State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang

State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang

“Something heavy was settling onto her, an unpleasant awareness that the world was aslant and she was at the higher end. What could she do?”


In his debut novel State of Emergency, Jeremy Tiang offers a slice of Singapore’s history that is less discussed by people. This historical fiction delves into the tempestuous time of leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia. The novel also shortlisted for the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction prize. In 2018, Tiang won the prestigious Singapore Literature Prize for English fiction for this novel. I read this book on Scribd and it has other brilliant books from Epigram, too.

The novel comprises six parts and each narrated by six characters telling loosely connected stories through their own experiences and in different time frame. Jason’s wife, Siew Li, left him with two children to fight for freedom in the jungle of Malaya. His sister died in MacDonald House bombing during the Konfrontasi. After losing the people he love in the political turmoil, Jason shut down. The children grew up knowing nothing about their mother. Siew Li recruited a Malaysian youth whose father was massacred during the Emergency to join the Communist. Stella, Jason’s niece, was accused of conspiracy for Marxist conspirator and sent to detention without trial. Henry, Jason and Siew Li’s son returned to Singapore after living in London for many years and discovered about his family’s chronicle.

From the early years before Singapore gaining independence to present days, the book tells a devastating story of an extended family members tangled in the political turmoils. Differences in political opinion (or sometimes being indifferent) divide people but the fundamentals of being human also solace them. As told from multiple point of views, the writer imparts with a perfect blend of brilliant narratives. Precise and sharp in some parts with abrupt pace. When necessary, pensive and lyrical proses are used craftily.

Massive appreciation for the writer on his exhaustive research and competent storytelling. It is such an enthralling read on some invisible parts of the history. Impressive portrayal of women characters in this book. Strong and committed women as well as meek but powerful one are the foundations of this story. Men, too, are portrayed diversely. With the concoction of insightful information and unforgettable characters, Tiang takes his readers to the road less traveled by others and it certainly makes a huge difference.


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