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Spirits Abroad

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  658 ratings  ·  178 reviews
"If you live near the jungle, you will realize that what is real and what is not real is not always clear. In the forest there is not a big gap between the two."

A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an a
Paperback, First Edition, 284 pages
Published June 21st 2014 by FIXI Novo
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Average rating 4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  658 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have to admit it was with some trepidation that I received the news that I had won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I've not had great experiences with works set in South-East Asia (e.g., The Book of Salt, The Harmony Silk Factory). I am happy to say, however, that this work was head and shoulders above them, both as an authentic South-East Asian voice and as an engaging read.

As a Singaporean, I can tell you that her depiction of Malaysia and Malaysians is the real deal, folks. For example,
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Spectacular. Funny and touching and original (now I know Malay mythology almost as much as I know Bulgarian one ... haha, right ;) and ... see for yourselves below.

I've just found a new favorite author. :)))

You can see why here:
K.J. Charles
This was absolutely fantastic. Funny, sad, deeply anger-inducing, warm and fuzzy by turns. Steeped in Malaysian mythology, which sounds purely amazing, as well as Chinese and some English, and written in switching voices with loads of Malay-English and no concessions to non-speakers so you just have to immerse yourself. This is not a hardship. There is undoubtedly a huge amount I didn't get because I don't know the legends, but I got enough to put this squarely into my fave specfic reads of the ...more
I am glad my third attempt in reading Zen Cho's work paid off. Maybe because the setting is so familiar to me, but I am just in awe of her ability to weave these local myths and legends into a compelling narrative. I believe my Indonesian buddies would find this enjoyable too ;)

The book was hyped alot during the last few online conventions I attended and I could definitely see why. One interesting thing is the non-italicizing policy of the publisher, Buku Fixi, for non-English words - I am now i
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zread-1-fantasy
Woohoo, I finished a short story collection! Something I haven't done in years. Although, Cho made it easy with her dry humour and focus on 5 key F's: friendship, family, food, fun and folklore. A winning combination.

The collection is currently moving to a new publisher, so unavailable for purchase at the moment. In the meantime, some of the stories are available online for free. Here is the first one...
The First Witch of Damansara @Uncanny Magazine

Thanks to my fellow buddy readers at Worlds Bey
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, 2014
Zen Cho utterly charmed me on a Loncon panel about South and Southeast Asian SFF, so of course I bought her book of short stories, which do indeed reflect her boisterous, whimsical personality. As a Chinese Malaysian living in London, she draws from several cultures in her storytelling, and the book is divided into three sections: "Here" (stories set in Malaysia), "There" (stories set in England), and "Elsewhere" (stories set, well, elsewhere). For the non-Malaysian reader, it's a great way to b ...more
Allison Hurd
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Delightful. Not all of the stories were equally wonderful, but this was a colorful, funny, heartfelt and imaginative foray into Malaysian mythology and family life. I really enjoyed all of them, especially the story about the Aunts and the Dragon.

I don't even have to add content warnings because the author thoughtfully added them to the beginning of each story!
Freya Marske
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm not a regular reader of short stories, but sometimes I come across collections that make me want to do nothing but read them for the rest of my life. Or possibly just beg Zen Cho to write short stories for the rest of HER life, which would be a terrible idea because I do, also, require the other two noves in her magical Regency series to exist.

This collection is a delight. I zoomed through the first half of it with increasing incredulity that just as I'd decided on a favourite, along came AN
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love reading mythology,folktales and fables that are unique to regions across the world .Every community and group has loads of stories that have been handed down across generations. These are the stories we are told as children by our grandparents and any recollection of them however old we become brings nostalgia.
I have wanted to read Malaysian writer ,Zen Cho for quite some time now and I was overjoyed when her short story compilation "Spirits Abroad",was available in Kindl
Shira Glassman
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who like intimate and/or tropical fantasy about feelings & experiences
This Malaysian and Malaysian-diaspora fantasy shorts collection brings extremely intimate and personal concepts into the sphere of fantasy fiction--like unexpected difficulty in schoolwork or performing arts after being at the top of your class, or blooming into your suppressed bisexuality. Far from being the fantasy of broad, sweeping, epic stories about clashes between dynasties or magical orders, this is the fantasy about household magic, about supernatural creatures that have the same feelin ...more
Mar 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
One of the best speculative fiction collections I have ever read! Loved.
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, featured
Zen Cho is my new favourite short story writer. Generally I find magic realism exhausting and irrelevant (García Márquez), a crutch for ideas. Spirits Abroad is the first work I've read whose magical elements complement the stories—which pulse with inventiveness and humour. ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Zen Cho seems to be interested in different aspects of her stories than I am, but this collection is lovely, original, and beautifully written - and thus her word magic works on me, too.
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia
I'm in two minds when it comes to this book.

I honestly thought the book was phenomenal. It is everything I love about speculative fiction - funny and folkloric, dry yet dripping with wonder. However, that wasn't what made the book so special. The book was especially special because Zen Cho made it Malaysian. She took speculative fiction on its head and applied it to the Malaysian context, using local imagery and drawing from the rich lore of Malay and Chinese paranormal superstitions.

Here the c
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To love a new world, you had to get close to the ground and listen.

An absolute delight. Everything I want out of fantasy. Spoke to me on so many different levels. Every single story in this collection was good. I didn't adore every one of them, but the ones I did love, I loved SO MUCH, I want to burst thinking about them.

One, I love stories written in and including dialect. English is never so beautiful to me as when it's put into the hands of colonised or enslaved people, and contorted and tran
Sara Norja
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a delightful range of stories in Spirits Abroad! This is one of the best short story collections I've ever read. I often seem to describe Zen Cho's writing as "delightful", but really, it is! Reading Spirits Abroad was so great. I couldn't wait to get to read each story. Cho gives us vivid characters, usually Malaysian, with wonderfully natural speech patterns (complete with Malaysian English discourse markers), and inventive settings and concepts that spin each story forwards. True to its ...more
Jaymee Goh
IF YOU ARE MALAYSIAN YOU NEED TO READ THIS, LIKE, YESTERDAY. Besides being a complete delight to read with very strong craft, Zen's writing is a great example of how Malaysians can write SFF without relying on Western perspectives of Malaysia. I personally do not care much for her protagonists, who are mostly rather bland made interesting through the situations they are in (I suppose they are meant to be EveryWoman, but something about many of them, like Prudence and Vivian, rub me wrong, despit ...more
It took me about two years to fully read this collection but that's more a reflection of me and my restlessness/moodreading than the quality of these stories, which were truly delightful!! I loved how they explored so many different themes of diaspora, identity, and believable experiences with humor, fantasy, and a good deal of kindness. Personal favorites include: "First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia", "House of Aunts", "The Mystery of the Suet Swain", "Prudence and t ...more
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
GOT STORIES ABOUT ORANG BUNIAN LAH, GOT TEENAGE PONTIANAK LAH, GOT ORANG MINYAK ALSO. The orang minyak a bit gross lah, Facebook stalk pretty girls and take pictures.

Also leh, the language is memang like that one. A lot of slang, so leh...quite fun to read. But not as contrived as the Rose Chan one. This one's a little more believable.

I didn't know ghosts also got such a sense of humour. Keong Si also can make jokes leh.
Rebecca Wilson
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british, asia
I could not have loved these stories more. I always want to be reading books that make me feel like this one did, and I will definitely be reading it again. I loved Sorcerer to the Crown with all my heart, but these stories are even more original and definitely more poignant. FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND STARS. In summary, I will be preordering every future book Zen Cho writes, setting up a google alert now.
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Short stories with local supernatural bent voiced artlessly by Zen Cho. Her characters are quirky but not annoyingly cute, the landscape lush with Malaysian mystical lore and the dialogue is just so real. Something to devour in a single sitting.
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Spirits Abroad is a delightful collection of short stories by Zen Cho. I’d previously enjoyed her novel The Sorcerer and the Crown and a couple of her short stories (specifically “Prudence and the Dragon” and “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Life“). Zen Cho is a Malaysian fantasy author who often combines English fantasy tropes with Malaysian life and folklore. While many of her stories deal with serious topics (such as Angela disconnecting herself from her heritage and repressing her bisexual ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fan's of Nnedi Okorafor
I'd like to go read everything by Zen Cho now please! This is an excellent collection of short stories. Cho has a clear and strong voice and crafts a great story. Her work draws from Malaysian mythology, but also has a very contemporary feel. The stories are full of strong women, complicated families, and interesting mythology.

I also definitely recommend reading this in the Kindle format vs paperback. For one thing, the ebook version has more stories than the print version. The bonus material is
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oooooh, this was good.

Cho excels at two things in this collection: attention to character and attention to texture in the story's details. Which are great things to excel at when drawing on folkloric ideas of fantasy, in my opinion; there's just enough of a rough surface to the glamorous or intriguing fantastical ideas on display to get a grip on it, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing through the eyes of every character here.

She has a good mix of tone going on. There's the thoroughly macabre, the d
Sep 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'll admit that I only picked this up because it was on a list of books by authors from Southeast Asia (which I needed for the Read Harder challenge), was fantasy related, and was cheap as an ebook, but it was really good! I really want to read her other stuff now. All of the stories touched on something Malay, even if it was just in the way people spoke, and she wrote little commentaries for each story. I liked that she also put in possible trigger warnings and a link to skip to the next story ...more
Michael Fierce
* Includes, The House of Aunts - one of my favorite short stories I've read in the last decade. ...more
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting concept. Some stories were executed well while others were not. Zen Cho is a gem. I'm looking forward for her other books. ...more
Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I don't know why, but I felt like I could deeply relate to the characters in these stories. Wrapped in their fantastical circumstances, I felt grounded in their realness and awed by their experiences. Maybe I'll be able to explain why I like this collection so much when I've properly processed it, but for now I can only say that I love love loved it.

The last few paragraphs of 'The Four Generations of Chang E' was a particularly sobering reminder of the point of no return once you've left home.
This is a wonderful collection of fantasy short stories by Malaysian author Zen Cho. Within Cho deftly weaves Southeast Asian folklore and family stories into traditional themes of family, love, and death. I've very glad that I found this book, and that I have a new author to follow. Very well done! ...more
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I'm a Malaysian fantasy writer based in the UK. I've written a novel called Sorcerer to the Crown about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London; a sequel about cursed sisters, anticolonial witches, dapper dragon dandies and murderous fairies called The True Queen; and a short story collection called Spirits Abroad. Plus some other stuff! I've won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, t ...more

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“But a woman should not marry where there is no respect. Respect is the most important thing.” 4 likes
“I brought seaweed snacks from home,' chimed in another kid. "Seaweed got iron, right?"
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