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The Undertaking of Lily Chen

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  2,258 Ratings  ·  458 Reviews
In the mountains of Northern China ancient custom demands that every man have a wife to keep him company in the afterlife.

Deshi Li's brother is dead—and unmarried. Which means that Deshi must find him an eligible body before the week is up.

Lily Chen, sweet as a snakebite, needs money and a fast ride out of town.

Haunted by the gods of their ancestors and the expectations
Paperback, 430 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by First Second
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Kristin El More late teens/adult. Lots of cursing and more adult themes.

Community Reviews

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Nov 16, 2014 Regan rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned-read
The art was stunning
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Some graphic novels are just perfect in every way - you can tell that they were done by a true artist (both illustrative and storytelling) and will follow you for a long time as you ponder what you've just read.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen is one of those books. American artist Danic Novgorodoff has creating a surreal yet thoroughly grounded story based in modern day China. The protagonist of the novel, Deshi, works at a
First Second Books
Mar 25, 2014 First Second Books marked it as first-second-publications
Sometimes, when I read graphic novels, I get to the end and am like, 'that was a little short.'

This is a perpetual problem of the graphic novel form, because it turns out that images can take so much less time to read than prose! And if you're looking at a book for kids, that can be perfect! But I occasionally get a bit tired of adult literary fiction graphic novels that feel more like novellas.

Usefully, Danica Novgorodoff's new graphic novel The Undertaking of Lily Chen is 432 pages long and f
Aug 27, 2014 Ariel rated it it was ok
I have to be honest - I was disappointed. The art on the cover doesn't really match the art on the inside!

There IS use of watercolours, but the palette isn't as colourful and breathtaking and most of all I didn't like the way people are drawn. This, obviously, is a very personal feeling. Art is so subjective that you might LOVE the drawing so people, but personally they creeped me out.

The story itself is interesting, definitely, but also very dark and quick and doesn't feel fully resolved or exp
Well, this is a fucked up little book. Kinda loved it.
4.5 Review to come.
Sam Quixote
Nov 01, 2014 Sam Quixote rated it liked it
In some parts of China some people believe that unmarried dead sons should be buried with a dead woman so they won’t be alone in the afterlife (I’m not sure if this is the case with unmarried dead daughters but given that Chinese society is patriarchal, I’m guessing no).

After his older brother is accidentally killed it falls to Deshi Li to bring him a corpse bride within a week - either by grave-robbing or through even darker channels like murder! His search sends him deep into the countryside
I'm not quite sure what about this book left me unsatisfied. I liked it but it also rubbed me the wrong way. The characters were not very likeable and the author never really goes deep with her characters. I didn't realize the author also wrote Slow Storm until I'd finished this. I had the same problem with Slow Storm. The characters were not developed enough for me to care about their stories. Both books had great potential to be great but somewhere along the line they end up falling flat.

I als
Jan 24, 2014 Kimberly rated it it was ok
Shelves: graphic-novels, 2014
I don't think it worked so well. I was mostly just disturbed. Not by the concept of ghost brides (which is disturbing, but interesting). The relationship between Deshi and Lily disturbed me, I guess. It didn't make me feel what I think the author intended.
Feb 23, 2016 Melliane rated it really liked it
Mon avis en Français

My ENglish review

I did not know about this book but I’m really glad I had the opportunity to read it. The story deals with a rather unique custom. Indeed, it seems that in some parts of China, when a man dies unmarried, it is important to find him the body of a woman, herself died unmarried to unite them in death for the man to be accompanied in his afterlife. This is not a simple thing and a big market exists to find enough fresh bodies to use them. People go so far as to st
Abeer Hoque
Oct 05, 2013 Abeer Hoque rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-recommend
Full disclosure: Danica is a friend.

I met Danica Novgorodoff in 2011 at an arts residency in Virginia. She was working on The Undertaking of Lily Chen, a graphic novel that would take her 5 years to complete. I saw some of the pen and ink sketches at the time and I loved them. But how it’s all come together into this sprawling 430 page book is another wonder.

TUoLC is gorgeous gorgeous: pen and ink drawings painted with lush watercolour, haunting, precise, mystical. It’s funny, how despite all t
Dec 02, 2014 Cindy rated it did not like it
This started out pretty promising, and turned into a complete waste of time at around 200 pages--even the artwork got lazy at some point. When I felt the most tortured by this book, I wondered if the author was high when she wrote this and just tried to make this as wacky and amusing as she's not funny. I think she takes a sensitive topic and deals with it the wrong way. There were just weird moments in the novel. I think it's culturally insensitive and racist in a lot of ways.

This bo
Feb 12, 2014 Raina rated it liked it
Shelves: graphicnovel, adult
It's a super interesting premise - in China, there is a practice where if a man dies unmarried, the family procures a female body to bury with him. This is a real thing.

Don't go into this comic thinking it is nonfiction, though. It's a specific story about a specific fictional man who is tasked with finding his dead brother a burial wife. He soon finds himself in the company of a young woman who wants to escape her rural life.

The illustrations here are super uneven. Novgorodoff uses a mix of w
Mar 30, 2017 Ariel rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Great art and Chinese religious beliefs story.
3.5 Stars

From the moment that I saw the stunningly morbid cover of Danica Novgorodoff’s The Undertaking of Lily Chen, I knew I had to read it.

It’s your classic story: a young rapscallion gets into a harmless argument and accidentally kills his older brother (who, let’s face it, was a bit of a twat). Parents insist that young man find beloved brother a wife with whom to spend eternity (or you know, he could end up in prison for murder). Boy goes a hunting, desecrates some graves, finds himself an
David Schaafsma
Jun 07, 2014 David Schaafsma rated it liked it
Shelves: gn-women
I didn't really think Novgorodoff's Slow Storm was that good; it felt too short and insubstantial, so I was doubtful when I saw this, but the cover art and basis for the story intrigued me, and.. it is 432 pages, so clearly is not slight… The practice of ghost marriages is at the heart of this tale, a practice still engaged in in some places in China… and morbid, and potentially criminal, that dead men (is it only men?) need to be buried with also dead spouses…. So this sort of epic tale tells o ...more
Jun 24, 2016 Sam rated it liked it
Shelves: teens, graphic-novel
This is a fairly interesting story of a young woman as she runs away from home with a stranger that is traveling through her area searching for a bride for his brother, who just so happens to be unmarried and somewhat dead. It is a custom in parts of China than dead unmarried men are 'married' so they are not alone in the afterlife (a cruel part of me wonders are men really that helpless that even in death they need someone to look after them? I mean seriously!). That aside this story is more ab ...more
Aug 19, 2014 Karissa rated it really liked it
A while back I read and reviewed Slow Storm by Danica and honestly didn’t enjoy it all that much. However I keep seeing The Undertaking of Lily Chen and wanting to read when I saw it at the used book store I decided to pick it up. I am so glad I did, this is a very interesting look into Chinese culture and an interesting story.

The story follows a young man, Deshi, who has accidentally killed his older brother in a fight. His mother and father are extremely distraught, to the point of wis
Nicola Mansfield
May 08, 2014 Nicola Mansfield rated it it was amazing
Exquisite. A haunting tale of sorrow, ghosts, ancient customs and dealing with death. I'm partial to tales of Communist China and had high hopes for this book regarding an ancient custom of burying a female corpse with an unwed son who has died so he won't be alone in the after-world. This custom is still practised and, unfortunately, when a corpse can't be found it is easier to make one. In reality this is a modern day fairy tale, a romance with a bittersweet ending. One that shows the plight o ...more
May 02, 2014 Joy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Stunning watercolors tell this story of corpse brides, family obligations, guilt, and of course, love. Surprisingly funny, with an economical use of text; the exquisite images do most of the work in establishing and deepening tone, themes, and the settings. Definitely a title I will recommend over and over again.
Edward Sullivan
Jan 19, 2014 Edward Sullivan rated it it was amazing
Procuring a corpse bride for a "ghost marriage" is the basis for this strange, beautiful, and haunting story.
May 08, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
I devoured this book in one sitting! After seeing all the lush art work of Alessandro Sanna, Novogordoff’s work was an equally amazing visual feast for the eyes. This book deals with MANY different themes---and one particularly fascinating is life after death. A journey is taken into a modern day practice of an ancient superstitious belief of needing companionship in the afterlife. The only experience I had of any knowledge of uncanny burial rituals was the ancient Egyptian practices.

While The U
Sharon Tyler
Mar 08, 2014 Sharon Tyler rated it liked it
The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff is a graphic novel currently scheduled for release on March 25 2014. The tradition of ghost brides in China is explored as a fairly hapless young man, Deshi, accidently kills his older brother during an argument. Deshi's parent charge him with the duty of finding his brother a bride to keep him company in the afterlife, and he promises to do so. However, corpse brides are hard to find, and Deshi's journey is far from smooth. Along the way Deshi ...more
Jan 13, 2017 Jessica-Robyn rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who are totally comfortable with not asking for directions.
There are a lot of good things going on in this graphic novel so I can understand why other readers enjoyed it more than I did. First and foremost, the backgrounds are incredibly beautiful. Novgorodoff's art is it's own unique style and although I wasn't thrilled by the character design the backgrounds swept me away. They made each panel look like its own small art print.

On top of this you have an incredibly interesting concept of ghost marriages. These post-death unions are fascinating in what
Mar 18, 2015 Cornerofmadness rated it it was ok
Shelves: graphic-novel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A Dark Undertaking

The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a dark, moodily atmospheric graphic novel with an odd, snatched from the headlines premise. Apparently, recently deceased women go missing in China because an old tradition dictates that unmarried men be married and buried with a female corpse to insure they have someone with whom to spend the afterlife.

And so Danica Novgorodoff has imagined a situation in which a young, rather hapless man named Deshi has accidentally killed his older brother, W
Vivek Tejuja
May 09, 2014 Vivek Tejuja rated it it was amazing
There could not be a better time to read Graphic Novels than summer. Why do I feel that? Well, not really for any other reason, but somehow summers as a child and while growing up, always remind me of comics and graphic novels by that are an extension of comics. So there.

“The Undertaking of Lily Chen” by Danica Novgorodoff is a heart-warming and at the same time, quite a ride of a graphic novel to read as the heat swelters away and there is only respite in more glasses of chilled water, with th
Nov 19, 2014 Aurora rated it liked it
"The Undertaking of Lily Chen" a ethnic literature/contemporary life graphic novel set in China. The story follows the character of Deshi. Deshi accidentally kills his brother Wei. According to Chinese tradition, Deshi must find a wife to accompany him in the afterlife. Deshi goes on a journey to find the perfect wife for Wei. Deshi meets a woman named Lily Chen. Lily hates her life at home and decides to go on a journey with Deshi. However, she doesn't know that Deshi is looking for a woman's b ...more
Nikki Stafford
Jan 13, 2015 Nikki Stafford rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book; the watercolours are gorgeous, and it wasn't what I was expecting at all. There is an ancient Chinese belief that the worst thing one could do is send a man into the afterlife without a wife, so when a young man would die unmarried, they would dig up a fresh corpse of a woman, perform a marriage ceremony, and he would therefore go into the afterlife with a woman (neither of the deceased had any say in the matter of who they'd be spending an eternity with, apparently). ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 11, 2014 Emily rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic-novels, 2014
I had to look up the premise of this story, because I didn't know if the article referenced at the beginning about ghost weddings and modern day crime was made up. Turns out it wasn't, which means the twisted path of this story is based on some pretty disturbing facts. (view spoiler)

I liked the runs of
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Danica Novgorodoff is an artist, writer, graphic novelist, graphic designer and horse wrangler from Kentucky who currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published three graphic novels: A Late Freeze (2006), Slow Storm (2008), and Refresh, Refresh (included in Best American Comics 2011). Her fourth graphic novel, The Undertaking of Lily Chen, is forthcoming from First Second Books in 2014.
More about Danica Novgorodoff...

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“Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called "ghost marriages." Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave. Sometimes, when a man died unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a "wedding," and bury the couple together... A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides. Marriage brokers—usually respectable folk who find brides for village men—account for most of the middlemen. At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers—and now murderers.
—"China's Corpse Brides: Wet Goods and Dry Goods" The Economist, July 26, 2007”
“The price of love is high- but pain- we sell it cheap.” 0 likes
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