As a book reviewer, I get excited about new books regularly but there are some books that almost take root within you, staying with you long after that last page is turned. Meira Chand’s A Different Sky is one of those rare books. Although almost 500-pages long, I had to ration the pages because I had fallen in love with this Singapore – the old Singapore of the 1930’s. Fiction they say, is the original virtual reality and and nothing I’ve read so far has been able to transport me so fully into a historical moment of Singapore’s trading post past the way this book has.

The year is 1927 and three young people from different families are living in Singapore; a meeting point for migrants, a part of Malaya under British colonial rule, a society where different cultures and social classes jostle, sometimes with discomfort. 

As a Singaporean I read the book thinking, “this is our story.This book is a portal into our past.” The trouble with reading history is that dry academic writing can suck the life out a period. The beauty of fiction and this book in particular is that it breathes life back into the period of Singapore of the 1930’s – 50’s where real people really lived, loved and lost.  The book is, in the words of its publisher “forensic in detail.” A remarkable achievement given the author Meira Chand is not Singaporean. She is of Indian-Swiss parentage, born and educated in London, she has lived much of her life in Japan. She moved to Singapore in 1997. In a conversation with President Nathan, the President urged the writer – who already had seven novels to her name, all offering insider and outsider perspectives societies, evocatively depicting their structures with detail – to choose Singapore as the setting for her next novel.

 The grace of the language, the effortless flow of the plot, the incredible authenticity of Meira’s invented Singapore, the way she unpacks what “multi-racial Singapore” means by depicting the real jostle of lives and social classes makes for an mesmerising read.  

My only consolation – having turned the last page of “A Different Sky” – is that Meira Chand has authored seven other novels. This means I can look forward to months of happy sleepless nights. Now where is my copy of ” The Gossamer Fly”?

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