Yes – that Amber Road, the one in the East Coast neighbourhood of Katong. Back in the day, before the sea became land, Amber Road was right on the beach: it was home to a string of upper-class bungalows owned by some of the wealthiest families in Singapore, both Chinese (like the fictional Khoos of this novel) and British (like the Bousteads).
Amber Road is Asia Pacific’s own Gone With the Wind, though immeasurably better written. (Like Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 saga, it too would make a cracking movie.) The parallels are obvious: in the first, the American Civil War forever ends the slave-owning Southern way of life; in this, the Fall of Singapore rings the death-knell of the mighty British Empire.
In Scarlett’s place, we have the exquisite (naturally) and indomitable Victoria Khoo; in Rhett’s, the yummy (of course) and resourceful Aussie officer, Joe Spencer.
Boyd Anderson admits that he loves history and revels in extensive research, and this shows in his incredibly detailed storytelling. It helped that his wife is from this part of the world, and still has family members who survived the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942 to 1945).
In true epic style, you’re taken from sipping English tea at a garden party at the Boustead’s Angsana Lodge, to scrabbling for precious tinned fish and tapioca from an Orchard Road wet market; from Japanese officers lording it up at the Raffles Grill Room, to addicts taking opium at a Chinatown knock shop; from a gracious Peranakan terrace house in Emerald Hill, to a communist guerrilla hideout across the Straits of Johore.
So, does Scarlett-Victoria get her Rhett-Joseph this time round? It’s worth finding out for yourself. Save this big novel for a long flight or a lazy weekend away.
Random House | 598 pages