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.
In the history of Chinese migration to Southeast Asia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Chinese temples play a pivotal role in serving the spiritual and social needs of the immigrant community. Wak Hai Cheng Bio, the oldest Teochew temple in Singapore, is a rare surviving example of traditional Teochew architecture in Southeast Asia. Yeo Kang Shua’s Divine Custody: A History of Singapore’s Oldest Teochew Temple addresses the history of Wak Hai Cheng Bio, being one of Singapore’s earliest Chinese temples, as a centre with rich religious and cultural meaning as well as site of influence on the immigrant community.
Although there is a huge amount of fiction covering the Indian diaspora, it is more usually set in Western countries, including Australia, than in Malaya, as it was, and Singapore. In Kopi, Puffs & Dreams, a finalist for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, Pallavi Gopinath Aney explores the experience of Indian immigrants to Singapore in the early 20th century. Aney’s subject matter will be new to many, her novel interesting as a record of Indian experience to the east of India.
The pontianak, a terrifying female vampire ghost, is a powerful figure in Malay cultures, as loved and feared in Southeast Asia as Dracula is in the West. In animist tradition, she is a woman who has died in childbirth, and her vengeful return upsets gender norms and social hierarchies. The pontianak first appeared on screen in late colonial Singapore in a series of popular films that combine indigenous animism and transnational production with the cultural and political force of the horror genre.