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The ST Guide To... Singapore writing

From historical epics to Singlish nursery rhymes

Singapore literature boasts a wide range that many readers may not be aware of

Ask a person on the street at random for the first Singaporean writer who comes to his mind, and he will probably name Catherine Lim or Russell Lee of True Singapore Ghost Stories fame.

 

If he has been skimming headlines recently, it might be artist Sonny Liew, whose graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye has been lauded internationally.

But there is a whole spectrum of home-grown literature out there that many Singaporeans have yet to be exposed to, something which the recently launched #BuySingLit campaign hopes to get going.

The industry-led movement by bookstores, publishers and distributors is holding a host of activities from Feb 24 to 26 to get Singaporeans to #buylocal.

If you are among the three out of four people who said in a 2015 National Arts Council survey that you had never read a literary book by a Singaporean writer, this could be a way to get started.

Here are some suggestions to help you build up a library of local writers.


FOR THE HIPSTERS


Ministry Of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS

These edgy titles will whet the appetite of your postmodern sensibilities.

Ministry Of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe (Epigram, 2013)

This blazing debut of inventive short stories runs the gamut from an ageing Malay Pop Yeh Yeh singer finding his long-lost teenage love in a psychiatric ward, to a transsexual Merlion plying his trade as a "sarong party boy" in Orchard Towers.

Tender Delirium by Tania de Rozario (Math Paper Press, 2013)

De Rozario shifts between sensuality and steel in this poetry collection populated with estranged lovers, vengeful ghosts and more.


FOR THE ANGSTY TYPES

These books will not make you feel any better, but perhaps they can help you make sense of your existential crisis.


The Beating And Other Stories by Dave Chua PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS

Tilting Our Plates To Catch The Light by Cyril Wong (Math Paper Press, 2007)

This intimate collection of poems centres on a pair of lovers living with HIV. It also references Hindu mythology.

One Fierce Hour by Alfian Sa'at (Landmark, 1998)

Steeped in urban angst, this poetry collection about soulless void decks and vanishing kampungs culminates in the impassioned rage of the monologue, Singapore You Are Not My Country.

The Beating And Other Stories by Dave Chua (Ethos, 2011)

The title story, in which a security guard tries to come to terms with the abuse he suffered during his childhood, sets the tone of quiet despair for this short-story collection.


The Beating And Other Stories by Dave Chua PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS


FOR THE CULTURE VULTURES

If your tastes run to the high-brow, here are some must-have poetry collections.

The Space Of City Trees by Arthur Yap (Skoob, 1999)

This collection of selected works crowns Singlish as a literary language through poems such as the now-classic satirical study, 2 mothers in a hdb playground - all in lower case, of course.

The Best Of Edwin Thumboo by Edwin Thumboo (Epigram, 2012)

This greatest-hits collection by the man dubbed Singapore's unofficial poet laureate includes his famous Ulysses By The Merlion, in which the Greek hero ponders the local chimera.


FOR THE CLASS CLOWNS

Here are some light-hearted titles for those who want a little humour.


Singapore Siu Dai series by Felix Cheong PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS

Singapore Siu Dai series by Felix Cheong (Ethos, 2014)

Cheong exercises his "Monty Python-esque" sense of humour in this series of funny illustrated stories about everything from "kiasu- ism" to the last general election.

The first book was so successful it spawned two sequels and all three books are now available as a box set.

Who Wants To Buy A Book Of Poems by Gwee Li Sui (Landmark, 1998)

This irreverent collection celebrates the use of Singlish in nursery rhymes, jingles and ballads.


FOR THE HISTORIANS

You will enjoy the richness of these tomes, which dive deep into Singapore's colourful past.

If We Dream Too Long by Goh Poh Seng (Island Press, 1972)


If We Dream Too Long by Goh Poh Seng PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS

Considered Singapore's first novel, this coming-of-age story is about a young ennui-filled clerk's search for meaning and fulfilment in a rapidly urbanising Singapore.

A Candle Or The Sun by Gopal Baratham (Serpent's Tail, 1991)

The late neurosurgeon made waves in the 1990s with this controversial novel about a Christian group that gets involved in politics, a subject matter so hot at the time that four local publishers dropped it before it was finally published in London.

A Different Sky by Meira Chand (Harvill Secker, 2010)

This sweeping and often-brutal epic follows the tumultuous and intertwined lives of three families, set against the chaotic backdrop of the Japanese Occupation of World War II and the communist riots of the post-war period.


The River's Song by Suchen Christine Lim PHOTOS: SINGAPORE BOOK AWARDS, ETHOS BOOKS, EPIGRAM, NUS PRESS, AURORA METRO BOOKS

The River's Song by Suchen Christine Lim (Aurora Metro, 2013)

This lush, evocative novel, told through the eyes of a poor courtesan's daughter, looks at the human cost of cleaning up the Singapore River in the 1970s.

• For more suggestions, go to http://str.sg/4sRy


For more information, go to buysinglit.sg/

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'From historical epics to Singlish nursery rhymes'. Print Edition | Subscribe