by Noor Adilah (17S06B), Marilyn Kang (17A01B), Abdul Qayyum (17A01B), Liu Enqi (18S03C), Angus Yip (18A01A), Asfar Alim (18S03J), Soh Gek Shuen (18S03B)
This year, Raffles Reviews is honoured to receive books and support from the folks over at Singapore’s beloved local bookstore, BooksActually!
BooksActually is a cosy and beautiful bookstore nestled in Tiong Bahru, amongst old HDB flats and hipster cafes. Its conception was a struggle from the beginning, but today it is thriving. With its own “Book Vending Machine”, regular on-site performances and readings, as well as a number of successful events (most recently, the SingLit Festival), it is no wonder that this bookstore is a lit lover’s favourite haunt.
In an effort to promote Singaporean Literature, we have reviewed three local books from BooksActually, and a SingLit Pick of the Month for our beloved readers.
Capital Misfits – Julie Koh
“A woman arrives on the seventh floor of Heaven, only to realise it is a trading floor where the dead swap their karma before rebirth. In a Sydney laboratory, a vagrant participates in cosmeceutical trials in return for a Rolex watch. On an island made out of sugar, a student questions the rule of the benevolent Sugar Daddy. At an open mic night in New York, a zen poet takes the stage and begins to tell the greatest, most devastating joke in the world.”
Julie Koh, former lawyer turned fiction writer and finalist in the Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards Written Word category, re-imagines our world with a satirical twist. The capsule collection of seven short stories takes on the overarching theme of neoliberalism through an unabashed dissection of materialism, privilege, delusion and trivialised misogyny that create contemporary society.
Though the setting of each of the stories may be at once startling and strange, as the synopsis reads – they transcend a version of heaven and take us through modern cities to an island made of sugar. They cling tightly onto haunting truths that strive to surface the almost insidious nature of today’s societal ills. With that, Koh’s writing is further accentuated by vivid and witty prose, which, combined with a signature brand of absurd humour, culminates in a bold and original voice.
Haunting and thought-provoking, Capital Misfits is undeniably a hidden gem that will keep you up at night and make for an unforgettable read.
Making Love With Scrabble Tiles – Joshua Ip
Making Love with Scrabble Tiles by Joshua Ip features poems revolving around the main theme of love. Though its emphasis on romance might turn some people off, it was pleasantly surprising just what kind of stories and emotions that the different poems evoked. Through his expert craft of words, Ip constructs different vignettes of intimate relationships.
Even to the untrained poetry reader, Ip’s poetry does not come across as overly contrived or thematically complicated. Rather, his use of language is economical and simple, allowing for even poetry beginners to appreciate his craft.
Above all, Joshua Ip’s piece was a relaxing, and often entertaining read.
Quoting the book itself, “No man can choose what grows on him, even one made of stone”. Our writers would assure you that Making Love With Scrabble Tiles will not only grow on you, but form a relationship with readers as intimate as those within its pages.
Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food – Grace Chia
The title of this book borrows itself from the Old Testament, and perhaps perfectly so. It portrays the grit, raunch and reddened knuckles of each of its stories. As for the quoted title itself, its explicit imagery of predator and prey fits perfectly with the central theme of Grace Chia’s take on the thrilling ecosystem of human lives.
“I’m interested in the idea of consumption … in the form of desire, love, companionship and more. The idea that even human beings crave for each other … you actually want to consume them, which is also why sometimes love can be suffocating and draining. You can lose your identity in love when someone has trapped you so much and has taken everything out of you.”
Grace Chia, in an interview with BooksActually
Grace Chia captures snapshots of Singaporean life, effectively dissecting them and revealing intricate human connections, as fragile and precious as they may be. Her careful depictions recreate power structures and the almost vampiric nature of human relationships from a distance, at once immersing the reader and then pulling them out to take a breath and observe these stories as they unfurl.
Her poetic, lyrical writing style forms passages that leave the reader in awe of how she manages to encapsulate her ideas through such evocative yet simple images. Her writing never bores and the reader is constantly left contemplating.
Our Singlit Pick of the Month – Ministry of Moral Panic, by Amanda Lee Koe
Lauded as “the most exciting debut collection of stories by a Singaporean writer” by Alfian Sa’at and a “distinctive literary voice for Singapore’s contemporary condition”, Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry of Moral Panic deserves all the hype that has built around it since it was first published in 2013. It tells thirteen different stories of different times and different people, yet they fit flush together as Singapore narratives. Her writing transcends the archetypal, presenting the snapshots of these fictional lives in stunning detail.
The story of an Indonesian domestic worker “made for love”. A laundromat in the middle of Chinatown which brings people together. The imagined private thoughts of Nadra binte Ma’arof – more commonly known as Maria Hertogh. The magical realism of the personified Merlion. Amanda Lee Koe writes with fresh inventiveness the imagined stories behind symbols, people, places and riots.
Why should everyone read Ministry of Moral Panic? The folks here at Raffles Reviews believe that Singaporean Literature needs to be plural. We live in a country which has engineered a Singular Singaporean Narrative – one which is neither accurate nor accessible by all. By reading stories like those from Ministry and the developing body of work we call SingLit, we actively oppose this prescribed Narrative, and replace it with the many stories we can call our own.
Amanda Lee Koe brings a fresh, unabashed take on narratives some may call unorthodox but undoubtedly Singaporean. This is the realism and plurality we constantly look out for. Ministry of Moral Panic tells Singapore stories. Ministry is a must-read for all.