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The Black Isle Hardcover – August 7, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The Black Isle is an elegant, disturbing and satisfying read, both epic and intimate."―The Los Angeles Times

"Beautifully written, with a storyline that spans 70 years, The Black Isle is a historical novel that is both breathtaking and haunting. The characters are vivid - some simply charming, some horrifyingly scary - and the plot has so many twists and turns it seems as though you're reading a winding country road....The Black Isle is an engaging and engrossing novel that will absolutely captivate you and should not be missed. It will take you on a journey you will not soon forget."―The Philadelphia Inquirer

"An ambitious, supernatural coming-of-age story... With its paranormal-meets-goth sensibility and angsty, flawed-but-fierce heroine, The Black Isle is a natural fit for the Twilight crowd."―The LA Times

"Tan constructs a debut novel that is beautifully written yet deeply disturbing. Gritty and intensely erotic, it grips readers with Cassandra's visions while pushing them away with the brutality of her life. Not a story for the faint of heart, it will engage those looking for a gothic depiction of WWII in Asia and the ghosts that haunt us."―Library Journal

"Destined to be among summer's sleeper hits is filmmaker Sandi Tan's gulpable first novel,The Black Isle."―Vogue.com

"Mesmerizing . . . a gripping historical novel . . . Tan's imagination seems boundless."―Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)

"A cinematically epic ghost story."―Kirkus Reviews

"Tan reveals a rich imagination and a lush style in this first novel...riveting...will sweep readers into the action."―Booklist

"On The Black Isle, a young woman grows old with the Twentieth Century, haunting her own life as history conspires to render her a secret. Sweeping in scope, impressively imagined, ruthlessly readable."―Steve Erickson, author of These Dreams of You

"Rich in vivid characters, and written with great imagination and intelligence, The Black Isle is a remarkable novel. A haunting book, mesmerizing in its beauty, which stayed with me long after I finished the last page."―Judith Freeman, author of The Long Embrace and Red Water

"The narrator of The Black Isle recounts her tales of fantastic events -- erotic, supernatural, horrific -- so convincingly that Tarot cards might as well be baseball cards in her book. An irresistible feat of storytelling, The Black Isle blends what Midnight's Children did for the former Bombay with what Dorothy did for Oz."―Tom Carson, author of Gilligan's Wake and Daisy Buchanan's Daughter

About the Author

Sandi Tan was born in Singapore and has an MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University. Her short films have been shown around the world at venues such as the New York Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand, MoMA, and on European television. She lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband, the critic John Powers, and their bossy Siamese, Nico. You can visit her website at www.SandiTan.com.
THE BLACK ISLE is her debut novel.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446563927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446563925
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,282,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Clarice Marchman-Jones on July 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was attracted to this title because it was described as a ghost story, and I LOVE ghost stories. The Kindle sample started with a lot of mystery revealed by an elderly woman who had apparently led an extraordinary life and now believes she is being erased from history. There have been undeniable "signs" that something significant is going to happen very soon, and then she starts getting the phone calls. Is she just paranoid? Is she hallucinating? She finally allows the mysterious caller who has been requesting an interview in order to "fill in the missing pieces of history" into her apartment and begins telling her story. I was already completely hooked and downloaded the book.

Ling's story begins when she is 7-years-old. She is living a life of privilege in Shanghai in the 1920s. She is both sheltered and neglected by her upper middle class Chinese parents, but she is content until a mysterious occurrence in the park creates an emotional rift between her and her twin brother. This is the catalyst that causes her to start seeing ghosts. Then, the same year, her father loses his position as a professor at the university and is persuaded by his wife to seek employment on an equatorial island between the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait. At this point, the family splits - Ling and her twin brother Li go to the Black Isle with their incompetent father, and their toddler twin sisters stay in Shanghai with their agoraphobic mother.

Then begins Ling's epic odyssey of survival and self-discovery during which she eventually reinvents herself and renames herself Cassandra.
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Format: Hardcover
I was floored with THE BLACK ISLE from the second I started reading it. Written in a voice that's so incredibly engaging that you can't take your eyes from the page, it sucks you into an old world China where women are barely second class citizens and, depending on your status, superstition rules your life.

Cassandra goes through an epic transformation throughout the book. The story starts with Cassandra as an old woman both running from and to her past. She relives the world of her island through an out-of-print book at the library. When she find that "her" book has been desecrated, her world gets rocked. And infiltrated, by a less-than-welcome guest that wants Cassandra's story. The plot flips back to the present a few times throughout the book, reminding the reader that Cassandra is narrating the story to someone, that there's a reason for this recounting.

When the greater story begins, Cassandra is Ling, twin of Li, the latter the more favored child because of his male status and the fact that Cassandra hogged the goods in the womb. So while she came out nice and healthy Li was a bit starved. To see the dynamic between brother and sister based on the parents' behavior was, at times, horrifying to watch. They're twins so they share the same birthday except Cassandra didn't get gifts. Those were reserved for the favored son. It's a cultural aspect that I had a hard time getting over and it really bothered me to read.

I'll admit, Chinese culture isn't something I'm crazy about but the ghost story aspect of THE BLACK ISLE drew me in and I actually learned quite a few things about the culture. And it even answered a few of my questions about the people in general.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ordered this book based on a review I had read in "Fantasy" magazine and and then the blurbs on Amazon. I can only say the reviews were right!!!! The story about a young Chinese girl and her twin brother who were born in the 20s is amazing. The story goes from the 20's in Shanghai to today. There is a section on World War II and what happened to individuals on the various Pacific Islands that is mesmerizing. Our young woman can see ghosts! Her whole life is defined by this unwelcome ability and the effects on her. It is a story about family, the culture of China and how this culture shapes the main character. While the book is being touted as a "fantasy" novel, I think the ghosts are simply a part of the overall story of one woman's life and how she lived. Our orator is very simply telling the story of one woman, her feelings of subjugation to her male twin and how they both survive. It also explores how family and culture shape our lives and our essence of who we are and why. The book is a great read both from a historical standpoint as well as the culture and times of the far East in the mid early to late 20th century. It has love affairs, family disharmoney and characters that involve you in their struggles.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read many Scandinavian mystery novels and needed a new perspective.
And, the concept of any person being erased from history is soul crushing, yet irresistible.
I read a book review by Mary Jeneverre Schultz in the Asian Avenue Magazine, a free monthly available in Denver, on the racks at a local Asian grocery store I shop at. I was intrigued by this review and checked the book out from the Denver Public Library. I was so overwhelmed by the story of Ling - and all of her ghosts - that I had to possess my own copy. Author Sandi Tan has written a masterpiece with her first novel. I hope she continues to write historical Chinese fiction...I shall own them all.
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