A slightly different version of this review was published in The Star on 19th November, 2016
NOW THAT IT’S OVER
Author: O Thiam Chin
Publisher: Epigram Books
TWO Singaporean couples spend Christmas on the island of Phuket in 2004 in O Thiam Chin’s award winning novel Now That It’s Over.
The time and the place is, of course significant: On Boxing Day of that year, a massive earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean, triggering a series of tsunamis that killed over 200 thousand people and caused extensive infra structural damage in some 14 countries.
The two couples in question are of course affected by the natural disaster, and this is not a spoiler as I doubt even the most ignorant of readers could be oblivious to the tragedy that shook the world 12 years ago. Indeed, the use of what has been called the world’s deadliest tsunami in recorded history as a story setting was what piqued my interest in this novel initially, even before it was named winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015.
I imagined that Now That It’s Over would be a heart-wrenching study in human loss and suffering; an examination of the fragility of the flesh versus the astounding strength of the spirit. I anticipated life-and-death decisions that forced O’s characters to face truths they had hitherto managed to deny and side-step thanks to their busy and orderly Singaporean lives. I hoped for a story about revelation, transformation and redemption.
I expected too much.Read More »
First published on 30th May, 2016 in The Star
WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS
AUTHOR: Helen Oyeyemi
PUBLISHER: Picador, 22 pages
HELEN Oyeyemi’s stories never fail to surprise me. Just as some might expect certain kinds of characters, plots and themes from Asian authors, I have to admit that I tend to anticipate the shape and form of tales by African writers. A relatively new reader of Asian and African fiction, I still struggle with various preconceptions: Asian stories are inevitably and miserably tragic; African writing must reflect or be rooted in African life and culture. Complete nonsense, of course.Read More »
First published in The Star on 9th February, 2016
THE LIE TREE
AUTHOR: Francis Hardinge
PUBLISHER: Macmillan, 410 pages
MY newsfeed informs me that The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge has been named Costa Book of the Year. That it is a children’s book is mentioned in the BBC article’s standfirst. Imagine, a
children’s book winning such a prestigious award!
When something like this happens, those of us who have always valued children’s literature are particularly delighted. As Hardinge says, in an interview with The Guardian, ‘“In the wider world, sometimes children’s fiction is seen as a bit lightweight in a way that is not deserved.’”
Indeed, this award may persuade book snobs of a particular kind to stoop to reading “kiddy lit”, but sensible readers who don’t need awards to tell them what’s worthy of their time, may already have discovered the dark delights of Hardinge’s seventh novel.Read More »
This interview was first published on the now deleted local blog on 2nd January, 2015
Zen Cho is the author of Spirits Abroad, published by Fixi NOVO, and editor of the imprint’s upcoming Cyberpunk anthology. She is also the self-published author ofThe Perilous Life of Jade Yeo.
This Q&A with Cho was carried out via email and was in danger of going on indefinitely as her answers raised even more questions and also gave me plenty of food for thought …Read More »
First published on 28th Feb, 2012 in The Star
THE GARDEN OF EVENINNG MISTS
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Review by Daphne Lee
ON a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been a gardener of the Emperor of Japan.”
The first sentence of Tan Twan Eng’s second novel, The Garden Of Evening Mists, has a fairytale-like resonance, a magical quality that intrigues and beguiles. Who was this man and why did he journey so far from his home? Where was this mountain above the clouds and what did the Emperor’s gardener do there?
Almost immediately, this sense of picturesque tranquillity is disrupted by vague yet unmistakable references to violence, pain and sorrow in the subsequent sentences.
What was the exact nature of the relationship between the novel’s narrator and the Japanese gardener? From the book’s second paragraph, I found myself utterly absorbed by Tan’s characters, captivated by their histories and, especially by how the paths of their separate lives intersected and finally converged at Yugiri – the garden of evening mists.Read More »
First published on 23 April, 2010 in Star2
EMILY GRAVETT must be the most prolific picture book creator in existence. In five years, the 37-year-old Brighton-native has produced 10 books – nine wholly by her, the 10th, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo and many other much-beloved picture books).
But when I speak to her on the phone, Gravett frets about being unproductive: ‘I don’t think I’ve published that many books,’ she said from Singapore, the final leg of her recent Asian tour to promote Cave Baby, her collaboration with Donaldson. ‘I could be publishing more – I feel a little uneasy whenever I’m between books.’
Gravett is inspired by everyday situations, conversations on the radio, things she overhears in shops and on the bus. She claims to work in a ‘very chaotic’ way.
‘I have a sketch book and I mess about with ideas. A book usually comes together in a bit of a mess. There’s a lot of reorganisation and sorting things out.’
Gravett’s books are either deceptively simple (like Orange Pear Apple Bear, The Odd Egg or Blue Chameleon) or extremely complex, full of subtle jokes, witty asides, and visual gags.
Read More »
A shorter version of this interview was first published on 27th September, 2009 in The Star.
MOST PEOPLE tend to associate picture books with simple stories, illustrated with simple, brightly coloured pictures. Of course, those with a more intimate knowledge of this medium of storytelling know that there is more to picture books than just pretty pictures that simply offer a visual description of a straightforward, basic text.
Picture books may deal with complex and difficult themes and subject matter, and this may be reflected in either the text or the art, or both.
Shaun Tan is a picture book artist whose work is definitely more complex than what the average person might expect to find in a alphabet or counting book. I know people who started collecting picture books after they read one of Tan’s. The Melbourne-based 35-year-old started his career drawing for science fiction and horror novels. His art appears in picture books written by John Marsden (The Rabbits) and Gary Crew (The Viewer and Memorial) and he also illustrates his own books (The Red Tree, The Arrival, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia).
Read More »
First published on 1st April, 2007 in StarMag
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE
By Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second, 240 pages
I SPENT an hour yesterday laughing out loud over Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. The book just won the Michael L. Printz Award, which is awarded for excellence in young adult literature. It’s the first time a graphic novel has won this prize (the book was also nominated for the National Book Award’s Young People’s Literature prize). Fans of the format are, I’m sure, over the moon, as this is surely a huge step towards graphic novels being valued, celebrated and promoted as worthy of a teenager’s time, money and attention.
Of course, most children and teens have no doubt that comics are cool. It’s their parents and teachers who have reservations about them. (Comic books are not allowed in school and will be confiscated if found in bags during spot checks!)Read More »