Book Club Recommendation

I would like to make a book club recommendation.

Shanghai Immortal, a novel by A. Y. Chao
As a reader, my personal intention is to read or listen to “a good book.” As a book club attendee, through the synergy of hearing thoughtful, informed people share their experiences with the book, I hope to enrich my own experience of the book and, more generally, to enrich my creative, intellectual, and social lives.

Criteria for “a good book”

Although what constitutes “a good book” for me has changed since I was first allowed to choose my own books at the Scholastic Book Fairs at Margaret Beeks Elementary School, my current criteria for “a good book” include:

  1. Compelling story that results in such a flow state of interest that I need to give little mental effort to following the plot.
  2. Main character who either is, or becomes, psychologically-minded enough to see reality as it is – however fantastical – to become aware of traits, both strengths and weaknesses, that contribute to how they handle challenges, and to address all of these ingeniously and bravely.
  3. Language beautiful enough to offer an aesthetic experience in itself and evocative enough for the reader to imagine experiencing what happens.
  4. Nuances in thinking, expression, and/or conveyance of meaning that activate my own creativity.
  5. Having experienced and learned of brutality due to my stage in life and my profession, limited brutality, preferably none.
  6. Available in audiobook format.

Shanghai Immortal, by A. Y. Chao, published in the U.K by Hodderscape, 2023, meets my criteria for “a good book.” I have both Kindle and Audible versions. Reader Mei Mei Macleod is absolutely stellar. Shanghai Immortal tops my list of favorite fantasy novels.

Why do I hypothesize Shanghai Immortal might be, not just interesting, but fascinating to book club members?


Released July, 2023, in electronic and audio versions.


  1. A. Y. Chao joins a growing number of people with Chinese ancestry who identify as female or live as female, and are writing fantasy and science fiction novels. Please see Female authors emerge in Chinese sci-fi and fantasy (2022) and this essay by A. Y. Chao (2023).
  2. According to multiple sources, including The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters, by Megan Walsh (2022), and Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (2022), China is experiencing a golden age in Chinese science fiction. Please see China’s science fiction enters ‘golden era’ (2022).


Point A.

From Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities (Source):

“A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do.”

First sentences from Shanghai Immortal:

“The steaming Shanghai night drapes heavy over my bare shoulders. I lean against the door of a decrepit warehouse, gums aching, stomach grumbling, and wait on Big Wang’s secret delivery. Cicadas scream all around me. With a title like Lady Jing of Mount Kunlun and ancestry that includes the great goddess Queen Mother of the West, running errands at 3 a.m. in this rotted heat might be considered below my station.”

Point B.

Chao’s writing organically bridges English and Chinese language and culture. The human concepts are clear, regardless of language. I hypothesize that what we can do to know more about how to communicate in both languages may contribute to world peace.

Point C.

I am a volunteer with the Literacy Volunteers of the New River Valley of Virginia. The beauty and power of A. Y. Chao’s sentences gave me the boldness to suggest a book club for speakers of Mandarin Chinese who wish to deepen their abilities to speak about ideas and life in English and Chinese.

Point D.

Excerpt from a review by A. R. James:

“From its sweat-dripping opening to its heartwarming conclusion, Shanghai Immortal is a sumptuous read. Tendrils of mythology weave together with modern characters whom you can’t help but love, and the result is a rich story of enigmatic deities, nether-realm heists and unexpected joy. It explores complex issues of heritage, identity, belonging, and intersectional feminism in a multicultural migrant context. It is a love letter to the author’s Chinese diaspora heritage with a twist of Canadian sensibilities… and – they’re not kidding – a huge amount of sass.”

Possible book club discussion questions:

  1. What has draped heavy over your shoulders? Perhaps physically – like a steaming Shanghai night – or figuratively, like a burden of some kind?
  2. About what have you ever counted “Yi. Er. San.”?
  3. What in the novel delighted and surprised you?
  4. What made you laugh?
  5. What images and scenes do you still remember, long after finishing the passage? What about them spoke to you or called to you?
  6. What made you uncomfortably aware of personally problematic ways you have of feeling, thinking, acting, interacting, or relating?
  7. Of the relationships Lady Jing has with other beings, which reminded you most of a relationship you have in your life?
  8. To what else in the story can you personally relate? Even though the story is about fictional, fantastical beings – except for a few humans – what in the characters’ experiences is personally engaging and/or meaningful to you?
  9. What do you feel and think when you recognize elements of Chinese culture and language in the novel? For example, Da Wang? Lady Jing? Mount Kunlun?
  10. If you had an opportunity to speak with author A. Y. Chao, what questions would you ask?
  11. I posit that Chao’s writing organically bridges English and Chinese language and culture. Universal human concepts are clear, regardless of language. I hypothesize that reading and discussing Shanghai Immortal opens opportunities for native speakers of Chinese and English to begin to navigate language and cultural differences and to achieve greater mutual understanding. Further, I hypothesize that mutual language and culture learning may contribute directly to productive, global conversations about topics of global import. Lady Jing, ambassador of peace? What do you think?

– 孫子兵法
Epigraph, Shanghai Immortal by A. Y. Chao

Update: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, Blacksburg Branch, Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library, Virginia, has chosen Shanghai Immortal to read and discuss at 6:00 PM at its monthly meeting on May 28, 2024.

Discussion of Shanghai Immortal in Blacksburg, VA

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