SINGAPORE - In this monthly feature, The Straits Times lines up eight hot-off-the-press books by local authors or publishers or about Singapore, from an absurdist political novella to far-flung travels on the Sino-Tibetan frontier.
SHEZLEZ THE SELF-PROCLAIMED
By Marko Vignjevic
Ethos Books/ Paperback/ 121 pages/ $19.90/ Available at bit.ly/SSelfP_MV
Much is surreal about this novella: its absurdist plot, the eye in the slice of ham on its cover - taken from Rene Magritte's 1935 painting The Portrait - and even the odd confluence of events that produced it.
It was written by Vignjevic, a Serbian who happens to share Singapore's birthday of Aug 9, and published in Singapore by Ethos Books in the wake of July's General Election.
Set in an unnamed, highly bureaucratic country, it follows Shezlez, a poor man who finds unexpected fame after making impassioned speeches at the Threshing Floor, a public space where people gather to voice their grievances.
Shezlez attempts to start his own political party and run for election, but gets embroiled in shadowy schemes of power even as his campaign takes on a life of its own.
Vignjevic, 42, approached Ethos online. Though they rejected the English translation of his Serbian novel, Father's Milk, they expressed interest in Shezlez, which is inspired by 1990s Serbian politics.
"The world of Shezlez is uncannily similar to our local political climate," say the Ethos team in an e-mail interview, "so we could relate to and be amused by the absurdities that the characters find themselves embroiled in.
"Further, the sparse and axiomatic language of Marko's made the story seemed stranger than fiction, almost prescient, and was something unusual that deviated from the type of language that we'd come to expect."
It is a coincidence that the book ended up coming out in an election year, they add.
Vignjevic, who has published seven books, three in Serbian and the rest in English, says absurdism was the most natural choice for Shezlez. "It lends itself to the notion of one individual's struggle finding its closure in politics."
THE "OTHER" SHANGRI-LA
By Shivaji Das
Konark Publishers/ Paperback / 190 pages/ $21.40/ Available at bit.ly/OtherShangri-la_SD
Travel writer Das chronicles his voyage to the Sino-Tibetan frontier, an astoundingly scenic and politically fraught mountain region that inspired the legendary utopia Shangri-La - though the reality proves far more complex.
In his travelogues, Das, a management consultant who started Singapore's Migrant Worker Poetry Competition in 2014, prefers to stray from the beaten path.
This time, he travels with his wife Yolanda Yu to places like Litang, a town situated at an altitude of more than 4,000m, and Larung Gar, which is arguably both the world's largest monastery and highest slum.
In light, astute prose, he describes customs such as ear-cleaning in a teahouse, a beauty contest in Danba and a sky burial, in which the deceased is devoured by birds and scavenging animals.
THE HUNGRY GHOST
By H. S. Norup
Pushkin Children's Books/ Paperback/ 256 pages/ $16.91/ Available at bit.ly/HungryGhost_HSN
In this heartwarming children's novel that is more sweet than spooky, Freja, 12, moves from her Danish hometown to Singapore to live with her father's new family.
Homesick for Denmark, wary of her stepmother and desperately lonely, she tries to befriend the strange, long-haired girl in a white dress whom she keeps seeing in the garden - unaware that her house is near Bukit Brown Cemetery and it is the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Soon, she and her new friend, Ling, stumble into an otherworld inhabited by mythical beings such as dragons, phoenixes and pontianaks.
There, they must try to find out who Ling was before the seventh month ends and she has to return to the underworld unremembered. But it is not only Ling whose buried memories need excavating, but Freja.
Norup, a Danish children's author now based in Switzerland, lived in Singapore for four years and counts Bukit Brown as one of her favourite places on the island.
A GOOD TRUE THAI
By Sunisa Manning
Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 288 pages/ $26.64/ Available at bit.ly/AGoodTrueThai_SM
In this novel by California-based Thai writer Manning, a finalist for the 2020 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, the fates of three young people collide in 1970s Thailand: Det, who has just lost his mother; Chang, his best friend from the slums; and Lek, a Chinese immigrant with radical ideals whom Det falls for.
RAFFLES READERS: A CENTURY OF ADVENTURES
By Linda Fitzpatrick, Simon Wray, Emma Nicholson, Claire Thamboo and David Seow, illustrated by Mark Yong
Penguin Random House South-east Asia/ Paperback/ 283 pages/ $29.85/ Available at bit.ly/RafflesRCoA
A collection of adventure stories set in Raffles Hotel through the years, from spies in the 1960s to ghost brides in the 1980s and even a cinematic reimagining of Sir Stamford Raffles as a zombie hunter.
TUN DR SITI HASMAH MOHD ALI: THE ACCIDENTAL DOCTOR
By Eva Wong Nava and June Ho, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta
World Scientific/ Paperback/ 36 pages/ $12.84/ Available at bit.ly/SitiHMa_NH
This picture book looks at the life of Tun Siti, the first Malay woman doctor to graduate from the medical faculty of the University of Malaya, then in Singapore, and also the wife of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE 5TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
By Sonny Liew
Epigram Books/ Hardcover/ 336 pages/ $49.11/ Available at bit.ly/ArtCharlieChanHC
Publisher Epigram marks the fifth anniversary of Liew's triple Eisner Award-winning graphic novel, which retells Singapore's political history through the eyes of a fictional cartoonist, with this special edition that includes bonus material such as sketches that did not make it into the finished book and a new comic strip that reflects on the past five years.
CALL AND RESPONSE
Edited by Rolinda Onates Espanola, Zakir Hossain and Joshua Ip
Math Paper Press/ Paperback/ 122 pages/ $19 before GST/ Pre-order at this website
This is the second edition of the 2018 anthology that pairs works by more than 30 migrants, most of them low-wage transient workers, with poems written in response by locals. BooksActually plans to donate $5 for each full-priced copy sold to migrant worker community clinic HealthServe.