For the record – October 2017
A list of recently published Singaporean literature, with some gossip
By Stephanie Ye
In this column, we list all Singaporean literary titles in English that have been published since the last issue of QLRS. Let us know about corrections, omissions, or titles for consideration: email us at the usual address. We reserve the right to reject publications we feel are inappropriate for this column.
Haikuku (Landmark Books, 76 pages, SGD 19.90) and Death Wish (Landmark Books, 84 pages, SGD 19.90) by Gwee Li Sui. As a writer, Gwee could be said to have a split personality. On the one hand, he is known for his literary criticism, and tender poems such as those in his 2014 collection One Thousand and One Nights; on the other, he is a purveyor of comic verse as seen in Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998, with a 2015 update), as well as a master troll of establishment figures on Facebook. (Lying somewhere in between: his scholarship on Singlish.) His two latest books showcase these two different faces. Haikuku is a collection of 120 haiku inspired by Singaporean life and politics, from MRT breakdowns to leadership renewal; to anyone who knows Singlish, the cheeky tone of the collection is self-evident from the title. Death Wish is an altogether darker affair, collecting poems written over a 20-year period, and describing "a series of struggles, each ending with a shrivelling, a letting go, a moving on, or a transcending".
Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging from Hiding by Lim Lee Ching (Delere Press, 106 pages, USD 15). This is the first solo poetry collection of Lim, vice-dean of the School of Human Development & Social Services at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, aka the University Formerly Known As SIM University (UniSIM). "Lim Lee Ching's poems resemble no other work coming from Singapore today, yet these are the poems for which Singapore has quietly yearned," promises associate professor John W. P. Phillips of the National University of Singapore. Includes illustrations by Swedish artist Britta Noresten.
Poems for the Sound of the Sky Before Thunder by Topaz Winters (Math Paper Press, 49 pages, SGD16). According to her impressively substantial Wikipedia page: "Topaz Winters (born September 25, 1999) is an American-Singaporean writer, editor, speaker, and actress. Her name is a pseudonym for Priyanka Balasubramanian Aiyer." Poems for the Sound… is her third solo publication, and "tiptoes the infinitely blurred lines between hurting, hoping and healing".
Square Root of Time by Madeleine Lee (Ethos Books, 38 pages, SGD 9.35). Lee taps into her day job as an investment manager in her ninth volume of poetry, which "fuses financial mathematical concepts with poetic responses to life experiences to form a long multi-part poem based ostensibly on risk terminology". Through the use of mathematical principles and concepts, she explores relationships that are decidedly of the non-mathematical sort.
What Happened: Poems 1997-2017 by Alvin Pang (Math Paper Press, 132 pages, SGD 18). Pang is certainly as much a fixture of the Singapore literary scene as Hillary Clinton is of the American political firmament (yes, the author of this year's other What Happened title). These selected poems survey two decades' worth of Pang's poems, while also including previously unpublished material. His poem 'Incendium Amoris' appeared in our October 2001 edition – our very first issue.
Finally, in verse anthologies we have Lines Spark Code, edited by Christine Chia and Aaron Lee (Ethos Books, 96 pages, SGD 20). Targeted at the A-level literature students of Singapore, this anthology divides its poems into four themes: "sayang", "relationships", "journeys" and "home", and aims to "bring teachers and students into face-to-face dialogue with the very poets whose lines will spark code-making in brilliant Singaporean essays yet to be written". No pressure, then…
The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) and The Red Threads of Fortune (Tensorate #2) by J.Y. Yang (Tor.com Publishing, 240 pages and 213 pages respectively, USD 10.87 each). Set in an Asian-centric world of technology and magic, these paired novellas follow the twins Mokoya and Akeha, the children of a mighty leader whose paths diverge as they develop into their own powers. Each novella follows one of the twins, and although meant to be read together, the novellas also work as stand-alone stories. It has been described by N.K. Jemisin in The New York Times as "joyously wild stuff". Well-known in the science fiction and fantasy scenes of Singapore and the wider world, Yang co-edited the 2012 microfiction anthology The Ayam Curtain.
Gull Between Heaven and Earth by Boey Kim Cheng (Epigram Books, 288 pages, SGD 24.90) From the much-lauded poet Boey comes this debut novel, a reimagining of the life of – who else? – a poet, specifically the Chinese titan Du Fu. Also known as Zimei, our protagonist when we meet him is a lowly Tang Dynasty official, having failed the Imperial Examinations twice. But he soon sets off to discover the world and himself, and neither Chinese history nor literature will ever be the same again… As for Boey's own poetry, "The National Theatre" appeared in our October 2011 issue, and he was a Proust Questionnaire interviewee in April 2012.
Launch Pad by Shelly Bryant (Epigram Books, 200 pages, SGD 18.90). Another poet with a debut fiction work is Bryant, who has seven volumes of poetry under her belt, and is also well known as a translator from Chinese to English. The stories in this anthology are set in fantastical pasts and potential futures, but all with Singapore as the jumping-off point. Bryant's short story "Sila" appeared in our April 2014 issue, and she was a Proust Questionnaire interviewee in January 2016.
Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai (Epigram Books, 216 pages, SGD 18.90). A former Straits Times journalist, Durai's stint in the newsroom shaped her debut fiction collection, as suggested by the wry title. The ten short stories all involve newspapers in some way, "from obituaries and job ads to crime reports and horoscopes", and also deal with life as a minority in Singapore.
The Infinite Library by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo (Math Paper Press, 255 pages, SGD 19). Our third debut fiction collection in this listing is by Singapore-based Filipino writer Ocampo, and comes with cover art by Eisner Award-winning artist Sonny Liew. Comprising seventeen loosely connected stories that range from realism to genre to experimental, the collection addresses the "unease of being between two worlds, of not quite fitting in, and also of the comfort of words and books, which illuminate out way through the darkness". Ocampo's poem "Objets trouvés de Singapour" appeared in our April 2015 issue.
"Others" Is Not a Race by Melissa De Silva (Math Paper Press, 100 pages, SGD 19). According to Singapore's racial categorisation system, if you are neither Chinese, Malay nor Indian then you are "Others". The very term is a negation of identity, defined by what you are not. Yet, any Singaporean knows what an Others looks like. We've seen the murals on our school walls: standing with the Chinese, Malay and Indian friends is a vaguely Caucasian-looking person, with light skin and light hair, and wearing normal (whisper it: Western) clothes rather than a fancy costume. Such is the position of the Eurasian in Singapore: seen, yet not quite acknowledged. This collection combines narrative fiction, creative nonfiction, literary food writing and family memoir to offer insight into the experience of growing up Eurasian in Singapore, in an overlooked community that bridges two worlds to create one of its own. De Silva's short story "It Happened at Mount Pleasant" appeared in our January 2016 issue.
I Want to Go Home by Wesley Leon Aroozoo (Math Paper Press, 222 pages, SGD 19) This work is marketed as a novel, yet much (all?) of it is based on fact, and it is also a companion to a film that is a documentary (i.e. factual). Written by Aroozoo, a teacher of scriptwriting and documentary filmmaking at Lasalle, it tells the story of Yasuo Takamatsu, a Japanese man in the seaside town of Onagawa whose wife Yuko disappeared in the 2011 tsunami. Yuko's last text to her husband gives the book (and film) its title; since then, Takamatsu has been diving every week in search of her. Aroozoo sought Takamatsu out after reading his story in The Telegraph; the book and film are both based on the week Aroozoo spent trailing Takamatsu in 2015. The book includes a Japanese translation of Aroozoo's text by Miki Hawkinson; meanwhile, the documentary was recently screened at the Busan International Film Festival.
Last but not least is The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Three, edited by Cyril Wong (Epigram Books, 336 pages, SGD 24.90). Gathering the best Singaporean stories published in 2015 and 2016, this third volume in the series sees guest editor Cyril Wong take over from Jason Erik Lundberg, who edited the first two volumes and remains as series editor. With the new editor comes a new, rather plain cover as well – no more Singaporean cityscapes – though the stories within are no doubt just as rich as in previous installments.
The Resident Tourist Part 9 by Troy Chin (Math Paper Press, SGD 19.90). The latest installment of this cult series sees our hero flourishing professionally, yet struggling on the personal front. His art is being recognised and he receives several commissions that put him on a more solid financial footing; but ill health and the loss of his grandmother pushes him towards an existential crisis.QLRS Vol. 16 No. 4 Oct 2017