Years ago, I listened to a novel, Peony in Love, by Lisa See, and it was my introduction to a story that took place (in part) in the Chinese afterlife. I really enjoyed the novel, so when I realized this story from Barischoff was set in the same afterlife, I was quite pleased. It tells a different story, of course, but the foundation of the particular belief system for the afterlife was wonderful to revisit, and tale told here—of a poor dead girl who passed at age four, and her parents trying to marry her (posthumously) to ensure she has a new family (and a new family to pay respects for her and keep her well tended in the afterlife).
What unfolds is a story about a young woman who has grown up mostly while dead, and a young boy who can see into the spirit realm but isn’t often understood otherwise, and the intersection of these two souls, and a melding of their two worlds. It’s beautifully done, and once again, as is often the case with Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, there’s a sense of triumph and accomplishment born even out of tragic beginnings or downturns of history.
Barischoff’s turn of phrase, and the imagery are both evocative, and it felt very much like walking alongside the spirits to read this story. The speculative side of this tale—that the boy can see into this afterlife, and what that provides him as an opportunity to help—is done with a gentle heart, and quite a bit of empathy. It hasn’t made his life a good one, but there’s an opportunity for this caring little fellow to pass a kindness forward. I loved that.