The Roundup

Far Out Writers in the Far East: 8 Excellent Books Set in Singapore

by Kenny Leck
Kappa Daryl Yam's debut novel. All photos courtesy of Books Actually.

Kenny Leck, the proprietor behind Singapore’s beloved indie bookshop, , shares a reading list of his current favorite Singaporean titles.

Daryl Yam’s debut novel comes across as the most effortless piece of writing I have ever read. He is Singapore’s Haruki Murakami, but with the depth and youthful gravitas of Jorge Luis Borges. Set between Singapore and Japan, Kappa Quartet tells the story of a young man without a soul whose chance encounters with a host of characters are both strange and serendipitous.

Rawa by Isa Kamari.

A much needed work that shines a light on the "sea people" of the Malay Peninsula. These are some of the original inhabitants of the region before the colonial powers took over in the 19th century. Isa Kamari has thrown a deft hand by using the life of a fictional character, Rawa, an Orang Seletar to tell the tale of the "sea people" and their lives in the modernization and eventual independence of both Malaysia and Singapore.

Spider Boys by Ming Cher.

Transporting us back into the bright lights and dark alleys of 1960s Singapore, Ming Cher’s novel paints the picture of a time when a group of boys emerged from teenagers to adults, making decisions that impact the roads their lives eventually take.

'Others' Is Not A Race by Melissa De Silva.

In this collection of fiction and creative non-fiction pieces, Melissa De Silva masterfully talks about the question of ethnicity in multiracial Singapore, specifically the Eurasian community, and brings us to an understanding of what it means to be a minority in Singapore. It is also a book of memory, nostalgia, and lessons for future generations.

The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza by Cyril Wong.

A very unassuming book from Singapore's most well-known writer and poet, Cyril Wong. It is his only full-length novel to date, and it is indeed the last lesson, on the last few pages of the book, that will leave the reader with a sense of displacement — in a very good way.

We Were Always Eating Expired Things by Cheryl Lee Julia.

One of the best debut poetry collections to be released in Singapore in the past five years. Cheryl Lee Julia’s voice is familiar but has a sense of lost things, creating a tension between the demand for grandeur and the practical limits of reality.

Gone Case by Dave Cha and Koh Kong Teng

A much-overlooked graphic novel adapted from Dave Chua's novella from nearly two decades ago. It covers the coming-of-age story of two teenagers living in the public housing estates and reaching turning points in their lives. The depth of the storytelling is brought to life with the detailed illustrations of Koh Hong Teng.

Peculiar Chris by Johann S. Lee.

Singapore's very first gay novel published 26 years ago still reads as relevant today. Johann S. Lee covers the stigma that the LGBTQ community faced in Singapore in the '90s. Though less pronounced now, it remains a narrative that should not be forgotten.

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