By Claire Jow (23A01B), Faith Ho (22A01A), Lara Tan (22A01B) and Saara Katyal (23S05A)
Singaporean Literature – you know it, you (maybe) love it, you probably remember it from that one Sec 2 Lit lesson on poetry analysis when everyone still took all three Humanities subjects.
Maybe you want to get back into it after all this time, like reconnecting with an old friend. Maybe you’re curious about it and want to diversify your library. Or maybe, just maybe, you happen to know an awful lot more about SingLit than us and are just here for sport.
In any case, SingLit can come across as an intimidating genre; after all, there’s so much our local literary scene has to offer! But fret not: we have compiled our favourite short story anthologies, fiction novels, poetry collections and plays that we recommend (based on how you feel, of course).
Without further ado, here is our list.
For when you feel like escaping your current reality: Giving Ground (Theophilus Kwek)
Given our dire lack of travel in the past two-odd years, what wouldn’t we give for a little escape from the quotidien and mundane everyday? Giving Ground is poet Theophilius Kwek’s exploration of the unknown. It takes the reader on a journey around the world through the eyes of a keenly observant traveller. From Beijing to Dublin and even circumnavigating the region, Theophilius Kwek’s writing gives a lucid glimpse into life as captured in places and people, and makes the unfamiliar familiar.
For when you feel at home: Faith Ng’s Collected Plays (Faith Ng)
This collection contains the best and most well-known works of Faith Ng, notably Normal and (wo)men, as well as a host of other treasures. Most notable about her work is the emotional impact it evokes. They are recognisably Singaporean, through faithful (pun intended) rendering of Singaporean life, struggles and naturalistic dialogue. And not only are her plays both realistic and relatable to Singaporeans, they also speak to a universal experience of what it means to be a messy, complex human.
For when you feel like being challenged: Inheritance (Balli Kaur Jaswal)
Centering around a Punjabi family in the early years of independent Singapore, this book crafts an emotionally devastating story. This story uses well-developed characterisation (flawed and human characters) and skillful narrative to draw parallels between this family and the larger Singaporean society. It truly embodies the idea of literature “holding up a mirror to society”, forcing us to take a closer look at Singapore. In the process, we recognise both the beauty and the uncomfortable tensions that lie within.
For when you feel like experiencing a bit of magic: Kappa Quartet (Daryl Qilin Yam)
Fans of Haruki Murakami will be pleased by Daryl Qilin Yam’s debut novel. Going back and forth between Singapore and Japan over eight seemingly unrelated chapters, what begins as a missing persons case becomes a surreal tale of the demons that live among us and within ourselves. The lines between reality and dreaming blur as more pieces of the puzzle come together, though the book ends rather ambiguously. Yam’s gorgeous, musical prose makes this a wonderful read.
For when you feel political: Cooling-Off Day (Alfian Sa’at)
If you’ve got an hour to kill and you’re in the mood to think about Singaporean politics, then Cooling-Off Day is the play for you. Comprising monologues given by Singaporeans of all walks of life, Cooling-Off Day is based on Alfian Sa’at’s real interviews with the Singaporean public during the General Election of 2011. The format that this book employs – switching between monologues spoken by many different people – allows you to immerse yourself in the voices of Singaporeans with varying perspectives and think about how it relates to your own.
For when you feel like glancing into many lives: Malay Sketches (Alfian Sa’at)
Some of the ‘Sketches’ in this book are just a paragraph long, and a few are over five pages. Alfian Sa’at showcases the complexities of the Malay community in Singapore—sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, and often both. Stereotypes are examined and subverted to reveal the humanity in the mundane. Perceptive, profound and sometimes provocative, this collection offers a fantastic exploration of what it means to be part of the Malay community in Singapore.
For when you feel angst: Ministry of Moral Panic (Amanda Lee Koe)
Ministry of Moral Panic tells stories of love, betrayal and heartbreak. Amanda Lee Koe’s vivid descriptions paint a scene of people who, though their circumstances vary, all yearn, desperately, for something they cannot have. Bold and shocking, her electrifying prose reaches deep inside you and wrenches your heart out. This collection of authentically Singaporean stories is the perfect read for anyone at some transitional point in their life.
For when you feel wild: Lion City (Ng Yi-Sheng)
If you’re in the mood for something that will leave you scratching your head, staring dumbfounded at your book or Kindle, thinking “what on earth did I just read?”, then this is for you. From a day in the life of a man who discovers he was a bowl of laksa in his past life, to a choose-your-own-adventure time-travel story that brings you from Sang Nila Utama to SG50, Lion City is just the book to read if you’re looking for something particularly imaginative and eclectic.
For when you feel like travelling back in time: A Different Sky (Meira Chand)
This dense piece of historical fiction covers nearly 30 years of pre-independence Singapore. Featuring a diverse cast of complex characters and several inter-woven plotlines, Chand’s novel is both deeply compelling and rewarding. The careful attention to detail brings our Social Studies textbooks to life, taking the reader through British rule, the Japanese Occupation, Communist movement and more. Chand’s vivid characterisation makes the characters and their hopes and dreams easy to root for.
For when you feel, period: Professions (Amanda Chong)
The title of this anthology (Professions) carries an interesting double meaning. On one hand, it is the deeply introspective confessions of a young woman finding her way in unfamiliar spaces. On the other hand, it is that same growing and changing woman exploring narratives through the superficialities of occupational titles and enigmatic personas.
Amanda Chong’s poetry is meant to be felt and not read; her language is unmistakably incisive and lyrical. From fractured friendships to familial ties to musings on love itself, Professions is accessible in its universality and effortlessness in making its readers feel deeply.
Bonus: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Sonny Liew)
“All these recommendations have too many words,” you cry. “I feel like looking at some colourful pictures instead…” Through the medium of graphics, Sonny Liew brings us through the colourful history of Singapore (quite literally). This is a book carrying multiple stories; of the political, public and personal lives of Singaporeans, presented in beautifully crafted panels and carefully curated stories.
Now that we’ve helped you get started on your SingLit journey, where do you find these books? Some options are the library, Epigram and Ethos Books, which have most of the books in this list, both in hardcopy and e-book form. Happy reading!