Singapore Shelf

10 reads for February

In this monthly feature, The Straits Times lines up 10 home-grown books for readers to dive into or look forward to

Author Noelle Q. De Jesus’ second collection of short stories, Cursed, deals with dissatisfied women, dysfunctional relationships and the Filipino identity.
Author Noelle Q. De Jesus’ second collection of short stories, Cursed, deals with dissatisfied women, dysfunctional relationships and the Filipino identity.PHOTO: NATHAN Y. CHUA
A model dressed as Xiaolongnu (Little Dragon Girl) holding a mock-up of the limited-edition box set of Return Of The Condor Heroes.
A model dressed as Xiaolongnu (Little Dragon Girl) holding a mock-up of the limited-edition box set of Return Of The Condor Heroes. PHOTO: HANFUGIRL

FICTION

CURSED AND OTHER STORIES

By Noelle Q. De Jesus

Penguin Random House SEA/ Paperback/188 pages/ $20.22/ Available at bit.ly/cursed_NDJ

An expatriate wife in New Jersey, distraught at her husband's affair with her sister, finds solace in posing nude for drawing classes.

A teenager in Bulacan is reunited with his mother, a domestic worker in Singapore, but is also confronted with her new American boyfriend.

A Manila blogger is haunted nightly by victims of the Philippines' drug war.

Author Noelle Q. De Jesus - who was born in Connecticut, raised in Manila and has lived in Singapore for 20 years - deals with dissatisfied women, dysfunctional relationships and the Filipino identity in the 13 stories of Cursed.

The collection - an "older sister" to her first, Blood (2015) - features darker, more mature stories that she held back for the second volume.

"I'm always drawn in by and thoughtful about the various vagaries of personal relationships," says the 52-year-old, "but I also have deep dismay and grave conviction about the sad realities of the Philippines vis-a-vis the larger world."

Many of her stories deal with troubled marriages.

"It is what you might call an abiding interest, even a fascination for me," says De Jesus, who has been married for 27 years. She met her husband in college and they have two children in their 20s.

"An old creative writing professor of mine used to say, write about what you fear - so maybe that's also why I write about this. I fully intend to stay married.

"While I can't say it's easy, I can definitely say it's not boring. And anyway, at the end of the day, who wants to write a boring story? I don't."


CHILDREN'S

HANNAH LEARNS ABOUT LOVE/ MIGUEL BUILDS A NEW HOUSE/ TRIPINA FINDS FRESH WATER

By Rachel Nadia Goh, illustrated by Christine Fisk

Kin/Hardcover/18 pages each/ $18.90 each or $55.90 for a set of three/Available at wearekinco.com

These picture books about children around the world facing adversity - from a farmer boy whose house is destroyed by a storm to a taxi driver's granddaughter who is ostracised by her schoolmates because of her social status - are based on the stories of real children the author encountered over a decade of international development and humanitarian work.

CHILDREN'S

UNIVERSE OF FEELINGS

By Quek Hong Shin

Superhero Me/Paperback/ 52 pages/ $26.75/ Available at bit.ly/Universe_QHS

Nobody seems to understand six-year-old Darryl until one day, a mysterious new friend called Blob visits from space and they form an instant connection. Together, they travel through the Universe of Feelings.

Quek, a Singapore Book Award-winning illustrator, is a facilitator at Superhero Me, an inclusive arts movement for children from less privileged backgrounds and special needs communities.

He developed this book after working on an art installation with special needs students at social service organisation Rainbow Centre. All proceeds from the book sales will go to Superhero Me's programmes.

NON-FICTION

SUNDAYS ARE FOR MUMMY

By Roger Pua

Paperback/139 pages/ $22 before GST/ Available at BooksActually

In this memoir, Pua charts his once-indomitable mother's descent into dementia, mixing his loving memories of her younger self with the trials of caring for what he calls a "body double", an elderly woman who looks exactly like his mother but behaves in radically different ways.

NON-FICTION

THE GOOD DAY I DIED

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde

Penguin Random House SEA/ Paperback/229 pages/ $23.54/ Available at bit.ly/Good_day_DK

Kon reflects on a near-death experience he had when he was studying world religions at Harvard University in 2007 and how it influenced his subsequent writing. It is constructed as a self-administered interview.

POETRY

BETWEEN SIPS OF MASALA CHAI

By Shilpa Dikshit Thapliyal

Kitaab International/ Paperback/62 pages/$19.26

Available at bit.ly/masala_SDT

The poet - a housewife who writes verse between grocery runs, school volunteering and chapatti-making - ruminates on motherhood, mortality and masala chai.

She experiments liberally with poetic forms, including pantun, ghazals and even a liwuli - a three-stanza form with syllable counts - about dhal.

COMICS

ELMER

By Gerry Alanguilan

Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 138 pages/$26.64/ Available at bit.ly/Elmer_GA

Publisher Epigram kicks off its new line of graphic novels from around the region with this edition of Eisner Award-nominated Elmer, first published in 2006 by Filipino comic artist Alanguilan, who died in December last year.

In a world where chickens have inexplicably gained intelligence and speech and are recognised by the United Nations as human, Jake Gallo, a chicken, struggles with social acceptance and his own distrust of humans, one of whom is engaged to his sister.

After the death of his father Elmer, a former fighting cock-turned-newspaper columnist, Jake receives his diary.

Elmer's diary chronicles his life from the moment he gained sentience and the horrific transition period that followed, in which chickens were slaughtered en masse by unsettled humans. Elmer, his brother Joseph and future wife Helen survived only because a human farmer, Ben, had sheltered them.

COMICS

RETURN OF THE CONDOR HEROES

By Jin Yong and Wee Tian Beng

Asiapac Books/ Hardcover/Box set/ $288 before GST/ Pre-order and pledge at bit.ly/2vynOER

Home-grown publisher Asiapac is crowdfunding to produce a limited-edition box set of Wee's comics, based on the beloved wuxia (martial arts) tale by legendary writer Jin Yong, who died in 2018.

The comics follow the adventures of the ethereally beautiful Xiaolongnu (Little Dragon Girl) and her wilful disciple Yang Guo, who becomes her lover.

The 18-volume series, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, was a landmark bestseller in local comic history and has been out of print for more than a decade. The digitally remastered box set will include new covers and never-before-seen artwork by Wee.

The 1,000 sets, half in English and half in Chinese, are available for pre-order this month and will be delivered in November.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2020, with the headline '10 reads for February'. Subscribe