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The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

(Malayan #1)

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,167 ratings  ·  460 reviews
Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.

Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eve
Paperback, 474 pages
Published November 1st 2016 by Amazon Crossing
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Without the major snowstorm of the last 3 days (and it's worse today)- I probably would not have been able to read this book in the time I did. It is LONG. And it is detailed. And I'm sure it would not be for everyone. But I loved it. I would have given it 5 stars except for the Manglish used throughout. (Rather a pidgin Malaya/Cantonese/Hakka/English combination of English).

But don't let that spoil your picking up this book. If you have patience and love actual family pattern of cultural connec
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wow, where to start with a book like this? First, let me say that readers of this review should probably know I've spent the past eight years married to a Malaysian Chinese man, have visited Malaysia twice, had a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony (tea ceremony, banquet, etc), speak Mandarin, and worked full time teaching ESL to Chinese immigrants for three years. I'm also a published writer. So a novel about Malaya (old Malaysia) written by a Malaysian Chinese woman and loosely based on her o ...more
Stephanie Anze
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Chye Hoon is a spirited and feisty child. As she grows up, her siblings are married off with ease but she is not. Her parents fear that she will remain alone but she does eventually catch someone one's attention. When she weds, its an immense relief for her parents and the start of her amazing and tumultuous journey as a wife, mother and ultimate Nyonya warrior woman.

Set in Malaysia in the 1870's through the 1940's, this novel was quite a feat. Dealing with the Nyonya and Baba tradition, this no
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved it! LOVED IT! I’ve always enjoyed books that deal with eastern cultures and nationalities and this book is one of the best I’ve ever read. It brought me to tears more than once. The book is told in the first person and takes the reader through one Malay-Chinese woman's life from childhood to old age. Selina Siak Chin Yoke clearly did her research well and between the descriptions of clothing and food, I wish I could go back in time and visit Malaya and experience Nyonya cultur ...more
I'm glad I read this book as I learned so much about several cultures as well as a time in history I am not particularly familiar with. We need more books like this one which capture cultures and times in history not many people in the West, or at least The United States, are aware of. I recommend reading this book simply for that value alone, but, I also recognize that it's definitely not a book all readers will enjoy. It is a slow moving novel which depicts the life and struggles of one woman ...more
Well I raced through this in just one day. I will admit that it's not usually the kind of book I pick up. I'm very much a fan of novels with a balance of action and character drama, whereas The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds is a wholeheartedly family saga kind of book. As a result, there were moments when I wished for a break from all the relationships... but the novel is such a well done family saga that it kept me interested until the final page. The writing is very clear, but more than that i ...more
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star, kindle-first
The title character, Chye Hoon, is a woman of mixed Malay/Chinese heritage or Nyonya. She is based loosely on the author’s own great-grandmother, and apparently many family stories were woven into the narrative in addition to material from extensive research. I enjoyed much of the story and learned some interesting things about the culture, but the underlying struggle between tradition and modernization and its impact on family generations is something I’ve read about many times, in stories told ...more
NancyGrace  Howard
Beautifully crafted, a worthy read.

This is like being in a room with a master artist who, in the beginning, stands before a blank canvas. She begins with the first stroke of words and smoothly moves on to the next, painting, you are not sure what. The mastery of her medium makes you want to ride the journey she is taking you on, word by word, scene by scene. You can smell the food, see the landscape, palpate the characters. The art is rich and flowing, smooth and masterful. The journey becomes a
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
Wonderful book, I knew nothing about Malaysia or the culture, beautifully written! If you like historical fiction based a a true family story you will love this.
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it


This is an historical fiction novel set between the 1870s and the 1940s in Malaysia.   In this area of Malaysia at the time it was common for people to be of mixed ethnic heritage.  But now the British have started to establish a presence.  Towns and cities are growing.  Chye Hoon's father decides to learn English and move the family to a larger city to get ahead.  Although she is smart, she is not able to go to school.  She is headstrong and not beautiful so stays unmarried for a long time be
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds is the perfect kind of book to my mind. It’s a first-person account (fictional, based on the author’s ancestors) of a woman’s life from childhood to death. It covers day-to-day life and those small decisions we make that shape our lives for years to come. Those are my favorite kinds of stories! Plus, I learned about a culture I was completely ignorant of, the Baba-Nyonya of Malaya. I really love it when I get to read a good book and I have to google stuff every

Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author tells the story of a Malayan woman's life, from childhood till death. Considerable research went into the creation of this richly poignant story, and I was introduced to a world which I knew nothing about. The custom of chewing betel seed for both socialization and a little "high" (I imagine) was a deeply rooted custom in this story. I could visualize the blackened teeth of the women as they chewed as well as the spitting of the red liquid into bowls. Even the betel itself was housed ...more
Saarah Niña

I feel that writing a review for this book is a daunting task, this is an incredible book- my obsession of the month. I was drawn to the eloquent writing, especially the lovely descriptions of the land- my favourite was the quiet village in Songkhla. And, I was besotted by the beautiful cultural values and Chye Hoon's strength in the face of her fears. We learn of her life which she recounts to her grand daughter, Lai Hin, a young girl so alike to herself when she was of that age: fiery
Oct 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: family saga fans, curious about Malaysia
This is the life story of Chye Hoon, a Nyonya (Malaysian woman of Chinese heritage) who lives between 1878 and 1941, a time of great change in her homeland. Initially a willful child who wants to break out of her culture’s tradition (why shouldn’t a girl get the chance to go to school like her brother?), Chye Hoon grows into a young woman whose reputation for temper and independent spirit seem to doom her prospects for marriage.

But an enterprising matchmaker brings her together with a Chinese im
4th book finished w/ less than an hour to go for #24in48readathon. It was EXCELLENT! I loved everything about this beautiful book! It was especially interesting to see so many important world events at the turn of the 20th century from a different perspective; the Great War, influenza outbreak, & modernization. Looking forward to the 2nd book in the series, which follows WWII.

The only thing I can see putting some readers off, is the dialogue. The author purposely has the characters who don't spe
This is an epic sweep of a book, which is one of my favorite types of novels. What made it even better was its focus on a culture and a country that I'm not terribly familiar with, so there was an element of education as well. Because this book focuses on a woman raising a family in an era of great change from the traditional to the modern, I kept being reminded of one of my all-time favorite novels by Robert A. Heinlein, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which had the same epic sweep as this novel.

Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, but if I had read it five months earlier, when I wasn't living in South East Asia, I wouldn't have appreciated as many of the Malaysian references that are included in the story. Not necessary to appreciate the story, which at it's core is a mom raising her children in a "new world" where everything is changing. Raising teens in the "twenty teens," my own struggles didn't feel all that different. ...more
Laurie Reilly
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
This story could have easily been whittled down to 300 pages (from 450). Initially, it was interesting to learn about the Malayan and Chinese cultures. Half way through the book, the author seemed to lose her focus and the story droned on for the remainder of the book. The main character's decisions often made no sense to me and left me frustrated. ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this novel as part of the Kindle First program, which is basically like getting an advanced copy of a novel for free and explains why I'm reviewing this a few weeks before its publication date in November.

"The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds" is an epic family drama set in early 20th century Malaysia (referred to as "Malaya" in the novel; the name "Malaysia" was not adopted until 1963, after the novel has ended). The story follows the life of Chye Hoon, a woman born into a family descended
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds begins in 1878. It is the story of Chye Hoon, born in Malaysia. She is being brought up in the Nyonya culture, a mix of Chinese and Malaysian customs. The book follows her life as she grows up, gets married and has 10 children. It focuses on the day to day life in Malaysia, and her struggles to raise her children and provide a good living for them. Her children grow up and become parents themselves. The book concludes with her death at age 63.

This book is not ac
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Almost five hundred pages to describe someome's life with all its ups and downs - is it too much or too little? I don't know, but by the end of the novel I was overtaken by feeling of transience.
It's a story of a woman who did her best to preserve her ancestors' heritage and to adapt to the changing times, to survive and to bring up her children while staying true to herself and never shrinking from the challenges she faced.
I really enjoy reading books about Southeast Asia of the late XIX - earl
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
A really lovely, rich cultural immersion in Malaysia on the brink of major changes. The main heroine's life begins in the country before the Great War and any modern developments, and ends in a very different environment. It's sentimental, a bit heart-breaking and with a lot of feeling. I'm not ashamed to admit I had tears in my eyes a few times. Recommended to everyone interested in the history of the region.

* * *

Замечательный, насыщенный культурными деталями, погружающий в атмосферу Малайзии р
Dec 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Thank you Net Galley for an advanced read of the book! I always love when a book takes place in a foreign culture which was pre oily U own to me. If the book is good enough I go off on a Google search to learn more, and for this I most definitely did. The culture and characters became very vivid and utterly alive. In spite of differences the striving a and hopes of all people remain the same, and as I followed our main character through her life I cheered, cried, and struggled with her. And I wa ...more
Laz the Sailor
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: other
This fictional biography follows one woman from childhood to grandchildren. It describes the confluence of Malay, Hakka, Chinese, and Imperial British through the early 20th century. The tales are colorful, and the food is mouth-watering. I'm told that it brings back fond memories for those who remember these places and traditions.

But in the end it is just a collection of vignettes with only the central character to tie them together. There is no grand wisdom to impart, nor is there really closu
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked the way it was written and I enjoyed learning a little about another time and another culture. The bravery of the heroine of the story was awe inspiring. Even when she developed diabetes, and there were no medications available, she kept on selflessly. This book said a lot about families and friends and children. It was inspiring and enjoyable. Do yourself a favor and read it.
Laurie Buchanan
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Handed from mother to daughter for generations, their “sword” (no spoilers here) was wielded with strength and wisdom. An excellent account of the power of women in a time when women had virtually none.

In THE WOMAN WHO BREATHED TWO WORLDS, author Selina Siak Chin Yoke gives readers an up close and personal look at a woman who picks up her “sword” to save her family time and gain—when the males in the household couldn’t.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Historical novel of note

Enjoyed this historical novel of Malaya in the 19-20th century, and the lives of Malaysians and the Chinese immigrants and their children. Well written, engrossing.
Aug 03, 2020 rated it did not like it
Am I missing something? This book has really high reviews and I have no idea why. I think most people would find this book tedious, full of grammatical errors, and just plain boring.

Let me say at the outset that I am a huge fan of family sagas and multi-generational tales. Some of my favorite books, like THE THORN BIRDS or THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH are just that. But THE WOMAN WHO BREATHED TWO WORLDS should be a lesson on how NOT to write a family saga.

First, the book focuses on one main charact
Jinx:The:Poet {the Literary Masochist, Ink Ninja & Word Roamer}
The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds (Malayan, #1)

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds was a very fascinating novel, the first installment of the Malayan saga, by Selina Siak Chin Yoke. As an epic historical fiction family saga, about a Malayan-Chinese woman. The story was rich with unique cultural upbringing and vivid details about Chye Hoon’s life.

"Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Chye Hoon, mixed Malayan Chinese (Nyonya) must learn to embrace her Nyonya heritage rather than following her dream to attend school. Born in the late 1800s, she must learn the Nyonya ways, cooking specialties and running her household.

Chye Hoon begins to appreciate her heritage and is eventually married to Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man who appreciates her skills. As the two grow to know and appreciate each other, they bring ten children into the world.

But Chye Hoon does not easily move into t
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Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Siak was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer. Her first novel, The Woman ...more

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