A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine
Even though the back of the galley says Compestine’s latest title is for “Ages 12 and up,” I’d definitely recommend saving it for much older readers. These are some of the most realistically gruesome tales outside of Halloween, not to mention dealing with more adult subjects like cannibalism, organ harvesting, and religious leaders with their hideaway mistresses.
“Hungry ghosts” are traditionally feared throughout China, explains Compestine. Souls who depart this world on an empty stomach keep coming back to try and fill their bellies … and to wreak revenge on those who deprived them. Compestine, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution (and writes about it in her devastating fictional memoir, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party), talks about her own deprivation in her opening “Author’s Note”: “I constantly hungered for food – because it was rationed; and books – because they were burned.”
Here she creates a literary fright fest of eight stories, each named after a popular Chinese dish – because the traditional Chinese banquets consists of eight dishes since “[t]he word for “eight” in Chinese sounds like the word for “sudden unexpected good fortune.” Each story is followed by a contextual and/or historical explanation and then the actual recipe.
Appetizers include “Steamed Dumplings,” about a small village inn that serves Great Wall construction workers (literally), and “Tea Eggs,” about student factory workers too curious about the corpses from a fireworks accident. For main courses, Compestine serves up “Beef Stew,” about an iPod obsessed criminal who loses his insides, “Tofu with Chili-Garlic Sauce,” about a less-than-honest neurosurgeon who loses his own mind when he eats live monkey brains, “”Long Life Noodles,” about murderous cheating monks, and “Egg Stir-Fried Rice,” about an evil stepmother who sends her stepdaughter to her father’s grave hungry. For dessert, check out “Jasmine Almond Cookies,” about an old man who steals food from graves and finally gets his … well, just desserts, and “Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding,” about a boy who poisons his own father.
With such evil family and friends, who needs enemies, huh? Makes for enjoying all that great food quite the challenge …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult