7 Books By Singapore Authors We Recommend For A Good Holiday Read
The Orchid Folios By Mok Zining
“To repot an orchid, first loosen the roots’ hold on the soil.” In her debut, Singaporean writer Mok Zining untangles the orchid from the symbolism it is so heavily entwined with.
“Initially, I was drawn to orchid diplomacy and the way it was used in national narratives,” says Mok, 25, referring to Singapore’s tradition of naming new orchid hybrids after foreign dignitaries.
“But later, it was just the strangeness of orchids themselves, how wonderfully adaptable and diverse they are. Some of them look like animals; some of them look like bugs. I like orchids that look like birds.”
Like the flowers that are its subject, The Orchid Folios is a hybrid – part poetry collection, part documentary novella. It is narrated in part by a fictional florist mourning her late mother, who taught her everything she knew about orchids.
Interwoven with the narrative are snippets of verse, essay questions on colonialism and even advertisements for orchid-inspired products, all of which question the ways in which Singapore’s national narrative was trimmed and arranged into what it is today.
“A word is a cutting,” Mok writes, “a sentence a bouquet.” Cuttings, strewn in water, absorb new meanings through fresh context.
Mok, a dancer, is pursuing a master of fine arts at the University of Minnesota but had to return to Singapore in mid-March due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States.
She has worked on the collection on and off since 2016. Though deceptively slender, it is heavily researched. She travelled to London to visit Kew Gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society.
She also looked at orchid cuttings more than a century old in the notebook of Botanic Gardens director Henry Ridley, who first registered the hybrid Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower, in 1893.
The hybrid was thought for years to have been discovered by Singapore botanist Agnes Joaquim. It was only in this century that she was finally recognised as having not stumbled upon but created the Vanda Miss Joaquim, making her the first woman in the world to hybridise an orchid.
Mok has no floristry experience herself, although after her book was published, a reader who is a gardener gifted her a phalaenopsis hybrid.
She is working on another book about sand and how it is used in reclamation and construction. “I am drawn to objects that already have a lot of symbolism,” she says, “but what I’m really looking for is the stuff that’s left out, that I can work with without repeating a certain dominant narrative.”
With The Orchid Folios, she began by deconstructing the orchid as a symbol, but felt this to be unproductive towards the end. “I was stuck in this framework of orchids as a natural thing, orchids as a commercialised thing, orchids as a national symbol. I had to radically change that.
“Instead of deconstruction, the focus is more on growth and possibility. The florist goes from arrangements to actually growing an orchid.”
Ethos Books/ Paperback/ 144 pages/ $20.33/ Available here
Robert Yeo At Eighty: A Celebration edited by Ismail S. Talib
This volume pays tribute to Yeo, the veteran poet, novelist and playwright who turned 80 earlier this year. Yeo wrote local classics such as 1974 play Are You There, Singapore? and 1986 novel The Adventures Of Holden Heng and has received accolades like the South-east Asia Write Award.
Collected in these pages are not only critical essays on Yeo’s work but also poems inspired by him, penned by the likes of Gwee Li Sui, Cyril Wong and Leong Liew Geok, and well-wishes from Singapore’s literati.
Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 224 pages/ $20.22/ Available here
And Softly Go The Crossings by Danielle Lim
Lim, who co-won the Singapore Literature Prize for English non-fiction in 2016 for her memoir The Sound Of Sch, examines change and healing through the characters of her short stories, from a man caring for his dying father to a retrenched middle-aged worker who reinvents himself as a taxi driver, then a music teacher.
Penguin Random House South-east Asia/ Paperback/ 209 pages/ $24.50/ Available here
Penguin Random House South-east Asia
GE2020: Fair Or Foul? by Bertha Henson
University lecturer Henson, a former journalist recaps the recent Singapore General Election, held on July 10 this year amid the Covid-19 outbreak, and analyses and evaluates in a series of essays how the election unfolded and the intricacies of the electoral system.
Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 224 pages/ $30.92/ Available here
Letter To My Daughter edited by Theresa Tan & Letter To My Son edited by Felix Cheong
This pair of books collect letters from parents to their children, whether about rites of passage, inherited wisdom or confessions.
Marshall Cavendish/ Paperback/ 214 pages/ $23.25 before GST/ Times and Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop
The Best Asian Short Stories 2020 edited by Zafar Anjum
This annual anthology, the fourth in its series, collects stories from around Asia, including ones by Singapore-based authors such as Darryl Whetter, Jon Gresham and Golden Point Award-winner Karen Kwek.
Kitaab International/ Paperback/ 249 pages/ $26.75/ Available here