Based on an incredible true story of love and endurance.
Fresh from reading The Nightingale, I couldn't read any other simple novel. I needed a book that was seriously written and about lives of people. I simply couldn't put The Nightingale down and I was searching for another novel of comparison. I came across Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani in my collection of unread books but I was disappointed. To put it very simply, it was just too simple. Sorry Ms Badani but your other novel The Storyteller's Secret was well written. Fortunately, I had a good mind to buy The Tatooist of Aushwitz during my last visit to a local book store. And I was hooked! I actually finished the novel in 3 days much to the exclamations of my teen daughters who went 'How can you read so fast?!'
This novel is a beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage and is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov--an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.
"The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they'd read a hundred Holocaust stories or none."--Graeme Simsion, internationally-bestselling author of The Rosie Project
In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism--but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
Overall rating : B+
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is by far the best historical fiction I have read in a long time. Its the Feb read of our National Museum of Singapore (NMS) book club which we have just formed in Dec 2019. I'm part of another book club consisting of friends and book lovers in the east of Singapore. But who says you can't be part of more than 1 book club?
Anyways, The Nightingale is a story of 2 sisters Viann and Isabelle who each strive through their journey of self discovery in German occupied war torn France during WW2 between 1942-1945. While one is a passive follow the rules kind of sibling, the other is a rebel who abores authority and joins the resistance, ignoring all the risks and dangers involved, to fight for France.
The entire novel is very well written and every page is a page turner. Historical fictions aren't always a crowd favourite and I assumed that this novel won't be much of a black sheep.But alas, I was so wrong! Instead of a dry boring dreading to read kind of a novel, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. As I always say, fiction though being fictatious must be believable.
Its the New York Times number one bestselling title. Vivid and exquisite in its illumination of a time and place that was filled with atrocities, but also humanity and strength, The Nightingale will provoke thought and discussion that will have you talking long after you finish reading.
Bravery, courage, fear and love in a time of war.
Despite their differences, sisters Viann and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Viann finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters' relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
The novel is a small paperback, easy to carry around. Consists of 531 pages spread over 39 chapters. Told from a perspective of one of the sisters as a flashback to the terrifying times. I was a little surprised when I found out which of the sister was telling the story at the end of the novel. Lets see if you are too!
Overall rating : A+
I came across this book while looking for books to read for my bi monthly storytelling at a public library near my place. My name is Nadia and I have Autism is a bilingual book about a 8 year old girl Nadia Sander who has autism. It is written in both English and Malay. It shows that Nadia, despite her developmental difficulties, is just like any other child her age.
I chose this book to read to my group of children on 13th Nov. I was a little trepiditious as I was new to reading books about children with special needs and was a little concerned if I could explain autism to the children in a simple concise manner and wondered how the children will respond. When I seeked permission to read this book, I found out that apparently, I was the first storyteller to read a book about autism to the children in that library.
It was 7.30pm when all the children had settled down and I was overjoyed to see 12 eager children in front of me. I started off by announcing that I had a really special book to read and got the children's attention right away. But to hold their attention and eagerness for the next 30 minutes, I informed them that I will only read the special book at the end. I started reading the other 3 books first and when it came to this book, they were at the edge of their seats.
When I read the title, many questioning eyes looked at me. What is autism ? I explained very simply that some children view and react to the world differently from us and they get affected by loud noises and bright lights. That they are special, that's why they are called special needs children and we shouldn't look or treat them differently from us. Confused looks followed until I opened the pages and starting reading and showing the pictures of Nadia's experiences. In the end, when I posed the question in the book to the children - 'I am Nadia, will you be friend?' and probed 'Who will be Nadia's friend?' many hands went up which gave me an immense sense of fulfillment.
I hope I had introduced special needs children to these group of children so that they realise that special needs children should not be judged or stared at or worse bullied and that they are just like all of us.
Researching more on this book, I unearthed that Nadia is a 9-year-old autistic girl from Johor, Malaysia whom Huda, the author, met whilst conducting her research for her personal study. After meeting Nadia and her family members, Huda felt the urge to do something more. It didn’t take her long before she decided to retell the story of Nadia from a first person narrative. Huda says this :
“I hope this book will help to raise the awareness of autism in the community; it still carries social stigma and there is a lack of understanding about it. As mentioned by Dr Mariam Aljunied in the foreword of the book, ‘with better awareness, early intervention and good understanding as well as support from people around them, children with autism are being helped to reach their full potential’.”
I enjoyed reading this book to the children and it also helped me to understand autistic children a little better since I have expressed my interest to volunteer to help at a school for autistic children near my place. The pages are illustrated very colourfully to appeal to the children and its written very simply to allow many kids to understand autism better. Apparently, there is also another book in this series called My Name is Mikhail and I have Cerebral Palsy. Interesting. Perhaps one of my next books to read to the children?
Book rating : A
It is love which makes people resilient and have hope to move forward in the face of great difficulties' - Charmaine Leung
Charmaine Leung, the author of 17A Keong Saik Road, gave us a talk during our docent training at the National Museum of Singapore. As if that wasn't enough to pique my interest, we had a walkthrough of Keong Saik Road, a one way road located in Chinatown, Singapore soon after.
Keong Saik Road is now a mecca for local eats, regional French and Italian cuisine and the coolest bars in town. It is hard to imagine that Keong Saik Road was once a prominent red light district peppered with brothels back in the 1960s.
What prompted to read this book was the fact that Charmaine is the daughter of a brothel owner. Imagine growing up in an area teeming with prostitutes and hot blooded men? Imagine the kind of sights she would have seen? Imagine her unique experiences day after day?
Well I wasn't disappointed. Charmaine certainly gave us a very personal memoir of growing up in 17A Keong Saik Road. Her novel delves deep into the colourful history of the once notorious red light district and it brings to light the stories of the marginalised forgotten women of the past.
Charmaine tells the intimate story of her mother's tough journey from a young girl put up for sale in Malaysia, being sent to serve the needs of the business entertainment house in Singapore and finally becoming the madame of a brothel. Charmaine also gives us an insight into her personal struggles with shame and identity growing up the red light district and how she came to terms with it in the end.
This is Charmaine's first novel and she took 3 years to write this book. She says ' It brings forth the message of the universality of love. Regardless of whether it is betwen mother and child, friends with similar fates or just among strangers who have come together because of similar circumstances, when and where there is love, people have the capacity to expand themselves and give their very best despite any hardship. It is love which makes people resilient and have hope to move forward in the face of great difficulties.' Well said Charmaine.
I enjoyed reading this book though I took some time. There were some touching parts regarding her father, her relationship with her mom and lots of self reflection. Her written words were like pearls of wisdom which resonated with me.
'The essence was not how much fuller life could be, but in how I embraced the life that I already had.'
Charmaine, just like I , was hit hard by the passing of our beloved founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 2015. He firmly believed in a good education which would elevate the nation which is also a core principle I believe in. Charmaine was a direct beneficiary of his vision.
Being an Indian, I was also exposed to many Chinese traditions followed by Charmaine's family in the memoir. It is a beautiful dedication to the past, memory and to the people who have gone before us. Comprising 266 pages covered in 18 chapters, I would give this book a thumbs up. It is actally a great book for Book Club discussion.
Overall rating : B+
'Wow, What a book' I whispered when I finished this novel late on Saturday night. I don't remember uttering these words for a long time. Though I like reading fiction, I'm quite picky about the type of books I read under this genre. It cannot be meaningless rambling of words. It must have a good storyline and most importantly though its fiction, the story has to be believable. That it could happen in real life.
I chanced upon this precious gem in Marine Parade Library in the east of Singapore when I had made the trip to borrow books for my bimonthly storytelling for young children. I tremendously enjoy sharing the art of storytelling to the children and would love to conduct a session weekly. But I have been given a slot only once in 2 months because of the overwhelming number of volunteer storytellers registered with the library.
I apologise for the digress. Where were we? So, I chanced upon this novel in the library and the synopsis caught my attention. Being a history buff, reading that a part of the story took place in British occupied India immediately reeled me in.
'How can I believe I have a tomorrow when today I feel so lost?' Amisha cried tears pouring down her face (page 342).
This is a touching story of a woman searching for answers, wanting to know the secrets that have been hidden by her family for generations. The description of British occupied India interwined with modern day India was also beautifully written. We learn the story of the protaganist Jaya's pioneering grandmother Amisha who lived during the British occupation in India in the 1930s and 40s. Its a heartbreaking story but it shows us that she is a resilient women. Amisha's story seemed a bit too close to home..
Ignored by her husband Deepak who is never around and when he is home, he pays attention only to the family mill and their three boys, Amisha unexpectedly falls in love with a British soldier. She is torn between her duty to her family and what her heart desires. What happens in the end to this strong fiercely-protective-of-her-family-kind-of mother and wife is really tragic and kind of broke my heart.
Jaya finds her answers through the stories of Amisha told by Amisha's faithful servant Ravi who has been hiding a secret all his life. What is his secret? Would it have made a difference to Amisha's end? Find out in the book.
This is an epic story of the unrelenting force of love, the power of healing and the invincible desire to dream. It covers 390 pages in 53 chapters. I didn't even realise that it had that many chapters. Now, I'm aching to get hold of Sejal Badani's first book Trail of Broken Wings another bestseller.
Overall rating : A+
Don't get me wrong. At my age, I'm hardly lascivious. I'm going through peri menopause, the stage just before the actual menopause takes place which is characterized by crazy hormonal changes - waking up with drenched nighties in the middle of the night, hot flushes, irregular period and of course a lower libido. So, if you thought I ventured to read this novel out of so called 'interest', you are so wrong.
I bought this book on purpose as I wanted to find out whats the big fuss was about it. It was written in 2017 by a Singaporean author Balli Kaur Jaswal. I have read about this novel and I have seen it in stores and so I thought, why not? I must confess that its not one of those books which would make you go 'wow! It can be a funny light-hearted read for a all women's book club discussion, maybe a deviation from what you would usually read. I just found out that tt was one of Reese Witherspoon's book club recommendation!
The story revolves around 20 something Nikki who lives in cosmopolitan West London. When her father's sudden death leaves the family financially strapped, she takes up a job impulsively to teach 'creative writing' to punjabi widows at the community centre. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realises that beneath their white dupattas which these Punjabi women traditionally wear, there is a wealth of imagination, fantasies and memories. Nikki teaches them to express their untold stories and these erotic stories are born. But when these stories leave the classroom, it starts a scandal which threatens them all.
The stories are titillating but not too explicit. Not for those who get easily randy. But for a Polish friend who also read this book she found it quite boring. Apparently, she has read more explicit books! Interesting....
Anyway, I would give this book a B for the comedy and storyline but maybe a C for book club worthiness.
Overall rating B-
This novel open with this proverb -
'An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break'
-An ancient Chinese proverb
Once in a blue moon, we come across an exceptional novel. A novel so worthy of its name. An Invisible Thread is one such novel. Its a true story of compassion. It reminds us about the humanity of the strangers we come across every day in our lives.
It was 1986.
A successful sales ad rep, Laura Schroff, walks by an eleven year old beggar on the streets of Manhattan. He asked her for spare change but she kept on walking. But something stopped her on her tracks. She was in the middle of the road! She went back to him.
'Stopping was never part of the plan...' she said but the boy had such sad eyes and told her he was really hungry. An instead of just giving the boy, Maurice, a quarter, Laura took him out for lunch.
They made a plan to meet every Monday and from then on, what started off as an innocent lunch turned into a life-changing unexpected friendship that spanned three decades!
As Laura tells us Maurice's story, she also relates her own father's alcoholism and abuse. It makes me as a reader realise how both Maurice and Laura needed each and eventually saved each other.
This is a book of restoring faith in each other and the very fact that maybe everything is going to be ok after all.
This novel has 19 chapters and 231 pages. There is also suggestions for book club discussions at the end. I finished the novel in 4-5 days. I simply couldn't put it down. Its written very concisely and simply and moving at some parts. No wonder it was NY Times Bestseller!
Overall rating : A+ (yes believe it not, this novel got the highest rating. Read the novel, you'll agree with me)
'It is said that one can fake a smile but never the true expression in one's eyes. And in every photo, the eyes sparkle and speak warmly of a bygone era'
Fresh out of my docent training at the Malay Heritage Centre, I was interested in all things Malay. The history of the beautiful precinct of Kampong Glam and its majestic Istana Kampong Glam which is now the Malay Heritage Centre, The glorious Sultan Mosque originally built in 1824 and restored to its present glory in 1928. But not much is known about an adjourning building in front of the main entrance of the Malay Heritage Centre - Gedung Kuning at 73 Sultan Gate. I was keen on finding out more about the history of this building and was fortunate when a fellow docent had this book to pass it on to us.
Gedung Kuning translates to Yellow Mansion in Malay. It was originally built as a home for the Prime Minister (or the Bendahara) to the Sultan, It was bought over by Haji Yusoff 'Tali Pinggang' and was their family home from 1912 to 1999. It was then acquired by the Singapore government under the Land Acquisition Act in Aug 1999. What used to house 6 families all under one roof is now preserved as a historic building under the Malay Heritage Centre.
Hidayah Amin (featured below), one of Haji Yusoff's great grand daughters revisits her childhood home. She writes about the many memories of growing up in this beautiful mansion.
This is what Hidayah had to say :
'Gedung Kuning is indeed as regal as its name and owner. It stood strong during the Japanese occupation. It witnessed the seasons of Haji Yusoff's family through four generations, births, death, graduations and weddings. It shared the joys and sadness of the family...Its mighty halls reverberated with pride to Quranic verses read during religious ceremonies. Its gate welcomed the poor who came to ask for alms. Even to the very last day when the family moved out, Gedung Kuning stood proud befitting its royal colour and stature.'
I took less than a week to read the 189 pages of her very personal account. It was well told and quite an enjoyable read. Throughout the novel, I felt the underlying sadness of the fact that its no longer her family home. Its perfectly relatable. I would have felt it too.
Overall rating : B
I picked up this book out of necessity. I was travelling to Bali in 2 days and I had just finished devouring Michelle Obama's Becoming. Though a wonderful read, I did feel she was self promoting herself and all that she and Obama had done while in office a tad too much. My personal opinion, of course.
I had no other book on standby. And I don't go on a holiday without a book. A novel to read while on holiday is to me as important as the passport itself. It is essential. Lazing around after breakfast/lunch near the pool or at the beach with a book is my favourite kind of leisure activity during any holiday.
I was in Popular Bookstore in Tampines Mall, 2 days before my trip hunting for a novel and this book caught my eye. I was more intrigued by the fact that its by the author Balli Kaur Jaswal more than the novel itself. Ms Jaswal had earlier written Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women and I thought that was rather daring to write such a controversial book for the Indian women in our traditional Indian community which frowns upon any admission of one's sexuality, no matter how advanced we are and regardless of the fact that we are living in the 21st century. India has just launched its own mission to the moon, mind you! So, why not read one of her less controversial novel for a start?
How do you determine if you would like a book? After reading the synopsis, if you are still interested, flip to the first 2-3 pages and read. Yes, just start reading. Can you continue to read without losing interest? Is the grammar, vocabulary to your knowledge and your standard of English? Do you start imagining the scene and the characters? If yes to all, you will most definitely finish the book.
I answered yes to all immediately after picking up this book. Though a paperback, I liked that its big hardback sized, so the words were not tiny and hadn't had to resort to my reading glasses. It was decent sized. I took a week to read all of its 320 pages sectioned into 24 chapters.
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is basically a story of 3 British born Punjabi sisters Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina who must honor their deceased mother's last wishes by embarking on a pilgrimage to India. Most of the story is set in India with some flashbacks of their lives in Britain when they were younger.
The prologue is from the point of view of Sita, who is dying of cancer. Sita, a widow in London, is a Punjabi immigrant from India and the mother of three adult daughters. Rajni, the oldest, is ten years older than Jazmeen and Shirina. Rajni helped raise her siblings after their father died, and she’s strict and controlling. Jazmeen is struggling as an actress and is the most rebellious sibling. Shirina married into an extremely traditional Indian family and lives in Australia. Sita’s dying wish is for her daughters to make a trip to India in hopes that the siblings will become closer.
The book talks a lot about the roles of mothers and mother-in-laws from the points of view of moms, mothers and mothers-in-law to be, and daughters and daughters-in-law. The story addresses the process of honoring the positive aspects of one’s culture, but also addresses how that culture can enable abuse. There were depictions of or discussion about abuse, sexual harassment, and femicide. While none of the characters has been raped, they address the issue as a source of fear. The book also touches on assisted suicide and religion.
It examines family ties very closely, particularly sisterhood. I have an older sister so I could relate to the characters quite well. In the end, the many issues between the sisters are resolved and they strengthen their ties with each other. They remain connected regardless of their differences.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. The scenery described in the pages alone made the experience beautiful to read. There were many descriptions of the tantalizing Indian food, the gorgeous Indian fashion sold in sleazy bazaars all over India all which would require some serious hardcore bargaining. For any non Indian reader, it would want you to visit India!
Overall rating : B+
This is what Inequality looks like - a collection of essays by Teo You Yenn.
I was first introduced to this book when I chanced upon an article in the Straits Times in Singapore months back which featured excerpts from this book. I had just started my HEN Charity in March 2018 and I wanted to read this book to understand what inequality in Singapore is like.
At first glance, one may be perplexed as to why a translucent cover accompanies this book. The top translucent cover has the words in black 'This is What Looks Like' Only when one flips this translucent cover, can one see the word 'Inequality' in grey. It dawned on me after a few seconds that the author Prof Teo You Yenn was trying to convey a message to the readers that one has to uncover to find inequality in Singapore. A well thought of ploy by the author to make us think deeper.
Poverty is indeed well hidden in Singapore. It is present but the Singapore government 'hides' them by putting up poor and homeless people in highly subsidised rental flats scattered all over Singapore. The government cannot afford to have homeless people sleeping in bus stand shelters/void decks/beaches or have beggars on the streets. It has to maintain a squeaky clean image to attract investors and tourists to our green city. I understand its concerns as a proud Singaporean. In fact, I so admire and have a huge amount of respect for Mr Lee Kuan Yew for transforming Singapore from a third world country to a first in such a short span of just 50 years.
But I wanted to find out more. If we are an economic miracle that blew critics minds and if we are a first world developed country, why do we have 20% of our citizen population suffering in poverty? Yes, I admire that the government has come up with a slew of programmes to help the needy, but why such a large percentage? What is lacking? What can be done to reduce this number? (For your info, to qualify for assistance in Singapore, one must not be earning more than $1,500 in total combined monthly household income or less than $650 per capita per household.)
This book was written by Prof Teo who works in the Sociology Department in NUS. She had spent hours in households of these low income families in Singapore, sometimes sitting on the floor to have candid conversations with a real thirst to understand their situation better. On the opening page, this caught my attention,
'When I get in the car, I am still usually thinking of the people I just met, recalling the stories they've shared. Sometimes I am sweaty from walking around for a few hours; if the topic of bedbugs had come up, I feel phantom itches on my arms and legs.'
Having had a first hand account of stepping into a low income household because of delivering food donations from donors under HEN, I could totally relate to what she was saying. And she goes on to say
'...where I can easily say to my family ,"I'm too tired to cook tonight, let's eat out"; where I can walk into any shop, museum or a restaurant and be greeted as a potential customer' (Page 18)
The people from the low income households just can't. They simply do not have the means to. Where there is a constant worry where the next meal is going to come from. What about the schoolfees, uniforms and textbooks? How can you help your children if they are not doing well in school? The fact that you can't afford to arrange for tuition for them. The fact that you avoid bringing your children to malls because of the guilt you feel because you can't buy whatever the kids are asking for. I read all these with such a heavy heart. From a yong age, these children have not been blessed.They have to make do with what their parents can afford to give them.
'Wants are often Needs' (Page 184)
Very well said, Prof Yeo. When we want the latest gadgets or the children want a pair of soccer boots, its because they need it to help them fit into their social circle. To want to feel belonged to. To feel the need for respect, love and acceptance.
'Dignity is like clean air. You do not notice its absence unless it is in short supply. ' (Page 194)
People from low income families are often treated everyday with disrespect because they are mostly employed in jobs that are in the lower rungs of the job type. The cashiers, the cleaners, the road sweepers, toilet cleaners... one doesn't make eye contact with them. They are treated as invisible.
Lastly, it features accounts or quotes from social workers themselves who work closely with the underprivileged community. These selfless saints who work to make the lives of the others better feel personally that mindsets have to change, which I agree to as well.
I absolutely loved this book even though I took so long to read it. It is a personal touching account of the everyday struggles faced by low-income families in Singapore.
Published by Ethos books and comprising 285 pages. Get it at Kinokuniya for $25. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about the invisible but who still exist low-income community in Singapore.
Overall Rating : A