Singapore Shelf

A shophouse haven for the heartbroken

This Life Electric is one of five hot-off-the-press home-grown books which Olivia Ho introduces in this monthly feature




By Adam Tie

Landmark Books/Paperback/246 pages/$26/Books Kinokuniya

F. Scott Fitzgerald's beloved classic novel The Great Gatsby (1925), which has just entered the public domain, has touched numerous lives - including that of writer Tie, who wanted to pay homage to it in his debut novel.

This Life Electric draws on The Great Gatsby's motifs to tell the story of Will, a disaffected young man who returns to Singapore after seven years abroad and is invited by his old friend, charming party host Donny, to live in a blue shophouse called The Haven.

Will becomes enmeshed in the goings-on at The Haven and those who pass through its doors, from Quinn, a licentious event organiser nicknamed Madam Mischief, to Caroline Yum, a beautiful influencer who has mysteriously dropped off social media.

He also tries to navigate resuming his complicated relationship with Zephyr, his best friend and first love.

Tie, 30, is the founder of The Novel Encounter, a home-grown start-up which sells mystery wrapped books to customers who have no idea what they might get.

He also does customised typewritten poetry at events, where strangers can give him any three words and he will turn them into a poem on the spot. In 2019, he published some of these poems in his debut collection, Finders & Keepers.

The Haven is not based on a real place, he says, though he has long been fascinated with shophouses and hopes to live in one. Rather, it is based on a dream for safe spaces and social connection, one that has become all the more vital during the pandemic.

"I believe humans will always find a way to connect, to reach out and turn houses into homes," he says. "During the circuit breaker, we had a chance to rediscover ourselves. Though we were restricted from meeting our cherished ones, we found a way to celebrate one another from a distance.

"Humans are social creatures by nature after all - we never seem to be able to stay away from one another for long.

"We want safe spaces to connect and be real with one another. I think that's what The Haven is all about."



By Koh Buck Song

Marshall Cavendish/Paperback/289 pages/$25/Major bookstores

The third edition of Koh's book on Singapore's national brand-building has been updated to take in the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak and last year's General Election, examining in new sections how Singapore might adapt and rebrand itself in the wake of the pandemic's disruptions.



By Koh Chin Tong, translated by Chong Lingying

Asiapac Books/Paperback/156 pages/$15.90 before GST/Available at

This comic book in Chinese and English is drawn in the lianhuanhua style, a kind of sequential drawing in picture books popular in 20th-century China.

It depicts the legend of the Fujianese sea goddess Mazu, from her mortal birth in the coastal town of Meizhou as Mo Niang ("silent girl") - so named for entering the world without a cry - to her ascension to godhood.

It is full of little-known tidbits, such as how the mee sua noodle is said to be flavoured by Mo Niang's tears, or the myths of a woman in red intercepting bombs dropped on Taiwan during World War II.



By Bertrand Teo

Marshall Cavendish/Paperback/204 pages/$23.01/Major bookstores

Teo spent a decade in journalism and public relations and has worked for media outlets such as CNA. In this book, he writes of the transformation of legacy newsrooms in the digital age and how communications professionals can navigate this.



Self-published/Paperback/115 pages/$12.07/

In this graphic novel, two brothers leave village life in 19th-century China to make their fortunes in the Nanyang region, but are separated in a shipwreck.

One is picked up by a pirate slave ship, while the other makes it to Singapore and becomes an undercover agent for the local police.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2021, with the headline A shophouse haven for the heartbroken. Subscribe