka, Y7, Christ’s College, Finchley (Mandarin Excellence Programme)

Reviewed by Dike Onyemelukwe, Y7, Christ's College Finchley, 19/4/18

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is a very intriguing book. It is about a little girl and her father.

The girl’s mother died and her dad travelled to American for 5 years. While he was there, the daughter received a postcard from her father; she was overjoyed. However, when he returned, she knew that he was not the same anymore. Her father had become a ventriloquist and a doll called Carola had moved in. A series of mysterious events then spiralled into the family.

I was gripped by the book and could not resist reading it. It is filled with suspense which can be frightening sometimes, but it was heart-warming and moving at times.

In my opinion, I think that this book is great as it is an action-packed book with both heartening and scary moments.

I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys a little fright and learn more about the Chinese culture.

Reviewed by Dike Onyemelukwe, Y7, Christ’s College, Finchley (Mandarin Excellence Programme)

Video review by Beth and Maddie, Y10, St Gregory's School, Bath, 15/1/18

Reviewed by Yee lin Lau, Y11, Chobham Academy, 30/11/17

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is a tale that explores the themes of loss, grief, change, gender and childhood trauma. It’s written in a childish and simplistic tone to create empathy for the youthful protagonist, Liur. This helps the reader to immerse themselves in her tale, helping them to comprehend and explore the child’s traumatic life and emotions throughout the novel.

Lin begins the story with a postcard from Liur’s father saying Gone travelling. When I get to the end of the road, I’ll turn around. This already reveals the first theme of loss, she also shows that Liar naïvely believes he would be coming home after so long. She then goes on to how her family has been effected by Mama’s death, the sorrow that filled them all drained of all hope. The family then start to argue as Baba blames himself for the death of his wife, while Yeye is raging on about Baba’s decision to leave the family hospital.

After Baba leaves home, we are introduced to characters such as Qing Qing and Uncle Ming De. Qing Qing acts both as liur’s Meimei and Jiejie, they both end up protecting and assisting each other. Uncle Ming De doesn’t replace Baba, yet he still teaches the two about Baba’s postcards, even though Liur cannot contact Baba, the postcards act as a one-way form of communication between the two, letting her know he is alive. Liur treasures these postcards with her life, eager to learn about the history behind the places on them. Such as Mexico, the islands of the Caribbean, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.

Baba then reaches the End of the Road, or in this case a city in Argentina known as Ushuaia.  Upon hearing that Baba was returning Liur still have the childish belief that he will be the same man that she remembered five years ago. However when he returns he is portrayed to be nothing like the man he once was.

Baba was able to keep his promise of giving his daughter a doll. Ostensibly Carola appears to be a normal, Peruvian doll that wears a red-brown cape with a shell bracelet, but through Liur’s perception she wasn’t a cloth doll, but a real child. This makes the reader question if Liur has a wild imagination or if the nightmare of any child is true. Baba has also changed, with his new name being Corolo the Ventriloquist, who uses Carola to talk to Liur whilst also terrorising her. Carola has the magical ability of controlling Corolo, and over time Liur believes that the Baba she once knew is gone and that Carola is now the one controlling the two of them and influencing the rest of her life. The psychological trauma that has taken place upon Liur has perhaps made her view Carola as the child she once was or replacement, sparking her jealousy and hatred for the doll.

The novel also addresses bigger issues such as gender. Baba being Yeye and Nainai’s only male child, he was pressured to become the lead doctor at his family’s hospital. He wasn’t able to choose the path in life that he wanted, and neither was Liur at first. As a child she always questioned everyone about what made boys so special. Baba was the only one that was grateful for Liur being who she was as if she was a boy there would be too much pressure on her and she wouldn’t be able to live a happy life. Whilst her mother was pregnant, Liur had a growing jealousy for him, the same kind of hatred she had for Carola. Abandonment and loss of love seems to be the root of all of her fears. Lucky for the protagonist she is able to change her emotions of hatred and jealousy and step out of her fantasy and strive forward to her dream of becoming a psychotherapist, even with barriers such as Nainai and the rest of society.

Overall, the story of The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is a fascinating tale that explores a plethora of modern and archaic themes in both a complex yet simplistic way through the persona of Liur. Lin is also able to deeply involve the reader with the help of Wang translating it for the wider audience. Both are able to introduce some cultures that the world may have not heard of before, such as South American history and Ching Ming (the Sweeping of the Graves). This story was a charming read and some day I hope to read it in it’s original format. I recommend this book, both the translated version and the original to anyone interested. Students studying Chinese, no matter the level, would enjoy both versions of the book and it would challenge GCSE and A-level students to go through Lin’s tale.

Reviewed by Yee lin Lau, Y11, Chobham Academy

Reviewed by Idris Shaikh, Y10, Chobham Academy, 23/10/17

Overview

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter, written by Lin Man-Chiu and translated by Helen Wang, is a brilliantly chilling tale about grief, love, friendship and fear. It is beautifully translated, and ensnares the reader from start to finish.

Synopsis

After the tragic death of Luir’s mother, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes to study in America, leaving six-year-old Luir in the care of her grandparents, promising to return with a special doll for her.

But instead of studying, her father travels to the Andes, where he meets a mysterious ventriloquist who takes him as a pupil.

Five years later, he returns home, bringing with him one of the ventriloquist’s dolls. But it is not a present for Luir; instead, it becomes a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family. After observing her father performing strange rituals with the doll, Luir must find a way to defeat her demons – real or imagined.

The plot is exciting, encaptivating and well-structured, yet still riddled with twists and turns. The plot is laid out well,  and though is sometimes confusing, is brilliantly devised

Thoughts & Opinions

The novel is very well told, and also well translated; the characters are brought to life vividly, and on the whole the plot is well-balanced, keeping the reader hungry and on edge.

The character of Liur’s Father is particularly exceptional: his mood, his emotional state and also his physical appearance are all conveyed in such a way the reader cannot help but feel angry, sad, lonesome or happy with him.

Negatives

However, I feel the book could have been better ended; the last chapters of the book feel somewhat rushed, with a lack of depth and colour.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is a moving story, written and translated to the highest degree. The plot is unpredictable, yet navigatable, and the characters deeply imagined and brought to life. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the horror genre, or even anyone who is looking for a whole-hearted, touching, full-bodied story.

Reviewed by Idris Shaikh, Y10, Chobham Academy

Reviewed by Katharine Carruthers OBE, Institute of Education, UCL, 7/8/2017

Katharine Carruthers OBE

This is a novel for young readers, which is unafraid to grapple with the difficult issues of grief, loss and coping with change. The story is told by the book’s central character, Liur, and so maintains its youthful voice throughout. Liur’s narration reinforces the immediacy of the fear and emotional distress of the protagonist.

The novel begins with Liur receiving a postcard from her father, Baba: ‘Gone travelling. When I get to the end of the road, I’ll turn around’. Liur understands the sadness of her grandparents at this news, but says: ‘I didn’t want to comfort them. They had never comforted me. In their eyes, I was just a girl, and a girl couldn’t carry on the family business’. Liur and her friend Qing Qing follow Baba’s journey through South America over the ensuing years, as he sends postcards from his stopping points, adding an interesting travel dimension to the story. When Liur receives a postcard from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina, she is the first to realise he will now turn round and come home.

On coming home, it is clear that Baba has changed during his travels; he brings with him a ventriloquist’s doll called Carola. Liur has also grown up and is no longer the six-year-old, child who Baba has carried with him, in his mind, on his journey. Liur tells Qing Qing that Carola has ‘a red-brown cape. In one hand it holds a flute and on the other it wears a shell bracelet, and there are straw shoes on its feet…’

On the surface, the action that follows could be read as a gripping, scary children’s page-turner about dolls, which come alive in the night and cause mayhem and terror. Carola is genuinely creepy and Lin manages to convey a strong sense of mystery and magic from South America; at times, the reader does not know what is real and what is imagined by Liur and genuinely begins to question perception and reality.

The novel also operates at a much deeper psychological level. Without wishing this review to act as a spoiler, the following questions are posed: who or what has Carola become in Baba’s eyes and how is she regarded by Liur? How can both father and daughter come through their feelings of guilt, grief and loss, and accept the irrevocable changes in their lives? What for both has been the result of the lack of talking about feelings? These are big issues for any novel to deal with, let alone one for young people.
There are also a number of other themes for the reader to think about, all of which will resonate with teenage readers. Is it always best to comply with family expectations; can following what your parents want you to do, rather than what you might be best equipped to do, cause damage? What might be some of the issues around the traditional Chinese practice of a man bringing his wife into the family home to live? The novel also portrays society’s traditional preference for boys in China and it touches on parental weakness too, at a time when young readers may just be beginning to glimpse that their parents do not have an answer for everything.

Lin deals well with childhood friendships and with the touching visits of Baba and Liur to Mama’s grave in the forest. There is some ‘psychological’ explanation of events at the end of the book, just enough to make you want to go back and re-read parts of it again or to take part in discussions in class round its themes. This would be an excellent, very rich novel to read in translation in school book clubs and hopefully to read excerpts from the original for those studying Chinese in the sixth form.

The quality of the writing, which keeps in the character of its child narrator throughout, the strength of the translation, its intriguing plot and the plethora of questions it throws up makes the book difficult to put down; it is a highly-recommended read.