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+