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What to read in Singapore: Books out in October, 2013

Diary of an Expat in SingaporeDiary of an Expat in Singapore
Jennifer Gargiulo
Marshall Cavendish | 209 pages

Three years ago, Jennifer Gargiulo set up her own blog site, diaryofanexpatlinsingapore.blogspot.com. In January 2013, publishers Marshall Cavendish asked her flesh out some of her most popular blogs into a book – and here’s the happy result.

It’s already doing well – it topped Kinokuniya’s bestseller list in its first week! – and deserves to do so because it nails the expat experience, from cobras, caning and Chinese tuition teachers to the crushing cost of cars, casinos and Cheerios. Throw in the Korean dramas at the hair salon, the wisdom of taxi uncles and the perils of frizzy hair, and – to quote the author – you’ve got yourself a party.

Observations range from the informative or amusing to the downright hilarious; my favourites include Signs You’re an Expat Mom in Singapore and Politically Incorrect Expat Profiling.

I also loved the chapters about the Gargiulos’ two third-world kids: Life According to Eliot (their daughter, now aged 8), and Things an Expat Kid Wants to do Instead of Swimming – that would be son Alexander (12). A highlight is the photo of a five-year-old Eliot spontaneously assuming the Buddha position while pondering where to put up the Christmas tree.

Buy Diary for yourself, or as a gift for a fellow-expat friend. And watch out for my interview with Jennifer in the next issue of Expat Living.           

Verne Maree

 

A Servant of Sarawak
Peter Mooney
Monsoon | 272 pages

Malaysia-philes and history buffs will like this one. It’s a autobiographical memoir by a man who, as a newly qualified, young Irish barrister in the 1950s, “decided to forsake the stately precincts of Parliament House” in Edinburgh to take up the position of Crown Counsel in Sarawak, Borneo.

Sixty years on, and having risen to the very top of his profession in Malaysia, Peter tells his the story of his Sarawak years in a series of anecdotes as diverse as they are entertaining. They cover encounters with everything from raging tigers and head-hunters, to David Marshall (who became the first Chief Minister of Singapore) and Lee Kuan Yew (its first Prime Minister), his contemporaries in the legal fraternity.

Sometimes you have to read between the lines, but his restrained discretion of tone does the gentleman credit.

Verne Maree

 

Parting Glances – Singapore’s Evolving Spaces
Craig McTurk
Oro Editions | 209 pages

Though it will look good on your coffee table, Parting Glances is not just another pretty book on Singapore. Instead, it is a genuine attempt on the part of American filmmaker and educator Craig McTurk to engage with the soul of the nation through reflections on its built environments – in particular, six distinct neighbourhoods that are undergoing transition.

They’re all very different. Kampong Lorong Buangkok, home to a dwindling 28 families at last count, is Singapore’s “last kampong”; many of rustic Seletar Camp’s British RAF-built black-and-white homes are making way for an Aerospace Park; the kampong community on Pulau Ubin, a small island east of mainland Singapore, scrapes an existence while waiting for the development axe to fall; the 1970s-built People’s Park in Chinatown was the city’s first “modern” shopping mall and residential development; and both MacPherson and Queenstown are historic neighbourhoods that hold a special place in Singapore’s urban heritage.

Parting Glances is the culmination of five years of documentary work by Craig. His eclectic photography encompasses everything from a kampong resident tending to his caged birds, to an official sign warning of imminent demolition in Seletar, to a bleak pile of discarded household possessions in a People’s Park’s lobby area. And while it’s true that a picture paints a thousand words, explanatory text and intimate interviews with the residents of all six areas add an invaluable layer of understanding to what has clearly been a labour of love.

Supported as it is by the National Heritage Board’s Industry Incentive Programme, the text obviously had to toe the party line with regard to economic imperatives and the country’s “need for development”; but this does not necessarily detract from the value of what is otherwise a beautiful book.

Verne Maree

 

I’ve Got Your Number
Sophie Kinsella
Random House | 459 pages

Sophie Kinsella, author of the hugely successful Shopaholic series, has perfected the art of writing chick lit, and none more so than with her February 2012 novel I’ve Got Your Number. It’s a lighthearted read, in parts predictable, but immensely funny and had me laughing out loud from my sunbed.

The story follows female protagonist Poppy, engaged to the pompous Magnus and in awe of his equally pompous and intellectual family. She loses her engagement ring, and there ensues a comedic hunt, during which she ends up sharing a mobile phone with the aloof and attractive businessman Sam Roxton.

After getting over an initial irritation with Poppy’s character, a crowd pleaser who’s always doing the opposite of what you’re willing her to do, I found the hilarity of her situation took over. As Poppy’s relationship with her future in laws and fiancé slowly unravels, her relationship with Sam heats up whilst they upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages. The book is engrossing, easy to read and best of all, genuinely funny.

Amy Brook-Partridge

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