In my short-lived exploration of Singapore literature, I got 3 books from the library:
- Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me by Cyril Wong
- Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal
- Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe
In that order.
Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me is a collection of short stories by prize-winning Singaporean poet, Cyril Wong. I never got to touch it; perhaps I will in future.
Sugarbread was a disappointment. It was a finalist in the Epigram Books Fiction Prize (a fiction prize from Singaporean publisher Epigram Books), and has an average of 4.16 on Goodreads, so I expected lots from it. It had an interesting premise and an interesting point of view, but the writing just didn’t capture my attention enough. I persisted through half of the book, then caught interest in another book, and haven’t managed to go back since. Perhaps I will try it again in future, too.
Ministry of Moral Panic was a whole different story. Like Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me (ugh that title is such a handful to type), it’s also a collection of short stories, but unlike it, the first story caught my attention enough for me to buy the book almost immediately.
Amanda Lee Koe has crazy vocabulary, with words like hirsute (who ever uses that??), ataraxia, supine, pellucid, apotheosis, accoutrements… I don’t know whether she tried too hard to incorporate them, and I must say I was slightly annoyed at these words because I could think of much simpler synonyms that would make the story flow more smoothly without the reader having to check the dictionary every other sentence.
But she also has a unique, melancholic and soulful way of writing that really digs deep into you and makes you pause for a long time after each story. It’s very good for literature studying, in my opinion. And of course, just good for any one who wants to reflect on things like social conventions and love.
The stories touch on many aspects of love, particularly shame, and teaches that love doesn’t just encompass romantic love or familial love. Love could be for someone you respect, someone who gives you a sense of familiarity, someone you lean on during tough times, and sometimes you don’t even have to really know the person to love them. I loved all these stories and lessons, and in particular my favourites were: Flamingo Valley; King of Caldecott Hill; and Alice, You Must Be the Fulcrum of Your Own Universe.
Highly recommend this book, and ESPECIALLY if you’re from Singapore. This is a work Singaporeans should be proud of!
Also want to add how cool it is that the cover of Ministry of Moral Panic comes in many different colours: Neon green, neon pink, neon blue, neon orange!