Gwee Li Sui Recommends

Three Books to Read This National Day

As Part of #BuySingLit

So it’s that time of the year again when you take out your Singaporean flag to hang and belt out subliminally programmed songs! You’d think that, for three books to read this season, I would recommend something with a title like Jeremy Tiang’s It Never Rains on National Day. But am I ever Mr Predictable? Here are my unlikely bedfellows…

1. The Resident Tourist by Troy Chin

First I’m going with Troy Chin’s feverish and unending comics series The Resident Tourist! I know I’m cheating here since that’s really eight books to date. But, however you read it, wherever you start, The Resident Tourist offers a singular experience like none other. It retraces the life of Chin after he returned to Singapore from New York in 2007. What follows is an extraordinary unfolding of ordinariness as friendship, love, home, memories, music, everything, and nothing sprawl with honesty that hurts.

Troy Chin is our Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, and Joe Matt rolled into one Asian fish ball. His humour is infectious, and his art grows on you. His rhythm gets under your skin, and the pacing of his narrative is flawless. His dialogues are so unpretentiously brilliant that I always feel smarter while reading.

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2. The Short Stories and Radio Plays of S. Rajaratnam, edited by Irene Ng

Next I’m throwing in a founding father’s literary canon because I can! It is good to remind ourselves that some of our best politicians from Othman Wok to Tharman Shanmugaratnam were writers once, no matter what our parents say about writing. And that takes literature to a different place. The young S. Rajaratnam’s works take it to a whole new level since we can already see the birth of an able political mind!

Do yourself a favour and examine his six-part radio play A Nation in the Making. Here he speculates on culture and nationhood even as Malaya then was on the march to independence from Britain. OK, so this isn’t exactly about 1965, but it reads like a stunning prequel. All your future plot twists are here, and I find myself mumble too often: “Ho ho, Raja, you don’t know how right you are!” His stories are a different thing, easing you into a time and its people long lost. Get to know something about Rajaratnam other than he composed the National Pledge already!

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3. The Beating and Other Stories by Dave Chua

Finally, we should always balance all those good emotions inside with something morbid. For that, Dave Chua’s masterly fiction collection The Beating and Other Stories is like Tiger beer in the evening. Many a gloomy and lonesome hour have I turned to this book, and it cheered me to feel how there were darker, sadder, and weirder Singaporean lives. Look, the title story itself is about getting abused by a parent and being scarred for life!

Dave Chua tells cinematic stories with plain words that fill your mind. These are quintessentially local too, and not one emotion, not one character feels out of place – trust me! The book sinks me into what makes me love our bizarre country so much: the mere fact that we’re stuck together here. It’s ultimately as simple as that, and then life explodes with joy, pain, and beauty. When you’re bending the spine, remember before you put the book down to catch NDP on TV to read the piece “Fireworks”. Because guess what that’s about?

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About the Author

Gwee Li Sui is a poet, graphic artist, and a literary critic. His published works include Myth of the StoneWho Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, One Thousand and One Nights, Who Wants to Buy an Expanded Book of Poems?, The Other Merlion and Friendsand Haikuku.