Sunday 14 November 2021

Lion City Lit

Ken Hickson reviews recent titles published in Singapore, but with wide international appeal.

Rewriting my Happily ever after by Dr Ranjani Rao 

One would think it’s not so easy to write a memoir of divorce and discovery, but Ranjani Rao done it with grace, sensitivity and honesty.  

There’s no holding back and no wallowing in misery in the process. Going through separation and divorce, then writing about it, could have been a soul-destroying experience, but Dr Rao admits she “found myself, by going through it”. 

It’s definitely not written in textbook-style – even though it’s the work of a scientist who just happens to be a very capable communicator - to take the reader through all the steps involved in successfully getting out of a troubled marriage. 

What this amiable pharmaceutical researcher admits is that her training prepared her to design logical experiments, to look closely at data and to never jump to a conclusion without supporting evidence. 

“I wrote scientific papers before I wrote personal essays. So, rigor, revision and rejection were a part of my academic life.”

For some-one very used to test-tubes and all the modern high tech laboratory equipment used to experiment with chemical reactions to come up with cures and treatments, she has conjured up a very reader-friendly account, full of stories and anecdotes from life. 

I like to think of this book as a very welcome scientific discovery  - like a vaccine to tackle a virus – from the living laboratory of Dr Ranjani Rao.  

She herself experimented with many possible cures – yoga, medication, group therapy, new friends, change of environment, resigning from her well paid job – all part of adjusting to a life apart from a husband, but with her daughter beside her.

Yes, there’s a happy ending – or more correctly a new beginning – and there’s hope and reassurance for others going through similar life-changing moves.

I won’t tell you anymore, as I want to encourage everyone – happily married or not – to get this book and read it from cover to cover. 

Note: Rewriting my Happily ever after will be the subject of our Indie Spotlight column tomorrow. 

Zero Visibility by Douglas Dylan Yeo and Floyd Cowan 

The objective of the book is to tell the story of Douglas Dylan’s role in the rescue of football team trapped in a water-filled cave in Thailand, but we learn a lot more in the process.

How he overcame his failings in the formal education process, but joined the Navy and learned new skills. He trained to become an experienced diver, undertaking complicated and risky salvage jobs throughout Asia. 

The experienced writer and editor Floyd Cowan certainly left his mark on this small book and while he admits it wasn’t easy getting the full story out of Douglas, he’s made sure it is a very well-written and readable tale to uncover. 

And maybe there’s more to come. Douglas spends a lot of his time these days delivering welcome food parcels to those seniors in Singapore, who are homebound or other incapable of getting out to buy food for themselves, and he expresses the wish – at the end of the book – “to go to India and help homeless kids”. 

Karma by Joanne Flinn.

The pandemic restrictions imposed on the population of Singapore meant we have to resort to novel ways and means to meet people. So, it was “a walk in the park” which first brought me in contact with Joanne Flinn. 

The first meeting was on a park bench in the Botanic Gardens, clutching a takeaway coffee from the nearby Gastronomia CafĂ© in Cluny Court. We talked a lot about books – mine mostly - and what we were doing with our respective working lives. 

We agreed to meet again – on the same park bench - and this time the author of “Karma” introduced me to her books and told me a lot more about what she sees as her role in life.  

Karma brings it all together in one handy volume. A guide. A bible of sorts. A welcome and  well-produced collection of handy hints for life and for business. 

The subtitle is a big clue to its contents: “How to stay calm and productive through coronavirus to the recovery”. 

The key to success – on the home front, in life and in business – is kindness, she concludes. It’s the last of 33 practical actions she sets out in this book, which we can all tackle. 

Not magic. Not medicine. But by working on any or all of the 33 carefully set out tips, we can all survive and thrive in these troubling and unpredictable times.  

Joanne has plenty of business and academic expertise to back this up. She also as a wealth of experiences of living and working in different places and different times. 

This book is a treasure. Unearth it. Polish it. Dig into it and uncover gems for living a better and more profound life.  

Rice by Alice Flinn Stilwell 

Cherished stories of the world’s favourite grain, written and illustrated by Joanne Flynn’s mother, Alice Flinn Sitwell. It’s a beautifully produced book of 160 pages, published and printed in Singapore, and distributed by Select Books.

It’s packed with tales, legends and true stories about rice – its history, its production as well as how its prepared and served around the world. 

The author’s husband was a rice scientist and spend many years in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australia. She tagged along, as her children did, until Alice decided on a life of professional editing of scientific publications after arming herself with a Masters in Communications.  

This book is the result of her travels and living in many different places, as well as her determined research to come up with 31 “legends” gleaned from 16 countries.  

It’s over to the reader to determine where there are “grains of truth” in these legends. But this book is written for readers the world over to appreciate what goes into the growing and production of rice. And preparing it to eat. 

It’s worth being reminded – as this book does well – that rice is eaten daily by 3.5 billion people. While rice is cultivated now in more than 100 countries, Alice tells us, 90% of it is grown in Asian countries by small farmers. 

Energise. Electrify. Empower. 20 Years and Beyond by Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA) 

The book is a credit to the EMA. It’s very well produced and delves into the history of energy production and distribution in Singapore – going back to 1901 when electricity first came to light – and bringing us right up to today when the island state grapples with the transition to a cleaner energy future. 

The book is amply illustrated and well designed and produced by Redbean De Pte Ltd.

As author and producer of two commemorative books in Singapore – one marking the 40th anniversary of a charitable healthcare institute and the other about the property company Lend lease – I think it’s important to acknowledge all those involved in its writing, editing and production.

While no one person is credited as author, it does name four people at the EMA for “editorial”, along with others.

The influence of EMA goes beyond just the energy industry. Two of its former chief executives are now playing important roles in the Government of the country. 

Lawrence Wong is currently Minister of Finance, while he previously served as  Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (2012–2015), Minister for National Development (2015–2020) and Minister for Education(2020–2021).   Chee Hong Tat, who served as CEO of EMA from 2011 to 2014, is now Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Transport since 2020.