Since 2011, when I reviewed Tan Tarn How’s Six Plays, I’ve made it a point to review a Singaporean literary text for each Jul issue of the Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore (QLRS).
This year, I’ve reviewed Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore (Edited by Amanda Lee-Koe and Ng Yi-Sheng).
I forgot to mention this on Facebook, but special thanks to Jessie Koh for helping me bring the text up to Korea when I was there from April to May 2013.
I like having some lead time to read and digest the text/stories so that the review can ferment on its own and more or less write itself by the time I begin writing.
Bending laws, reclaiming lore
Writers (re)narrate traditional tales for a contemporary audience
Literary writing in Singapore has entered a renaissance; a Reformation, in terms of both the amount of literary work and the type of writing produced. The last half a decade or so has seen a marked increase in the number of Singaporean writers publishing and performing their literary works. Within these works, a further trend can also be observed – the subversion, reclamation, revision or redirection of narratives (traditional or otherwise) in Singapore writing, evident in works such as Jean Tay’s Boom (2008), in which the modern Singaporean narrative of economic progress and prosperity is given a careful rethink, through to Ann Ang’s Bang My Car (2012), a novella that challenges form by mixing multiple writing genres and using Singlish in place of Standard Singapore English.
These counter-narratives are indicative of the post-postmodern Singapore zeitgeist: a desire to reclaim narratives as an act of remembrance of a Singaporean past that is constantly being demolished and, at the same time, to wrest power away from the ones who traditionally tell the narratives by retelling the same narratives in different ways. It is in this context that Eastern Heathens: An Anthology of Subverted Asian Folklore is situated, inhabiting an equally important space in this segment of Singapore literature that focuses on revising or unearthing narratives for a contemporary Singaporean audience and beyond.