Anton Chekhov, it appears, was not the first Russian literary luminary to visit Hong Kong. Chekhov had stopped off in October 1890 and wrote about its “wonderful bay”. English-language literature had to wait until Somerset Maugham came through more than a quarter-century later. But Chekhov was beaten to the punch by Ivan Goncharov who stopped by in 1853.

London-based Singaporean Sharlene Teo is currently finishing a PhD at one of the UK’s premier centres for the teaching of creative writing, the University of East Anglia (UEA). Part of her studies focuses on criticism and theory, and her work in this area concerns the representation of Singaporean and Malaysian women in fiction. But her course also requires participants to write a novel, and presumably she has already passed this unit with flying colors, as the novel she wrote to satisfy it, Ponti has already been read way beyond the confines of the UEA faculty office.

Deborah Rogers was an influential literary agent in London. After her death in 2014, the Deborah Rogers Writers Award was established in her honor. Since literary agents thrive on finding talented new authors, the prize was set up to support authors as they finished their first novel. In 2016, UK-based Sharlene Teo won the inaugural prize with an extract from her work-in-progress, Ponti, set in her native Singapore.  The finished novel is now published by Picador.

Exploring identity in a multi-ethnic community through fiction can be a sensitive subject. The importance people place on identity is often a prickly topic these days—especially in multi-religious, multiracial communities like that of Singapore’s five and a half million citizens. In November 2017, the Singaporean Institute of Policy Studies presented evidence that for the first time more Singaporeans identify with the city-state than with their own ethnic lineage. The remaining half of survey respondents, however, still felt a “simultaneous” identity of both Singaporean and racial heritage.