FINCHES

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Grandmother Jah has returned to her former residence in a small village at the edge of Kuala Lumpur. It is the house she shared with her husband, Ghani, before she left him for taking a second, younger wife. She has returned only now that Ghani and the second wife are dead and the building stands empty. Jah is sure she can feel their continued presence—footsteps, breathing, even the sensation of being grabbed—but she merely curses them and demands that they leave the house to her. With the help of her granddaughter Khatijah and the girl’s boyfriend, Loong, Jah brings in a Buddhist nun and a Malay shaman to purify the house, but the spirits persist. Jah’s family wants her to forget the house and move on, but she insists on salvaging what she believes to be hers. As the story is told and retold from the perspectives of several characters—including Khatijah; her mother, Fatimah; her uncle Rahim; and Ghani himself—the haunting slowly comes into focus, along with the causes of Jah’s obstinacy. Can a broken home ever be cleared of its ghosts, or will the events of the past continue to haunt a place long after the participants have gone? Muffaz writes claustrophobic prose that draws attention to the story’s creepy details, as here where Rahim observes the trees outside the house that Jah has ordered him to chop down: “Rahim looked up at his father’s mango trees, each approaching twenty years old. The tallest trees soared above the house, with the smallest among them double his height and triple his girth. Fire ants blanketed the overripe fruit, so the mangoes appeared to bleed without spilling a drop.” The shifts in time and perspective add to the story’s unease, which is less interested in spooking readers than analyzing the deeper fault lines of the family’s drama. The author explains in her (mostly unnecessary) introduction that her goal was to explore the grief caused by Malaysia’s tolerance of polygamy, and the result is a captivating tale that should please fans of American gothic while introducing rich new elements.

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