My choice for Singapore is The River’s Song, by Suchen Christine Lim. I bought a kindle copy from Amazon.com for around $5.
It follows the life of Ping, the daughter of a single-mother Pipa songstress, as she navigates life in Singapore- from the harsh, overcrowded, sparse life of the poor, to the even more simple, but perhaps more beautiful life in the slums by the river, to the clean, neat, ‘easy’ but somewhat cold and regimented life of the rich, and then the lonely but opportunity filled life as an expat. We see her trials and her joys in each experience. The negative aspects of the situations and people tend to be dwelt on more by Ping, perhaps as we also tend to do, and she was truly wronged. But then she finds herself confronted by the inexorable change that the passage of time has wrought- both in the city and in her family. The past is relegated to the past- something that you can remember fondly, that contributed to you who you are, but doesn’t have to define your everyday any more.
I wonder when I look back on my life, what things will still be important, and what things will be considered interesting to the people of the future who haven’t lived through this time. I found it interesting to have a glimpse into the culture of the river people, who were swept away by development and the need to ‘clean up the river’- as an outsider I would probably have been on the side of the developers- the slums had extremely poor living conditions, and the waste from them polluted the river, but in this book you hear the point of view of the people who lived there- and would have preferred to continue as they had been for generations. Ping’s life takes her to America, and it is again interesting to feel the change, and the difference between the phases in her life.
I think the great thing about this book is its scope- it takes you from young child, to older adult, from poverty to rich to overseas and back again, all through the eyes of a Singaporean girl.