New storytellers mine Singapore’s contradictions

New storytellers mine Singapore’s contradictions

Are Singaporean stories primed for a pop cultural breakthrough?

The question has been buzzing in my brain lately, fuelled not just by nationalistic pride but by a dose of real world pop culture smoke signals.

First, there is Singapore film-maker Anthony Chen bagging the coveted Camera d'Or prize for his film, Ilo Ilo. The bittersweet tale of a Singapore middleclass family struggling to get along during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s opened in cinemas here recently.

There is also the string of Singaporean writers whose works have been picked up by American publishers.

Sandi Tan's supernatural epic The Black Isle led the charge last year: It was a pick-of-the-week for trade publication Publishers Weekly, which proclaimed it an "ambitious debut" with "mesmerising power". The paperback is now out in the shops.

Then there is Singapore-born, New York-based Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians - about the excesses of the fabulously wealthy in Singapore - which seems to have seized the imagination of American critics. Janet Maslin of The New York Times, succumbing to its guilty pleasures, declared that the author "keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable". The movie rights have been snapped up by production company Color Force, which is behind the film adaptation of The Hunger Games (2012).

I am now curious to see how the international reading crowd will take to Ovidia Yu's Aunty Lee's Delights: A Singaporean Mystery which will be released by HarperCollins today. Publishers Weekly has already compared the book to Alexander McCall Smith's wildly popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and Kirkus Reviews praised its "buoyant prose" and "colourful cast".

Having followed developments in both the literary and film scenes in Singapore, I have been intrigued by how Ilo Ilo, The Black Isle and Crazy Rich Asians signal new milestones in the development of Singapore storytelling.

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