Book #8: A Temple of Forgotten Spirits by William F. Wu

A young guy named Jack Hong hitchhikes throughout America following the keilin, a mystical unicorn out of Chinese mythology. The keilin leads him to ten adventures with ghosts and other supernatural figures. These experiences reveal to him not only parts of American history he never knew, but also his own identity and the role he will choose for his life. 

~~~~~ Description ~~~~~ 

The moonlight was still strong, and Lo Man Gong still sat up on the overhead window, where few people and no old men could ever get. 

“Feel better, Chinaman?” he asked mildly. 

The night before, my resistance had been low, and his presence had somehow seemed tolerable, if not rational. Now I was more clear-headed … yet he was still here. I didn’t like him as much. 

I let my eyes drop closed again. Once I was cured of malaria, I’d be free of him. I had eaten twice today; now, if I slept well, I’d be in sound shape pretty soon. 

“You know the keilin, Chinaman Jack?” 

That was the Chinese unicorn, a mystical animal whose rare appearances were highly auspicious. In the Cantonese I normally heard, it was pronounced “keilun.” It wasn’t like European ones, though. This unicorn had the body of a deer, the hooves of a horse, the tail of an ox, and a fleshy horn. I knew that much. 

“The unicorn?” I opened my eyes and looked at him. As before, the moonlight glowed through his shape. 

“Ah, you know the keilin. He smiled and nodded thoughtfully. “The keilin means good things happen. It’s very powerful.” 

I watched him silently. 

After a while, he looked into my eyes again. “Nobody remember me, Jack. Some people remember, some of my frien’. A few of them. Most, nobody remember at all. No children, no relative. You, Jack. You like me. Unless you change.” 

Yes, I knew that. I had already come to understand that. And I knew that he had come for me, here in the middle of the country, away from his home as longtime Californ’. But I didn’t know why.

I received an audible code via Audiobook Boom for an honest review. What follows is my opinion and mine alone. There was no compensation for this review.

A Temple of Forgotten Spirits is a full-length novel that is comprised of multiple short stories. It tells the story of a Chinese-American man and his journey across the United States on his search for a mythical unicorn. He is introduced to the history of the Chinese in America little by little.

I am a third generation Filippino-American (25% Filippino, if we get nitty-gritty). Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about that part of my family and what I do know is just the history that my grandmother remembers. I don’t know the culture and I’m still undecided about learning it. After all, is the history that rich in American culture?

So, I asked for this book because I already felt some kind of connection with the main character. He doesn’t know his family background or the culture. He doesn’t understand the intertwining history of being Chinese and Chinese-American. Just like I don’t know anything about that part of my family.

Now… I honestly didn’t start liking the book. The main character, though having a similar cultural ignorance as me, didn’t feel like there was any emotion behind him. I didn’t like him as a person. I did like the other characters we meet in each story. They had substance, there was a struggle with them. Jack was… a witness.

And in retrospect, I think that was Wu’s intention. He wanted Jack to be a blank slate. If Jack wasn’t, he would fight what is new to him just like we fight what is new for us. By making him into a blank slate, Wu not only made the reader into the character but was making a point that Jack was on a journey to a rebirth of sorts.

With each passing story, Jack grows a personality. We may not know the Jack of the past but we are learning about the Jack of the present and future. It is the past of Chinese America that is important, not the vehicle we are using to view it.

It was because of this that I needed to sit back and think. I couldn’t write a review right away because I would have made it into a 2 (because of Jack’s lack of personality) or a 3 (because the stories we learn). Now, I think a 4 is more appropriate.

The narrator does a decent job, though I did have trouble listening to him from time to time. The literary prose is good, it pulled me in and the minor characters meant something to me. But it is the emotional realization I have gained that seems to make a bigger impact for me. I’m growing more and more interested in learning about my own hidden culture after listening to this audiobook.

I recommend this for someone who doesn’t know as much as they think about Chinese American history and for the people who don’t know the history that is in their own blood and soul.

Final Rating: 4/5