Ying Chang Compestine has ghosts on her mind, and it's not just because of Halloween.
Boy Dumplings, her eighth picture book, came out in September and features a little boy outsmarting a ghost who wants to eat him. A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, a genuinely scary collection of ghost stories for young adults, came out this week. Both include recipes and references to the Hungry Ghost Festival, celebrated in September and April, when Chinese families put food out to appease the ghosts.
When the prolific Compestine is not writing (she's authored three cookbooks, and her acclaimed young-adult novel Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party just came out in paperback), she can usually be found at the Golden Gate Badminton Club in Emeryville. She plays five days a week, and, at 47, often obliterates opponents half her age.
"Badminton is my other job," she says, adding that it helps clear her head for writing.
In her native China, she trained to be a professional badminton player until her parents, both doctors, insisted on a more academic path. That led to a scholarship to study in the United States, where she married an American software engineer. They live on a quiet street in Lafayette with their 15-year-old son, Vinson.
Compestine says that in Chinese folklore, ghosts represent justice. They come back to exact revenge, righting wrongs done to them when they were alive. She was inspired to write the stories in Hungry Ghosts after a recent trip to China, where she observed the inequality and corruption in Chinese society and wanted to write about that, but not overtly. "The ghosts give me the freedom to tell the story in a very interesting way," she says.
The book is arranged in eight chilling chapters, each named after a dish that figures in the story. Following each one is the recipe - make them all to have an eight-course Chinese banquet - and notes on the historical, cultural and political context of the issue woven into the story. Organ harvesting from prisoners, forced lobotomies, poaching and killing endangered species, bribing officials and doctors, running a rigged legal system and corrupting Buddhist priests are all fodder for Compestine's imagination and graphic storytelling. People get chopped up, buried alive and grabbed by skeletons reaching up from their graves in these hair-raising tales, which work both as pure entertainment and subtle commentary.
Causes Ying Compestine Supports
The Cancer Research Foundation
Environmental causes -- I'm very concerned about the effects of global warming and the impact of the environment on...