Singapore, 1927. Three young people are starting to question whether this in between island can ever truly be their home. Mei Lan comes from a famous Chinese dynasty but yearns to free herself from its stifling traditions. Ten year old old Howard seethes at the indignities heaped on his fellow Eurasians by the colonial British. Raj, fresh off the boat from India, wants only to work hard and become a successful businessman. As the years pass, and the Second World War sweeps through the east, with the Japanese occupying Singapore, the three are thrown together in unexpected ways, and tested to breaking point. Richly evocative, A Different Sky paints a scintillating panorama of thirty tumultuous years in Singapore’s history through the passions and struggles of characters the reader will find hard to forget.
What I Liked
A Different Sky is fascinating. An epic spanning generations in Singapore, from the first throes of World War II to the beginnings of the movement for independence from Britain, Chand takes us through massive historical events with poise and a touching sincerity. The writing somehow manages to be both charming and raw, weaving storybook love with the terrors of war in a way that made me completely fall for the characters. I loved every one of them, and because the novel had the distant ring of a history textbook, it was easy to make myself believe that they were real. Like many Americans, I know very little about the history of Singapore, and reading this book was a wonderful way to gain perspective on not only the political developments that took place there in the 20th century, but also to grasp the diversity of the country.
What I Didn’t Like
All that being said, the book is too damn long. If it had been 150-200 pages shorter, it would have been the perfect novel. As it is, there are pages and pages of fluff and too much detail, and it made it a bear to get through. I wish that Chand had focused her writing a bit more to cut out the unnecessary pieces, because this book shouldn’t feel so…well, boring. When I said it had the faint ring of a history textbook, I didn’t necessarily mean that as a complement; only after finishing it did I have enough perspective to say I enjoyed it. During the reading itself, it felt like work.
I think this book is an excellent exploration of Singaporean history. It’s complex, vivid, a beautifully written, so I do recommend you read it. Just make sure you’ve got some perseverance and plenty of time on your hands.
About the Author
Meira Chand is of Indian-Swiss parentage and was born and educated in London at Putney High School. She studied art at St. Martin’s School of Art and later specialized in textile design at Hammersmith Art School. In 1962 she left England to settle in Japan with her Indian husband. Although she spent several years in India in the early 1970s, she afterwards returned again to live in Japan. In 1997 she moved to Singapore, where she currently lives. The themes of Meira Chand’s novels explore the search for identity and belonging.