Author Kyla Zhao got her start in publishing at the age of sixteen writing for the Singapore editions of prominent glossy magazines penning wedding articles for Harper’s Bazaar, then went on to Tatler and Vogue. She centers her debut novel, The Fraud Squad, in the world of Singapore glossies with a Pygmalion twist. The story is fun and while it could be tempting to compare it to Crazy Rich Asians or The Devil Wears Prada, Zhao’s novel distinctively stands on its own with its exploration of the role society magazines play in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.
In early 1992, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a public statement about the dark years of World War 2, namely that Korean comfort women kept Singapore women from suffering the same sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military. This one statement, as Nanyang Technological University professor Kevin Blackburn writes in his new book, The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory, was not only inaccurate but further cemented an unwelcoming environment for former Singapore comfort women to break their silence about the trauma they experienced during WW2.
Shawn Hoo’s debut poetry chapbook, Of the Florids, begins with an inability to speak of the natural world in the urban fortress of Singapore; a tropical island’s fading romanticism for a city boy.
All families have their stories, and for families scattered around the world, as Teresa Lim’s is, the stories often have a central pivot decades or generations back. Lim’s family story gets going, if not starts, with her maternal great-great grandfather who emigrated to Singapore from Southern China at the end of the 19th-century. Draught and famine caused many able-bodied men to leave for more prosperous shores; the Chinese Exclusion Act had closed off the US, and Singapore was, in any event, closer.
Epistolary novels can be hard to pull off: backstory and other details wouldn’t ordinarily be part of a letter. Kelly Kaur is aided in this in Letters to Singapore, her novel centered around a young university student who—paralleling the author’s own life—leaves home to study in Calgary, by setting the story in the mid-1980s, a pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone time when people actually still wrote letters.
Unmarried, thirty-something Audrey is stuck in a dead-end office job in Singapore. Her friend and coworker Laura has found joy outside the office as a novelist and suggests Audrey attend a retreat to concentrate on her own writing. Audrey doesn’t consider herself a writer, yet feels she could use a break from the monotony of her desk job.
Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s story of love and betrayal in late-19th century Singapore, alliteratively titled The Punkhawala and the Prostitute, centers around two characters at the lowest rungs of a society that has traditionally been portrayed, at least during the colonial period, from the perspective of privileged classes.