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.
China has developed a reputation for confounding naysayers. Will Doig starts High-Speed Empire with an anecdote of the World Bank castigating Shanghai in 1991 for deciding to build a Metro; the suggestion was that maybe focusing on infrastructure for bicycles might be a better use of resources.
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.
In 2015, Indonesian-born Singaporean author Clarissa Goenawan won the prestigious Bath Novel Award for unpublished and self-published novelists for her novel Rainbirds, which—some two years later—is now seeing the light of day.
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.