Singapore books respond to Covid-19 with poetry, humour

Christina The's Diary Of A Former Covidiot are stories based on real incidents though exaggerated for comic effect.
Christina The's Diary Of A Former Covidiot are stories based on real incidents though exaggerated for comic effect.PHOTOS: DOMINIC KHOO

SINGAPORE - "Men everywhere!" Christina The's mother proclaimed. She, along with hordes of panic buyers, had descended upon Singapore's supermarkets when Malaysia closed its borders due to Covid-19.

"Oh good," The replied. "Can meet new man there."

"How can you find a new boyfriend there?" her mother shot back. "I had to wrestle a cabbage from a man just now! They are not interested in women! They want food! Toilet paper!"

These stories, which are based on real incidents though exaggerated for comic effect, are compiled in Diary Of A Former Covidiot, the first book by The, an Indonesia-born, Singapore-based opera singer.

The pandemic has worn on long enough that books written during it are making their way into print.

In Singapore, these range from humorous books like The's to In The Year Of The Virus, a poetry comic by Felix Cheong and illustrator Eko.

In the anthology Unmasked, Malaysian writer Shamini Flint collects works and photos about the pandemic by a wide range of people - from Singaporean poets such as Alvin Pang and Ng Yi-Sheng to renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

In April, Flint, 51, the Singapore-based author of the Inspector Singh mystery novels, began asking around on social media for submissions.

"I noticed that so-called professional writers like myself were struggling to express our thoughts in this new paradigm and yet so many others were seeking to express their feelings - that sense of hope and dread, of loneliness and isolation, in fresh and interesting ways," she says.


Poet Felix Cheong and illustrator Jia He Yi, or Eko, with the book, In The Year Of The Virus. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

"It struck me that it would be great to compile some of these voices, in as many different media as possible, to provide us all with a keepsake or memory of these times or a guide for the best way we can collectively navigate this new reality."

For The, a divorcee in her 30s, much of this new reality involved wrangling her daughters, aged nine and six, through home-based learning.

"I could write only between the ungodly hours of 9pm and 4am during the circuit breaker, when the living room was mine - all mine - with no little trolls in sight," she quips.

Her book chronicles her shift from "Covidiot" - a social butterfly who hugs people at parties and laughs off others' paranoia - to cautious "Covidol", after she had a rude shock when her neighbour turned out to be an imported Covid-19 case.

Elsewhere, the pandemic has been enormously productive for author Cheong, 55.


In the anthology Unmasked, Malaysian writer Shamini Flint collects works and photos about the pandemic by a wide range of people. PHOTO: SHAMINI FLINT

During the circuit breaker, he not only produced the poems of In The Year Of The Virus, but also another illustrated poetry book, Oddballs, Screwballs And Other Eccentrics; a children's book for National Gallery Singapore, titled A Day At The Gallery; and a libretto for what could be the world's first opera about a safe-distancing enforcement officer.

Cheong says that at the start of the outbreak, he grew frightened of how the infection numbers kept creeping up. "I channelled that fear and paranoia into the poems."

Still, he and illustrator Eko - the pseudonym of 23-year-old animation artist Jia He Yi - did not want the book to be a downer.

"We wanted to build a story arc, to take people not only through the roller coaster of emotion from the initial fear to resignation, but also the epiphany that this is a chance for us to come together as a community to help one another."

Eko says: "I hope some of the stories resonate with readers - and even give them a few chuckles - so they feel less alone during this pandemic."

• In The Year Of The Virus ($19.99) is available at bit.ly/YearOfVirus_FCE. Diary Of A Former Covidiot ($19.99) is available at bit.ly/DFCovidiot_The. Unmasked ($10) is available at amazon.sg

View it/ (Comedy) night at the library

Authors Felix Cheong, Christina The and Imran Hashim chat about how comedy can get you through dark times in this National Library Board online event.

Where: Comedy Night Facebook 

When: Nov 23 (Felix Cheong); Nov 25 (Christina The); Nov 27 (Imran Hashim), 7pm

Admission: Free

LISTEN TO BOOKMARK THIS! PODCAST
 

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