When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a novella by Nghi Vo. It’s part of The Singing Hills Cycle, but stands alone.
Finished on: 27.9.2021
The cleric Chih is on a story-gathering mission that brings them to a group of mammoth riders who promise to lead them across the mountain. But on their way, they get trapped by three hungry tigers. To keep the tigers from eating themself and their companions, Chih promises the tigers a story – the story of the scholar Dieu and her tiger lover Ho Thi Thao. As Chih spins their tale, the tigers do have some corrections to offer, though.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a beautiful, intricate piece of writing that I found absolutely lovely. I can’t wait to dive more into this world.
Vo has a very soft, slightly poetic but not overly so writing style that I could fall into straight away. The world she crafts with this language has an otherworldly glow to it somehow that is very much its own thing. Mammoth soldiers and speaking tigers with their own contentious relationship with humans and their very own culture. It was a breath of fresh air.
I really liked Chih, but I especially liked the story they tell and the way it unfolds together with the tigers’ corrections which give it a depth that moves beyond what you’d expect given that this is not an epic that unfolds over 1,000 pages, but a novella. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a shallow sapphic story about a scholar and her tiger lover. But to get a novella that is so smart about storytelling both in practice and on a meta-level, that touches on the true part of every story and how that may shift depending on who tells it – it’s really something and I, for one, didn’t expect it.
In short, I was really quite taken with this novella – and I can’t wait to dive more into the larger world it is a part of.