Saturday, 7 September 2019

Lion City Lit by Ken Hickson

As Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore, our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Here’s what Ken Hickson has for us……

Love’s Labour’s Lost. Literally.

There are so many books to read, review and rifle through these days. And be impressed by  - quite frankly – with the amount and quality of Singapore published authors and the products of the Lion City’s thriving book business. From publisher, printer, distributor and retailer. Plus authors and illustrators of course!

Here’s my selection and a few short ‘review-like’ assessments of each one.  Literature, definitely. Variety, yes. Not necessarily to everyone’s taste, but all worth reading. Or at least flicking through. For many different reasons.  Read on…..

"Loss Adjustment" involves the endless whys, the journey of Linda Collins and her husband in honouring Victoria, and the impossible question of what drove their daughter to this irretrievable act. A stunningly intimate portrait of loss and grief, "Loss Adjustment" is a breaking of silence—a book whose face society cannot turn away from. Linda Collins, copy-editor on the political desk of The Straits Times, will be familiar to readers as she used to write the monthly Expat Files in the Sunday Times from 2009­–2012. I must admit to knowing Linda, the author, as a friend and as I also attended Victoria’s funeral, I’ve observed at least some of the events recorded here.

As a work of creative non-fiction, Linda has produced an impressive book. In style and substance, it reads more like a detective novel, as that’s exactly what this teenager’s parents had to go through to find out why and how Victoria chose to leave a school, a home and a life on earth!   To detail such a personal journey, as a grieving mother going through such an agonising time, would be beyond most of us. But Linda handles it as a professional writer would, with skill, sensitivity and determination, often reminding the reader that she’s more than the storyteller, she’s an active participant in this dramatic account of life and death. But you must read this for yourself.     More from Ethos Books.

Another Linda and a very different book: I met up with old friend and advertising guru Linda Locke recently  -  after many a long year – when we both attended the launch of the “The Armenians in Singapore”. The advertising guru is a direct descendent of the originator of the famous Vanda Miss Joaquim, so she shared with me the book she did with James Wolf and Muhd Noh called “Agnes and her Amazing Orchid”. While it’s definitely designed for the young at heart, it’s so full of genuine historical data but told in such an engaging way, that adults would find this a very worthwhile read, as would children of all ages.  Published by Epigram last year in the “Prominent Singaporean” series. Expect more from Linda, particularly in the KidLit category. I’ve seen three of her “Jack is Curious” series - also published by Epigram -  so I think you can expect many more entertaining items in this Juvenile Fiction genre. Anything to get young eyes and hands off digital devices.

Then there’s the hefty tome from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Don’t be put off by its size and imposing title. “200: Points in Singapore’s Natural History”. It’s beautifully produced with design and layout by Currency, who themselves have a history of doing books and exhibitions of all shapes and sizes. I met one of the book’s authors Kate Pocklington at the unveiling of the  Wallace and Ali statue at the same museum where Kate works as the Head Conservator. Kate and her research associate Martyn Low, have researched, written and compiled an excellent illustrated guide to 200 years of a large swathe of Southeast Asia.

Fresh from the launch of their ingenious and instructive book "The TENG Guide to the Chinese Orchestra", the TENG Ensemble will perform in a concert to mark the culmination of The Forefathers Project, a four-year initiative to celebrate the sounds of Singapore’s unsung Chinese music pioneers. The Singapore-born arts company will present Heirlooms, a documentary-concert that reimagines the sounds of Singapore’s Chinese forefathers on 11 October 2019 at Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. The book, published by World Scientific in Singapore, is described as a "seminal guide to equip composers, scholars and music enthusiasts worldwide with the necessary knowledge to work with Chinese musical instruments". TENG have shown how this is done on stage and in teaching. Now it's published to spread the word and the technique beyond Singapore to the world.

"This could be home" is the title - and the expressed desire - of Pico Iyer's delightful little celebratory book on Raffles Hotel, to mark the re-opening of Singapore's iconic landmark after undergoing renovations for two years. A beautifully written book, as you'd expect from Mr Iyer, but surely the acclaimed and well- established travel writer doesn't need to undertake such assignments any more. He has graciously agreed to be the first Writer-in-Residence at the "renewed" Raffles, under a new scheme to nurture creative writing talents in Singapore. You can meet Pico Iyer at Huggs-Epigram on Friday 16 August . Go to publisher Epigram Books for more.

It might be a "short history" but Nadia Wright has packed into “The Armenians in Singapore” a wealth of stories and illustrations, all coming together as an extremely valuable cultural heritage resource in Singapore's bicentenary year. She notes that fewer than 750 Armenians have ever lived in the city-state, but they've provided four of Singapore's most iconic "treasures": 1. the St Gregory's Church - the oldest church in Singapore, still in use; 2. the national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid; 3. the famous Raffles Hotel, and not to forget, 4. the Straits Times newspaper. All founded by and/or identified with Armenians.

This is an exception in my book selection. Not published in Singapore but about Singapore’s most famous hotel.  A big coffee table book "Soirees, Sojourns & Stories” has been produced to mark the re-opening of the iconic Raffles Hotel. Besides generous glimpses - words, deeds and pictures - of the iconic Singapore institution's glorious past, the author Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni and publisher Rizzoli of New York, have added newer members of what is now called Raffles Hotels & Resorts in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. A beautiful book to treasure and share, but it’s a pity it missed acknowledging previous long-serving Raffles’ managers, like Robert Pregarz, and artists, like Graham Byfield, who inhabited and/or captured the hotel so well over the years.

On Air and Under One Roof: The stars of this memorable Singapore sit-com got together for the launch of the book "On air: Memories of Caldecott Hill". Is there a possibility that we'll see a re-make, an update or a nostalgic return of "Under One Roof"? On stage or screen? There's a delightful account in the book by Irani Subaiah, entitled "Living Under One Roof as Daisy", as she not only directed the sit-com for seven seasons, but played the part of Daisy in "Under One Roof". On Air: Untold Stories of Caldecott Hill. More than a place in time is Caldecott Hill. It's where Singapore's broadcasting - radio and television - began and flourished, initially by the British (in the mid-1930s) and from1965 with Singaporeans at the helm. This book is full of stories of people, performances and productions. Published by Marshall Cavendish.

Maybe we’ll see a re-print soon as there’s renewed interest in “Emily of Emerald Hill” now that it’s being restaged by Wild Rice. Ivan Heng is one of Singapore’s most acclaimed actors. Glen Goei is one of Singapore’s most celebrated directors. Together, they bring to life one of Singapore theatre’s most iconic characters: Emily Gan, an abandoned girl who overcomes all odds to emerge as the matriarch of a distinguished Peranakan household. Evoking the golden age of Straits-Chinese culture from the 1930s, this new production of Emily of Emerald Hill promises to be the most immersive version of Stella Kon’s enduring classic yet. This very appropriate production to commemorate WILD RICE’s new theatre home in Funan Centre runs from 4 to 28 September.

Food matters. It is a basic human need, yet its availability in adequate, safe, nutritious and regular amounts for humans is by no means assured. This seminal book, Food Matters, by Professor Paul Teng and Manda Foo, provides explanations to the many questions asked about today’s food sources and quality. Written in prose that is easily understandable, it takes the reader through the fascinating story of the origin of our common foods, how they have changed in looks and their methods of production, and discusses many issues on the minds of consumers and governments.  Published by Write Editions, there's more to Food Matters than meets the eye.

Cooking the books: Dean Brettschneider has stirred up the international bakery and cooking fraternity with a number of successful business ventures, the best known being Baker & Cook. Also he hasn't hesitated to turn his hand to books, hence the headline! Cooking the Books! Marshall Cavendish in Singapore has produced two of them - a big picture book incorporating plenty of photos and a very readable paper back called "Passion is my main ingredient". He appears to be taking over from Gordon Ramsey with his liberal use of expletives, but maybe that's because his "passion" rages on the page and in the bakery. There's more.

Natural History Drawings : The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula 1803-1818. Colonel William Farquhar (1774-1839) was a British Colonial Officer who became Commandant of Malacca in 1803, a post through which he was able to indulge his interest in natural history, sending men to collect various plant and animal specimens, which he then commissioned artists to paint. See more.

In the intriguingly entitled book, “The Movie that No one Saw", first time novelist May Seah has invented Adjonis Keh, supposedly a successful actor who has everything: looks, adoration, a shelf filled with acting awards and a dark secret. He can’t act! In reading this very well-written novel, you can't help surmising that the enterprising author has tapped into her own experience as a television journalist. Even adding anonymous and/or notable characters she's encountered to come up with such a riotous Shakespeare-like tragically funny plot. Epigram published this.

When veteran journalist and former New Paper editor PN Balji launched his tell-all book about his 40 years in the media industry at Huggs-Epigram recently, he attracted a big gathering of "media friends". The book, "Reluctant Editor", is published by Marshall Cavendish. We read it at one sitting and thoroughly recommend it for its insight into Singapore media. Jalelah Abu Baker, along with a few more journalists, attended the launch, so read what she reported for Channel News Asia. The book has been on the Straits Times best-seller list for a few weeks now.

If there are 26 Singaporeans you need to know, Simon Vincent has them all together in one book: “The Naysayers Book Club". He cleverly approached all his "victims" - mostly well-known and outspoken writers, artists, and architects - by getting them to show him their favourite or memorable books. From "heritage" architect William Lim to award winning graphic novelist Sonny Liew, this collection of "naysayers" gives the reader insight into their thoughts and actions - now and then - as well as their reading habits Another Epigram achievement.

In "50 Best kept Secrets of the Istana", established Singapore writer Irene Ho focusses on History and Heritage. You’ll discover 50 little-known facts about the place known as Istana or Government House, from its building completion in 1869 to when Singapore achieved self-government in 1959. Using archival research surrounding the history of Singapore from its colonial days to 1959, this book aims to present the country’s past through a gentle and at times humorous narrative. The three-book series has Sharon Cheah writing about Flora and Fauna, while Wing Sher Maine covers People and Places. It's published by Epigram Books.

My last word on the last book selected has a particular literary ring to it. And one to appeal to anyone seriously studying English literature – and not so seriously, for that matter – as this very readable Routledge book on “Literature Education in the Asia Pacific” is not as heavy going as it first seems. With plenty of examples of writers and their literary efforts – including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, short stories  and the works – this book itself has 17 different contributors. Edited by Chin Ee Loh, Suzanne Choo and Catherine Beavis, the book obviously fills a big gap to support the teaching of English literature in the region, but also serves as a reliable chronicle of literature’s “policies, practices and perspectives” prevailing in Asia Pacific.