Goodbye Bloody Mary by Papillon* is a story about a Burmese migrant worker in Singapore and his encounter with a Singaporean girl named Mary. The brief version of this story had been featured in his previous book. This newly expanded book talks about the lives some of us have never encountered before. Intertwined in the various episodes of his attempts to survive in a foreign land, his love story with Mary is told affectingly.
Set in the mid 90’s (or late 90’s?), the narrator recounts his arrival as a legal worker to work in a shipyard. Soon after the arrival, his employers are irritated with him as he is pretty intellectual amongst other workers and his righteous attitude. After a few conflicts with the employers, he has to make a run as his safety is getting threaten. From that, his escapades as an illegal foreign worker are unfolded. He tried random jobs and through his work, he met Mary and they fall in love after some time. At first, he dares not to believe as they are from different social circle.
For being venturous and capable at various tasks, he thrives at work and life seems to give him better turn of events, too. However, the dark shadow of his life as an illegal worker haunts him. So he plans to go back to his country and then re-enter into Singapore legally. Whilst he’s trying to make amends, he gets arrested. He manages to make a brief phone call to Mary before he goes to prison but only to utter a wail of goodbye.
Although Mary is the titled character of the story, what impacts me the most is the lives foreign workers. The author takes me to the inner circles of these people and highlights their cries and laughters, fears and hopes, infringement at workplace and disappearance of fellow workers, help and support given to each other regardless of race, religion and nationality. A glimpse of prison life is shared, too. From the beginning to the end, what I truly enjoyed reading is the maturation of the narrator and how he is dedicated towards his pursuit of a better life while facing the obstacles.
That doesn’t necessarily mean their love story isn’t harrowing to read. The constant uneasiness towards feeling inferior in the relationship and the uncertainty of their future together are told in evocative tone. Similar to his previous books the author seems to know how to tug at readers’ heartstrings with his simple yet compelling narrative. The storytelling is conversational and punchy but I find it a tad verbose in some parts. Overall, it’s an absorbing read.
I received this book as a gift from the author and this is my honest review. After reading a few of his books, I guess they can be put under autoficiton genre? They might not be the absolute truth, but they could be his truth as he lived and experienced them.
*The author’s pseudonym is the reverse-romanization of Henri Charrière’s nickname ‘Papillon’ in Burmese.
Here, I’ve added the back cover of the book to share with some non-Burmese readers who are familiar with Singapore. By the look of the mall’s name, I bet some of you might be able to guess its whereabout and the MRT station next to it.