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.

Here we have planted the British flag among the ruins of the ancient capital of Singapura, the City of the Lion! Here we will advance the interests of the East India Company and raise the Malay people to their former glory.

 

Sir Stamford Raffles is the man most often associated with Singapore’s colonization, and John D Greenwood attributes these words to him in this new novel.

For a number of logistic, commercial and territorial reasons, books rarely circulate much outside the market they were published in. Asian-published books can as a result often, regardless of merit, end up largely unknown outside a relatively small domestic market, something that goes in spades when the book was originally published in a language other than English.

Yeng Pway Ngon’s Unrest has a long journey. Originally published in Chinese, Unrest won the 2004 Singapore Literature Prize. It took the better part of a decade for the English translation to become available in an edition from Math Paper Press in 2012. This (according to a note on the legal page, evidently somewhat revised) edition is from Balestier Press and is, for the first time, generally available internationally.

Political myth is in no short supply in modern Singapore. In our most familiar histories, material progress and political quiescence are the natural products of visionary—if at times heavy-handed—leadership. Episodes of subversion and suppression are no longer swept entirely under the carpet, but seen as the inevitable growing pains of today’s glitteringly successful neoliberal city-state.