Singapore Shelf

10 reads for December

Left: Mabel Gan. Right: The Ghost Who Pinched Me.
Left: Mabel Gan. Right: The Ghost Who Pinched Me.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF MABEL GAN

In this monthly feature, Arts Correspondent Olivia Ho lines up hot-off-the-press home-grown books that readers can dive into. These 10 books are fresh from the Singapore Writers Festival

1. CHILDREN'S

THE GHOST WHO PINCHED ME

By Mabel Gan

Marshall Cavendish/ Paperback/ 135 pages/$16/ Major bookstores

This middle-grade novel depicts World War II through a child's eyes.

Ten-year-old Bee Ling is watching her family's three amahs (maidservants) secretly dig up her mother's jewellery buried in the garden, when she sees her elder sister Ying standing under the frangipani tree. Only Ying died in an air raid and her parents are at this minute in Bukit Brown Cemetery attending to her funeral.

Gan, 47, drew on her own family's tragedy to write the book. Her grandmother lost four children during a Japanese air raid on Singapore. Neighbours had told her grandparents that the safest place to take shelter was a nearby building. Parents put their children there, staying at home themselves to make space. But a bomb fell on the building, killing all the children.

"My dad was born after the war," says Gan, "but my grandmother never got over the loss of her other children. Growing up, I saw this and felt that this period of history was an important one - not only for Singapore, but also my own family."


2. FICTION

BEAUTY QUEENS OF BISHAN

By Akshita Nanda

Penguin Random House SEA/ Paperback/ 349 pages/$19.80/ Major bookstores

The quiet community of Bishan's no-nonsense beauty parlours is upended when celebrity stylist April Chua opens her swanky new salon D'Asthetique in their midst.

April plans to control her competitors through a neighbourhood association. Only Gurpreet Kaur, who owns Monty Beauty Spa (Beauty From Within, Fourth Wax Free), dares protest. When her client Tara Chopra goes up against April's, television star Candy Kang, in the Grand Glam Singapore Beauty contest, the pageant becomes a battlefield for Bishan.


3. FICTION

THE IMPERMANENCE OF LILIES

By Daniel Yeo

Ethos Books/ Paperback/ 264 pages/ $18.60 before GST/Books Kinokuniya, selected Times bookstores, Grassroots Book Room and www.ethosbooks. com.sg

In this strange, freewheeling novel of poetic prose, the captain of the Titanic goes down with his ship on April 15, 1912, but nevertheless, continues to wander the world in his afterlife.

In Japan, his path becomes entwined with that of a painter who speaks only through her pictures.


4. FICTION

EXILE OR PURSUIT

By Chia Joo Ming, translated by Sim Wai Chew

Balestier Press/ Paperback/ 306 pages/ $26 before GST/ City Book Room, Books Kinokuniya, BooksActually, Grassroots Book Room and www.balestier.com from Dec 15

Chia, who recently won the S.E.A. Write Award, received a commendation at the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize for this coming-of-age Chinese novel, now translated into English.

Hok Leong, a hawker's son, cannot envision a future beyond roaming the streets with his rough-and-tumble gang of boys - until he is assigned to be the Chinese tutor for the new girl in class, who has just moved to Singapore from Indonesia.


5. FICTION

THE LAST SERVER

By H.J. Pang

Marshall Cavendish/ Paperback/ 223 pages/ $19.99/Major bookstores

In a post-apocalyptic Singapore devastated by a geomagnetic storm, Greg Lin travels along the ravaged lines of the MRT in search of his missing son. Along the way, he joins forces with a computer-worshipping cult and the remnants of the Singapore Armed Forces to storm a triad-controlled server in Marina Bay.


6. FICTION

BEST NEW SINGAPOREAN SHORT STORIES VOLUME FOUR

Edited by Pooja Nansi and Jason Erik Lundberg

Epigram Books/ Paperback/234 pages/$26.64/ Major bookstores

Singapore Writers Festival director Nansi guest-edits the fourth volume of this series, which collects the best stories published here in 2017 and last year.

These range from Jennani Durai's Regrettable Things, about a reporter forced to interview a former schoolmate whose father has murdered her mother, to Inez Tan's Edison And Curie, in which a pair of twins deal with pressure at an elite junior college, with disastrous results.


7. FICTION

THE NEW SINGAPORE HORROR COLLECTION

By S.J. Huang

Marshall Cavendish/ Paperback/ 216 pages/ $19.99/Major bookstores

This debut collection of 13 supernatural stories ranges from office horror to a haunted Housing Board flat.


8. NON-FICTION

ZERO VISIBILITY

By Douglas Dylan Yeo with Floyd Cowan

FCowan Media/ Paperback/ 102 pages/ $20 before GST/ Tango Mango and Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop

Veteran diver Yeo, who helped in the rescue of the 12 Thai boys and their football coach who were trapped in Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai last year, recounts his experiences.


9. POETRY

THE SIZE OF AZUKI BEANS

By Madeleine Lee, translated by Enoch Ng

Firstfruits/Paperback/58 pages/$25/ www.firstfruitspublications.com

This bilingual collection gathers selected poems by Lee, each a fleeting capture of some natural phenomenon or moment in daily life - dragonflies, buried coins, the history of Malaya in the bursting of the rubber seed pod - and translates them into Chinese.


10. COMICS

THE ANTIBIOTIC TALES

By Sonny Liew and Hsu Li Yang

Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 33 pages/$13.80/ Major bookstores

Eisner Award-winning artist Liew collaborates with Dr Hsu, who heads the Infectious Diseases Programme at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, on this comic about anti-microbial resistance.

A Singaporean family goes to see the doctor about the flu, even as they read a comic set in a postapocalyptic world where antibiotics have ceased to be effective, people can die from the slightest infection and food is in short supply because of the use of antibiotics in farming.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2019, with the headline '10 reads for December'. Print Edition | Subscribe