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October 2016

In Those Days and These: Multilingual Singapore

Image: Genevieve Chua, After the Flood #9, 2010. 50.8x76.2 cm hand-colored photograph. Courtesy of the artist.

The official languages of Singapore—Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, and English—reflect the country’s major ethnic groups as well as its colonial history. While Singapore’s governments may have been in frequent flux, its multilingual literature remains a consistent source of information about this pluralistic society, as writers look to earlier eras to explore how the past informs the present. Sa’eda Buang’s starstruck girl lives in a Bollywood fantasy while abuse and deception rage around her. Latha’s elderly woman mourns her lifelong friend and the lost Indian immigrant community of their childhood. Giant of Malay literature Masuri S.N. traces the impact of Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1974 on Malay writing of both countries. KTM Iqbal addresses audiences familiar and new to prove that throughout time and change, poetry remains constant. Wong Koi Tet’s childless man, desperate for an heir, resorts to superstition to jack up his potency, and Yeng Pway Ngon’s aging opera lover struggles to recapture lyrics and memories of a thwarted star tenor. And in another look at the social costs of economic policy, playwright Kuo Pao Kun exposes the personal wreckage left in the wake of the state’s aggressive pursuit of international financial status in the 1960s. We thank Dan Feng Tan and William Phuan for guest editing, and the Select Centre and the National Arts Council of Singapore for their support. Elsewhere, our feature goes seasonal with three ghost stories from Johary Ravaloson, Takako Arai, and Aziz BineBine. 

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