For SP Blog’s 4th Annual Books Round-up, we again asked Singaporean writers, artists, and thinkers, living in Singapore and abroad, for their favorite read of the year. The book does not have to be written by a Singaporean, but if it isn’t, contributors could recommend a second title that is by a Singaporean. We received 32 contributions, offering what may be interestingly categorized as works of predominantly social consciousness and works of more formal considerations. We hope you enjoy reading all the contributions as much as we’ve enjoyed compiling them. Please support independent publishers and booksellers by ordering from them directly. As always, we are grateful to our contributors. Thank you!
Angus Whitehead, literary critic, educator, and assistant professor. It's got to be Allen Ginsberg's posthumously published uncollected poems, Wait Till I'm Dead (Penguin, 2016) Without Ginsberg we would not have Alfian Sa'at's "Singapore You Are Not My Country," arguably the last dangerous long local poem of enduring widespread notoriety and impact. In a land where even peaceful protest against outrageous injustice could land you in Caleb Williams's shoes quick as you can say Amos Yee and where the freshest crop of poetry seems to ring a little bit silent, a little bit complicit, it is truly healing to read and experience these hot, honest, naked, and unafraid poems of protest, social awareness, justice and sublime skill. As I thrill to them, they seem to gesture to the kind of responsible, witness-bearing, moving and memorable poetry I hope Singapore will be ready for one day. Locally it's been a grand year: a new novel Oracle Bone by Canadian-Singaporean lesbian writer Lydia Kwa, the first vol of Sg lit crit published on an international academic stage, Angelia Poon et al, eds Singapore Literature and Culture (Routledge, 2017), also the game-changing, if rather content-vanilla anthology UnFree Verse (Singapore: Ethos, 2017) - though we should recall what Singapore's great unsung poetic genius Wong May's hero-poet latter-day troubadour Paul Blackburn said, for genuine free verse is harder to write than traditional form. But ultimately my local book choice is MD Sharif Uddin's Stranger to Myself (Singapore: Landmark, 2017), the nearest we are going to get to date of sustained articulation of one alive and kicking Bangladeshi migrant worker's voice. No matter how managed and bowdlerised, from the edited-out cigarette on the front cover to the missing sexual references, the volume may be. Moments of sublime complaint and protest. Female domestic worker poets published in 2018? I can hope/hardly wait!
Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, poet. My Book of 2017 is Gwee Li Sui's Spiaking Singlish, a Companion to How Singaporeans Communicate (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2017). While any encounter with Singlish in print still tends to hit the reader's funny bone, this book should significantly reduce that elbow-jerking response. Gwee's book is a massive work of research and detective work (and superlative listening); this, to show Singlish as an evolving tongue, as language is in human societies. What I like best is its analytical approach in placing Singlish in historical, sociological and linguistic contexts, using the medium of Singlish itself to achieve this. In some ways, the vigor of the tongue shows how it may serve more serious purposes -- more than the simply laughter-raising pronouncements of the Phua Chu Kangs of Singapore. I see Gwee's strategy here as providing something of a breakthrough beyond the use of Singlish for dramatic or narrative purposes. Many readers may react with suspicion (and maybe even outrage) when they see the patois being used in serious discourse; this possibly dissipates on subsequent readings, as it did for me. Gwee makes a sustained case for seeing Singlish as a a kind of linguistic cement with deep foundations in our society, a foundation formed quite naturally and effortless through time, simply because a people of diverse tongues wanted to communicate, reach out, to one another. That deep bond is there whatever the linguistic purists may say in protest.
Anthony Koh Waugh, bookseller and writer. My book of the year is Dream Storeys by Clara Chow (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2016). I'm sensitive to buildings. Some give me good vibes; some feel insidious to me. Reading the short stories in this book connected my wild imaginings to the cityscape that the author has created based on her interviews with various architects. The masterful combination of journalism and fiction makes Dream Storeys by far the most impactful SingLit read for me. If you have a strange affinity towards buildings too, this book will make you think harder about them.
Balli Kaur Jaswal, novelist. My book of the year is a short story collection that I had the privilege of blurbing for Epigram Books this year. Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai. The stories navigate the lives of Indians in Singapore with tenderness and wit. The characters were recognizable but they managed to surprise me - I love it when a short story can feel familiar and unexpected at the same time.
Caleb Goh, actor, educator, and director. My favorite book of the year is: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (USA: Anchor, 2015). The sweetly tragic novel charts the friendship between four men that spans over thirty years and the joys and extreme sorrows they experience. JB is a painter, Jude is a lawyer, Malcolm is an architect and Willem is an actor. The brilliance of this book lies in the subversive nature of this coming-of-age story that deals poetically and graphically with mental health, suicide, rape, abuse, drugs, betrayal, death, and the unfettered bonds of love and friendship. A Singaporean novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this year was: Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu (USA: William Morrow, 2016) Growing up, I was a fan of Agatha Christie novels and dreamt of one day, either becoming a sleuth, or writing stories that revolved around murder mysteries. Ovidia Yu manages to capture the wit and wisdom of the classic whodunit while setting it in memorable and identifiable locations in the Lion City. Chilled Revenge marks the third in her Aunty Lee series. The characters are larger than life, (just like many Singaporeans I know), and full of depth, motive, and cause for suspicion. Naturally, much high jinx ensues!
Cherian George, writer. I picked up a copy of Shashi Tharoor’s An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (India: Aleph Book Company, 2016) to get a better grip on my parents’ homeland, but soon found it provoking thoughts about my own. Tharoor’s polemical essay tears apart the myth that British colonialism was much more than a cruelly exploitative system that left India impoverished. He readily acknowledges that the book is not based on original research; it is neither groundbreaking nor revisionist. On the contrary, he decided to write it when he realised that a story that an earlier generation of Indians knew well was in danger of being forgotten. Singapore’s own colonial history was much less traumatic, and it’s interesting to contemplate how this has affected our relationship with empire past and present.
Cyril Wong, poet and fictionist. Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2017). Thien’s novels might have received all the attention but this is my favourite work from the Booker Prize-shortlisted author. This breathtakingly succinct and poetic collection of stories, shifting ambiguously between autobiography and fiction, draws on that desire for lost (especially familial) connections in lyrical and emotionally devastating ways.
David Chew, art curator. Singapore’s Vanished Public Housing Estates by Koh Kim Chay and Eugene Ong. A comprehensive documentation of Singapore’s fast changing urban landscape, this latest book by two Singaporean photographers published in August 2017 showcases a two decade-long project memorialising 27 public housing estates that have since vanished in Singapore. Apart from bringing to light the different typographical differences in their outward appearance and design that evolved over the years (taken on black and white analog film), the book comes with related essays by other writers on both the architectural analysis and emotional and aspirational links of these ubiquitous public housing flats in Singapore that make for insightful reading on the impact of public housing on a nation’s population. The project was previously crowdfunded here, and 500 copies of the book were published.
Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, poet and fictionist. There is a cool brilliance about Alex Dimitrov’s Together and by Ourselves (USA: Copper Canyon Press, 2017). The sprawling texts seem born of a memoirist’s intimate journaling. You are lured into the deceptively plain-speaking lines, which turn remarkably percipient and poignant. This happens, without any showiness or gimmickry. I became a bigger fan when I read the Coldfront interview, where Dimitrov said: “I can’t be a confessional poet because it’s not the late fifties and sixties. Those writers are important to me, yes. But I’m not interested in figuring out who Alex Dimitrov is. I hope I never figure out who Alex Dimitrov is.” Two anthologies have been lovely to see make it to market. Edited by Christine Chia and Aaron Lee, Lines Spark Code (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2017) was created as an educational resource, given current interest in Singapore poetry within academic curricula. Great diversity of voices represented here. Twin Cities: An Anthology of Twin Cinema from Singapore and Hong Kong (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2017) is the brainchild of editors Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and Joshua Ip, collecting poems from over 50 writers, the innovative form created through the genius of Yeow Kai Chai. This is certainly a breakout year for new made-in-Singapore poetic forms. There’s this exceptional outing, as well as another anthology, Asingbol: An Archaeology of the Singaporean Poetic Form (Singapore/USA: Squircle Line Press & Glass Lyre Press, 2017), premised on the asingbol, which, ahem, I invented quite innocuously in 2010 (forgive the shamelessness).
Ian Tan, educator, writer, and reviewer. Among contemporary writers of fiction, John Banville's literary output since Birchwood has been no less than extraordinary in the wealth of references to history, painting, science and literature he critically engages with, and how his sinewy, sparkling Conradian sentences manage to evoke haunting worlds of emotion and luminous realities. Banville's touchstone has always been Henry James, and his Mrs Osmond (London: Penguin, 2017) is both a homage to the supreme literary artist of consciousness, and a rich imagining of the narrative aftermath of The Portrait of a Lady. Banville inhabits the world of his characters so deeply that the reader is taken seamlessly from Isabelle's suffocation in her ill-fated marriage, her flight from Gilbert Osmond, and the consequences of her freedom. If the disenchantment towards postmodern modes of storytelling leads the reader to prognosticate about 'the end of the novel', Banville's passionate engagement with one of the classic narratives of literature shows the pleasures of reading a tale still can charm, instruct and dazzle.
Jason Soo, filmmaker. "Dear Reader, We are sorry to let you know that we will not be buying the title you have recommended as we find it unsuitable for our library collections." In the last 3 years, I have submitted over 20 book recommendations to the national library. Some were accepted, some rejected, but never has the library sent an email to say that the book was "unsuitable". For this and for other reasons, The Invisible Committee once again makes my list for their book titled - simply but significantly - Now (USA: Semiotext(e), 2017). But in 2017, not only did the policing of books once again entered into my horizon, book reading itself became criminalized in Singapore. In June, a group of young readers made a journey on the public train. Each held in their hands a copy of 1987: Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On (Singapore: Function 8 Ltd, 2017). At some point during the train ride, they blindfolded themselves as they continued reading. When photographs of the journey begin to circulate online, everyone in the group was summoned for police investigation. As I write this entry, one of the individuals in the photo - activist Jolovan Wham - was just a few days ago charged in court for organising public assemblies without permit, for refusal to sign his statements to the police, and for vandalism. (Full disclosure: In 2015, I made a documentary film about the interrogation, torture and televised "confessions" of the 22 detainees arrested in the alleged Marxist conspiracy. I also contributed an article to the book published on the 30th anniversary of the arrests. And finally, I was also present at the book reading in the public train, and even though I did not appear in any of the photos, I was somehow identified and summoned, on the same day as the rest of the group, to attend a police investigation.) Jolovan Wham now faces a fine of USD 7,500 or up to 6 months jail, or both. The fate of the rest of us remain undetermined.
Jason Wee, visual artist and writer. Heather Streets-Slater's World War One in Southeast Asia (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017) looks back beyond the myths of the post-independence Singapore to find a thriving metropole, with its configuration of languages (press releases in English, Mandarin, Malay and Urdu) and remarkable people (Egyptian community leaders and Japanese ladies of the night). Beginning with the Singapore mutiny of 1915, Streets-Slater argue for 'a world that is messier ,and more multilateral' than the limits of nation-colonies would allow. Gwee Li Sui's Death Wish (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2017) is unlike his previous volumes of poetry - frequently intransigent in its arguments, self-consciously brainy with its nods to Kant, Eurydice and Bob Dylan - and all the more a pleasure to reread. It ends with sharp elbows; a pair of poems comment on current controversies followed by an eulogy and an epitaph. A startling cover that is David Lynch meets Annabelle sweetens the deal.
Jeremy Fernando, reader and writer. As John Phillips posits, quite beautifully, in his back cover blurb to Pure and Faultless Elation Emerging from Hiding (Delere Press, 2017), “Lim Lee Ching’s poems resemble no other work coming from Singapore today, yet these are the poems for which Singapore has quietly yearned”. There is a quiet power to Lim’s poems which comes not from tackling the issues of the day, concepts, politics, directly, nor by offering social commentary, but by considering what is essential, poetic, and most of all, human — and, in doing so, giving the reader the space to read, to think, to imagine, their relation to words, to thoughts, to the world, for themselves.
Jeremy Tiang, writer and translator. My book of the year is 1987: Singapore's Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, edited by Chng Suan Tze, Low Yit Leng and Teo Soh Lung (Singapore: Function 8, 2017). Three decades on from Operation Spectrum, "a clumsy but successful attack on a re-emerging civil society," there has been no real reckoning with this wave of detentions without trial that remains a blot on Singapore's history. Through the words of the detainees as well as those around them, this serves as a record of exactly what happened back then, and how desperately a measure of restorative justice is needed. A brave, necessary book, resonant with moral clarity.
Jill J. Tan, writer and grad student. The book which has kept coming back to me this year is Max Ritvo's Four Reincarnations (USA: Milkweed Editions, 2016). The late Ritvo's unflinching meditation on death and dying is relentless yet steeped in the truth of liminality, tender but never sentimental, and always lucid even in moments of delirium, unquenchable desire, and grief that will not hold. I came to Ritvo's work only after his death through this remarkable interview with his fellow poet and friend, Justin Boening, that made me both laugh and cry (http://lithub.com/death-is-actually-very-funny-a-last-conversation-with-max-ritvo/), but unbeknownst to me had been uttering his name every morning for months: his was on the list of names of ill friends and family we chanted each day in a dedication at the Zen monastery where I practiced. Discovering this almost a year later after dwelling on his words was a beautiful instance of the unexpected resurgence of presence.
Jinat Rehana Begum, writer and educator. So many great books have been published this year that it's hard to pick just one. My recommendation for the year is Stranger To Myself: The Diary of a Bangladeshi in Singapore (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2017). Md. Sharif Uddin's recollections poignantly describe the struggles and injustices faced by migrant workers who contribute so much to Singapore. The lyrical poems in the book are an added bonus. I only wish that every poem in the volume had been as sensitively translated as 'Velu and a History'—a poem about the Little India riots that retains the passions and rhythms of all of Sharif Uddin's powerful poetry.
Joanne Leow, literary scholar and writer. It is hard to think, in recent times, of a book more heartrending, complex, and immersive than Madeleine Thien’s magisterial Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Canada: Penguin Random House, 2016). A thoroughly particular history of modern China, the novel’s discourses on politics, music, art, loss, and freedom nevertheless raise crucial questions about other authoritarian regimes in existence today. It is an essential book about human relations and the records we keep of our lives and loves in the face of power. As Thien writes, we must “return to the persistence of this desire: to know the times in which we are alive” (419). My Singaporean book of the year is Nuraliah Norasid’s The Gatekeeper (Singapore: Epigram Books, 2016). How long have we waited for a book about race, difference, and an undeniably familiar dystopian future that features a kickass medusa? We did not even know that we needed it but we did, and intensely so.
Jon Gresham, writer and photographer. I have really enjoyed Dan Koh’s chapbook, Jurong, My Love (Singapore: Substation, 2017), and Ruihe Zhang and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow’s In Transit: An Anthology from Singapore on Airports and Air Travel (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2016), but my book of the year is MD Sharif Uddin’s Stranger to Myself (Singapore: Landmark Books, 2017). This often surprising, thoughtful and beautifully written book shares the lived experience of a Bangladeshi migrant worker in Singapore earning $18 per day. “I see the sweat of bodies floating to the sky as a cloud, slaves celebrating the eternal Spring in the land of their masters.” It puts a lot of the self-absorbed, pretentious writing on my bookshelf to shame and should be compulsory reading in Singapore schools.
Joshua Ip, poet. My Book of 2017 is Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2017), an anthology of Singaporean Malay poetry curated and translated by Annaliza Bakri. The book is nominally a collection of poetry of lost spaces in Singapore, but for me it is a doorway into a cultural history that I do not wholly own but would be remiss to not explore. The poems are presented in the original Malay alongside English translation, and seem to hail from a different generation entirely from mine - fragmentary memories of lost kampungs and overgrown graveyards I have never even heard of - but like the proverbial title of the book, little by little, they accumulate into a mountain.
Yeow Kai Chai, poet. The book to lose yourself completely in this year is Koel by Jen Crawford (Australia: Cordite Press, 2016), an invocation of sounds and surfaces in a choral, yet unapologetically personal, celebration of life and its unceasing movements, avian and human, reptilian and airborne. Knowing that she wrote most of the poems on campus in Singapore lends familiarity and even familial connection, but what I enjoy the most is how each syllable, each empty space, is energised and defamiliarised. Read it and see the world anew. Appreciate what you have around you. I also have to give props to Tse Hao Guang, Joshua Ip and Theophilus Kwek for their groundbreaking work in anthologising Singaporean verse in form in UnFree Verse (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2017). It feels momentous, drawing links across generations and evincing fresh narratives. I finished the book, thinking of how far we have come and how much more we can do.
Kenneth Tay, media researcher and writer. Deep Mapping the Media City by Shannon Mattern (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Shannon Mattern's research questions the presentism that blinds much of our current debates and discussions around "smart cities". She argues in this short but powerful publication that our cities have always been mediated and intelligent for millenia, but its intelligence is more material than computational. A precursor to her most recent publication Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), Deep Mapping the Media City is nonetheless an urgent call for us to rethink our cities as spaces for communication and communion. A topic that is relevant not just because of Singapore's drive towards a "Smart Nation" but to also understand Singapore's earlier ambitions in the 1990s to become an "intelligent island". It was the first book through which I first learnt of Shannon's work, and as a bonus the book begins with a quotation from William Gibson's essay on Singapore.
Gwee Li Sui, poet, graphic artist, literary critic. I’m not sure if anyone else dares to name this title as a personal book of the year, but I will. It is The Ollie Comics: Diary of a First-Time Dad by Andrew Tan aka Drewscape (Singapore, 2017). Clearly, from the title, this can’t be a normal choice of mine, but, if you like a subtle, great comic book, one that shows elegance without care for glaring ambition, few options stand out. Tan’s narrative style is gentle, leisurely, and endlessly moving even though the moments he depicts stay trivial throughout. Somehow this underrated master comics creator manages to capture small, fleeting beauties, like the expressions of love in a parent, and small, formless miracles, like the discovery of soul in a child. Keep The Ollie Comics by your bedside and turn to it on your darkest days; then tell me if it doesn’t kindle some light in you.
Philip Holden, literary scholar and writer. Sikit-Sikit Lama-Lama Jadi Bukit: An Anthology edited and translated by Annaliza Bakri (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2017). This bilingual anthology features Malay originals and English translations of poems written in the national language which fewer and fewer Singaporeans are fluent. There’s a sense almost of augmented reality in the way that many of the poets dwell on familiar scenes or activities, but invested them with meaning drawn from suppressed or forgotten histories. Annaliza Bakri’s translations are mostly smooth, occasionally awkward, but the awkwardness paradoxically increases the tension between estrangement and familiarity that’s central to all literary texts. Like many Singaporean readers who know some words of Malay, I found myself shuttling back and forth between translation and the original text, and in the process discovering new senses of place.
Pingtjin Thum, historian. My book of the year is The Art of Advocacy in Singapore edited by Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas (Singapore: Ethos Book, 2017). It's the stories of Singaporeans who, in their very diverse ways, have fought for the dignity, rights, and interests of their fellow human beings. It is full of hope and pain and inspiration and exhaustion in equal measure. The stories are raw and personal. But one cannot read it and fail to be moved by the sacrifice of our fellow brothers and sisters to make a better Singapore. I also wish to mention two other books which I think are really good and important, but both of which I was involved in: My Nantah Story by Tan Kok Chiang - wonderful hybrid memoir and academic work about the creation and destruction of an icon representing an independent multi-ethnic Malaya; and Living with Myths in Singapore by Loh Kah Seng, Jack Chia, and myself, a collection of short articles deconstructing the stories that we tell ourselves, that shape how we view the world around us.
Pooja Nansi, poet. Jennani Durai’s Regrettable Things that Happened Yesterday (Singapore: Epigram Books, 2017). It’s a great collection of short stories that examine the tragic-comic Singaporean condition through the lens and perspective of narrators whose voices we rarely hear in Singaporean Literature.
Sebastian Sim, novelist. Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food by Grace Chia (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2016). Grace Chia practices sorcery. She enters the psyche of her characters with unapologetic invasiveness, chews on their darkest thoughts, licks on the primal urges that pulsate through their veins, and tears them open like a naked offering on the witch's lair for all to feast on. Her masterful command of the language is a spell all storytellers aspire to cast. This mesmerising collection of short stories demands that all mobile devices be switched off and the bedroom door locked, for no interruptions must be tolerated.
Sonny Liew, graphic novelist. Dark Money by Jane Mayer (USA: Anchor Books, 2017). Delves into the attempts by ultra-rich right-wing conservatives to shape American culture and politics by funding academic institutions as well supposedly grassroots movements in support of their ideas. That they have succeeded in doing so is partly due to the enchantment with neoliberal ideas and neglect of blue collar issues on the part of the Democratic Party (as detailed in books like Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal), but whatever the other sides of the story, Dark Money itself is an important piece of investigative journalism into a movement that that usually operates much too silently and insidiously, a growing background hum that somehow convinces you it's always been there. For local content, I'd do a bit of promoting and say: New Naratif, a website that hopes to provide a platform for journalism, arts and culture for Southeast Asia, built on the ideals of transparency and accountability, at a time when those things are increasingly hard to come by. www.newnaratif.com
Suchen Christine Lim, novelist. My favourite book this year is The Square Root of Time by Madeleine Lee (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2017), a small and unassuming book of poetry that uses mathematical concepts to trace the arc of a relationship or relationships with devastating impact. Example: "Mean," "On average we talk/ to one another about/ thirty minutes a day/ extrapolating/ does this become family for always// how does such/ statistical sophistry/ also known as mean/ translate into kin".
Tan Tarn How, author and arts activist. Death of a Perm Sec by Wong Souk Yee (Singapore: Epigram Books, 2016). Former ISD detainee Wong Souk Yee’s novel adds to the slowly growing body of what is probably best termed Singapore’s “scar literature.” An absorbing read, the draw for me though is not so much the mystery surrounding the titular murder?/suicide? as the character studies of the four feckless children struggling to cope with their suddenly fallen circumstances. There are many things this novel offers, but I am particularly impressed by the lyricism of Wong’s pen.
Y.S. Pek, writer and graduate student. This year, Benedict Anderson’s posthumously-published memoir has been trusty and much treasured bedside reading. The Southeast Asian specialist was renowned for his study of the origins of nationalism, a phenomenon for which he felicitously coined the concept “imagined communities.” Anderson’s plainly worded reminisces reveal an inspiring figure who dared to think and to follow through with an original thought; who wrote with responsibility and with heart. Completed shortly before his death, A Life Beyond Boundaries (USA: Verso, 2016) takes us from the peripatetic Anderson’s childhood and school years in California, Ireland, and England, to his fieldwork experiences in Indonesia, through his tenure at Cornell University. We are also offered more recent episodes from Anderson’s retirement, including a striking incident where he recites Mayakovsky’s poetry from memory, and is joined by the Russian school class that he is lecturing. For the Singaporean reader, the many anecdotes on the formation of Southeast Asian and postcolonial studies in the West, are fascinating (and, unsurprisingly, galling). Anderson’s life and writing reaffirms today the validity – indeed, the urgency – of a broad education, of “interdisciplinary” thinking – of the need to remain open and curious in a “globalized” world. It’s made for an invigorating read in Trump Year One.
Lee Yew Leong, editor and translator. Remains of Life by Wu He (translated by Michael Berry). In March 2017, I was approached by Columbia University Press to feature one of their forthcoming releases in the Translation Tuesday showcase I edited for The Guardian. Although the slot eventually went to Kobo Abe's Beasts Head for Home, I was more thrilled by the prospect of excerpting Wu He’s first novel in English translation, having put Wu He’s name on the cover of Asymptote’s January 2012 issue. To research and write this work (which tackles the same subject taken up by Wei Te-sheng’s film Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale), Wu He disappeared from the literary scene for two decades, only to reemerge with this triumph of a novel in 1999, which collected virtually every major national literary award and sparked a reevaluation of the Musha Incident. It took the very gifted translator Michael Berry more than a decade to bring into English this milestone experimental work—think of a Taiwanese Sebald; in fact, Wu He’s 323 pages of uninterrupted stream-of-consciousness writing might even be more potent than Austerlitz. It is a singular work to behold.
Ng Yi-Sheng, poet, playwright, and fictionist. JY Yang's The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune (both from Tor.com). Singaporean authors are gradually beginning to break into the international market, and of all the new voices, JY Yang's is by far the most original. As a lesbian-identified genderqueer writer, they've created a fantasy world anchored in multiethnic Asian histories and mythologies, where non-binary gender identities and queer sexualities are the norm. Although Singapore never appears in the books, there's a clear Singaporean sensibility about them—I'm delighted that folks all over the world are reading about an empress who sees her citizens as digits, and a prophet who loves to say "Cheebye".