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+
'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