Reviews

Review of Priest In Geylang January 16, 2015 11:54

“In a milestone launch which may well be a highlight of the publishing year, Ethos Books brings to Singapore the English translation of the controversial Geylang Catholic Centre’s story, authored by its founder, Catholic priest Guillaume Arotçarena, now retired in his native France.
Provocatively titled Priest in Geylang, it will join the rapidly expanding library of Singaporean histories beginning to fill the shelves as we move to our fiftieth anniversary. Its launch is scheduled for the afternoon of 17 January.
Deviating from the laudatory and hagiographical accounts that tend to crowd out alternative narratives in any nation, Arotçarena, in fluent prose (and more importantly, a cheap format) tells the warmhearted, although often unnerving, story of an attempt at social justice in the form of a welfare centre deliberately situated in the heart of Geylang’s badlands, the better to minister to the downtrodden and abandoned.
Arotçarena and many of the young priests of his generation, inspired by a recircling of the Catholic Church back to the message of the Sermon on the Mount, understood their work to be as full an expression of the injunction to ‘love thy neighbour' as it might be possible to conceive. Within two decades of the Second Vatican Council, that groundbreaking moment of aggiornamento (updating) in the life of the church, Catholics and their priests were moving back into the community to engage with the material conditions of their neighbours’ lives on the assumption, as William Booth, the Salvation Army founder had said a hundred years earlier, that 'the poor cannot eat their Bible’.
Priest in Geylang, a riveting read (I finished it in a couple hours!), tells of a wonderful community of volunteers working with abused maids, battered wives, and ex-prisoners, slowly building, in terms they no doubt understood, the 'Kingdom of God’. Equally importantly, it tells of a government bewildered by, and eventually antagonistic to any attempt at social welfarism that might blunt the edge of a nation committed to rapid industrialisation, particularly in the climate of the Cold War.
Hitherto unknown, it recounts numerous encounters with the security services, hinting at the fact that Operation Spectrum, the security procedure designed to root out what the government called a Marxist Conspiracy, was not a flash-in-the-pan. But cataclysmic though it was, to my mind the principal contribution of the book is not the trauma of the Marxist Conspiracy, but the stories it tells of ordinary Singaporean women and men who rose up to the call of their citizenship to make Singapore fit for all her daughters and sons.
Arotçarena leaves the reader in no doubt of his uncompromising view that its final effect was to deeply wound and afflict the human impulse towards compassion and community. But it must be acknowledged that the jury is still out: the Singaporean reader must decide for herself what role the Marxist Conspiracy played in subsequent social development. What is clear, though, is that Priest in Geylang offers new data to encourage our contemplation. Buy it! You do not know our history if you do not know the story of the Geylang Catholic Centre.”
This review was written by a reader who wishes to stay anonymous. Let us know what you think of any of our titles and how it has impacted you on our submit page!
—
Priest in Geylang is already available in all good bookstores, as well as on our webstore. RSVP for its launch here.

“In a milestone launch which may well be a highlight of the publishing year, Ethos Books brings to Singapore the English translation of the controversial Geylang Catholic Centre’s story, authored by its founder, Catholic priest Guillaume Arotçarena, now retired in his native France.

Provocatively titled Priest in Geylang, it will join the rapidly expanding library of Singaporean histories beginning to fill the shelves as we move to our fiftieth anniversary. Its launch is scheduled for the afternoon of 17 January.

Deviating from the laudatory and hagiographical accounts that tend to crowd out alternative narratives in any nation, Arotçarena, in fluent prose (and more importantly, a cheap format) tells the warmhearted, although often unnerving, story of an attempt at social justice in the form of a welfare centre deliberately situated in the heart of Geylang’s badlands, the better to minister to the downtrodden and abandoned.

Arotçarena and many of the young priests of his generation, inspired by a recircling of the Catholic Church back to the message of the Sermon on the Mount, understood their work to be as full an expression of the injunction to ‘love thy neighbour' as it might be possible to conceive. Within two decades of the Second Vatican Council, that groundbreaking moment of aggiornamento (updating) in the life of the church, Catholics and their priests were moving back into the community to engage with the material conditions of their neighbours’ lives on the assumption, as William Booth, the Salvation Army founder had said a hundred years earlier, that 'the poor cannot eat their Bible’.

Priest in Geylang, a riveting read (I finished it in a couple hours!), tells of a wonderful community of volunteers working with abused maids, battered wives, and ex-prisoners, slowly building, in terms they no doubt understood, the 'Kingdom of God’. Equally importantly, it tells of a government bewildered by, and eventually antagonistic to any attempt at social welfarism that might blunt the edge of a nation committed to rapid industrialisation, particularly in the climate of the Cold War.

Hitherto unknown, it recounts numerous encounters with the security services, hinting at the fact that Operation Spectrum, the security procedure designed to root out what the government called a Marxist Conspiracy, was not a flash-in-the-pan. But cataclysmic though it was, to my mind the principal contribution of the book is not the trauma of the Marxist Conspiracy, but the stories it tells of ordinary Singaporean women and men who rose up to the call of their citizenship to make Singapore fit for all her daughters and sons.

Arotçarena leaves the reader in no doubt of his uncompromising view that its final effect was to deeply wound and afflict the human impulse towards compassion and community. But it must be acknowledged that the jury is still out: the Singaporean reader must decide for herself what role the Marxist Conspiracy played in subsequent social development. What is clear, though, is that Priest in Geylang offers new data to encourage our contemplation. Buy it! You do not know our history if you do not know the story of the Geylang Catholic Centre.”

This review was written by a reader who wishes to stay anonymous. Let us know what you think of any of our titles and how it has impacted you!

Priest in Geylang is already available in all good bookstores, as well as on our webstore


Review of The Inlet December 26, 2014 12:09

Christmas Staff Picks: The Inlet by Claire Thamrecommended by Benedicta
__
Claire Tham’s voice juggles multiple perspectives in this Singapore Literature Prize nominated piece of fiction. The Inlet is home to a plethora of characters, including Ling, a Chinese national. Having given up her life as a lab technician, she moves to Singapore and makes a living as a hostess, and settles in her new identity with all its glitz and glamour (or lack thereof).
Perhaps what will draw audiences the most are the scenes that accompany the strong characters; gaudy offices of stereotypically flashy Chinese businessmen to whitewashed houses with their own marinas are beautifully described. And despite its diversity, one thing remains constant: the gritty, Wong Kar Wai-esque quality of Claire’s settings. Who knew Singapore could look so full of character?
Benedicta Foo is an intern at Ethos Books. When she’s not buried in the pages of a book, she obsesses over finding the perfect bowl of ramen, doubts its existence, sings in the shower, works towards becoming the female Ron Swanson, and tries not to rhyme. She writes to keep herself (in)sane.
__


Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: The Inlet by Claire Tham

recommended by Benedicta

__

Claire Tham’s voice juggles multiple perspectives in this Singapore Literature Prize nominated piece of fiction. The Inlet is home to a plethora of characters, including Ling, a Chinese national. Having given up her life as a lab technician, she moves to Singapore and makes a living as a hostess, and settles in her new identity with all its glitz and glamour (or lack thereof).

Perhaps what will draw audiences the most are the scenes that accompany the strong characters; gaudy offices of stereotypically flashy Chinese businessmen to whitewashed houses with their own marinas are beautifully described. And despite its diversity, one thing remains constant: the gritty, Wong Kar Wai-esque quality of Claire’s settings. Who knew Singapore could look so full of character?

Benedicta Foo is an intern at Ethos Books. When she’s not buried in the pages of a book, she obsesses over finding the perfect bowl of ramen, doubts its existence, sings in the shower, works towards becoming the female Ron Swanson, and tries not to rhyme. She writes to keep herself (in)sane.

__


Review of The Proper Care of Foxes December 23, 2014 17:03

Christmas Staff Picks: The Proper Care of Foxes by Wena Poon
recommended by Kah Gay
—
When a storyteller spins not one but multiple yarns involving characters and places as variously colourful as their names, readers know better than to expect a cookie-cutter tour. Tale after tale, Wena Poon makes it a point of honour to bring together the seemingly unconnected: garage sale items become polished gems featured in classified ads (“Reuse, Recycle”, the opening story); Regina the pragmatic Hongkonger meets Siegfried, a hedonist with a taste for Italian opera…
Oddly, I found myself at home in the helter-skelter world of The Proper Care of Foxes. Because the fantastical combinations engineered by Wena Poon are grounded in storytelling as sound as it is inventive, and informed by an understanding true to our cosmopolitan present.
Kah Gay has been variously described as a horse, a ladybug, an energiser bunny, a wolf, a German Shepherd, and a unicorn. Deep within, he identifies himself (sometimes) with the common spud, and aspires towards editorial excellence in the shadow of Max Perkins and Diana Athill.
—
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until Boxing Day!

Christmas Staff Picks: The Proper Care of Foxes by Wena Poon

recommended by Kah Gay

When a storyteller spins not one but multiple yarns involving characters and places as variously colourful as their names, readers know better than to expect a cookie-cutter tour. Tale after tale, Wena Poon makes it a point of honour to bring together the seemingly unconnected: garage sale items become polished gems featured in classified ads (“Reuse, Recycle”, the opening story); Regina the pragmatic Hongkonger meets Siegfried, a hedonist with a taste for Italian opera…

Oddly, I found myself at home in the helter-skelter world of The Proper Care of Foxes. Because the fantastical combinations engineered by Wena Poon are grounded in storytelling as sound as it is inventive, and informed by an understanding true to our cosmopolitan present.

Kah Gay has been variously described as a horse, a ladybug, an energiser bunny, a wolf, a German Shepherd, and a unicorn. Deep within, he identifies himself (sometimes) with the common spud, and aspires towards editorial excellence in the shadow of Max Perkins and Diana Athill.


Review of The Island of Silence December 22, 2014 17:20

Christmas Staff Picks: Island of Silence by Su Wei-Chen, translated by Jeremy Tiang
recommended by Suning
—
Chen-mian, a young Taiwanese woman with a troubled background, is dissatisfied with the reality of her life. Also obsessed with islands, she finds them safer and more contained than larger pieces of land. She thus travels to Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore, trying to find a secure hiding place. Trailing in her subconscious is her idealised fantasy existence—‘the other Chen-mian’—whose life increasingly intertwines with that of Chen-mian herself.
A winner of the China Times Million Yuan Literacy Prize for the Novel (Jury Prize, 1994), Island of Silence delves into the individual’s complex of loneliness and alienation. I reckon this to be one of the lesser genres of work that we publish, so it was a doubly refreshing and arresting read for me. (Yes, I like Murakami. Good Murakami.) The connection between physical and metaphysical space on an individual’s psyche made me question myself as an islander and my own isolated sense of the world. Deeply thought-provoking and resonating.
P.S. The Afterword by Su Wei-chen at the end is a delightful bonus: an insight into her personal sentiments penning this novel.
Suning is living in a dream working at Ethos Books. She tries to tend to her soul regularly and is a work in progress. Her obsession is coffee. Flat white or with peng.
—
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: Island of Silence by Su Wei-Chen, translated by Jeremy Tiang

recommended by Suning

Chen-mian, a young Taiwanese woman with a troubled background, is dissatisfied with the reality of her life. Also obsessed with islands, she finds them safer and more contained than larger pieces of land. She thus travels to Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore, trying to find a secure hiding place. Trailing in her subconscious is her idealised fantasy existence—‘the other Chen-mian’—whose life increasingly intertwines with that of Chen-mian herself.

A winner of the China Times Million Yuan Literacy Prize for the Novel (Jury Prize, 1994), Island of Silence delves into the individual’s complex of loneliness and alienation. I reckon this to be one of the lesser genres of work that we publish, so it was a doubly refreshing and arresting read for me. (Yes, I like Murakami. Good Murakami.) The connection between physical and metaphysical space on an individual’s psyche made me question myself as an islander and my own isolated sense of the world. Deeply thought-provoking and resonating.

P.S. The Afterword by Su Wei-chen at the end is a delightful bonus: an insight into her personal sentiments penning this novel.

Suning is living in a dream working at Ethos Books. She tries to tend to her soul regularly and is a work in progress. Her obsession is coffee. Flat white or with peng.


Review of Ordinary Stories in an Ordinary World December 21, 2014 00:01

Christmas Staff Picks: Ordinary Stories in an Ordinary World by Aqilah Teo
recommended by Brian
—
There is no other author like Aqilah Teo. Feisty, witty and forward-looking in equal measure, it was a ride with countless unexpected twists and turns. The book’s cover and synopsis told me what it is about, but the writer had made it new, refreshing, and hopeful despite the grim stare of the subject matter.
Ordinary Stories in an Extraordinary World is an account about an autistic boy, written by his sister. Such a title had betrayed none of its contents, as its content is anything but ordinary. Expect action and adventure without gunfights and crooks; expect drama without bathtubs of tears and blood; expect your world to be turned upside down—you’ll never look at anything in Singapore the same way again.
A quintessential real-life modern fairy tale even if Aqilah wrote otherwise—it is down-to-earth, weighty and dark—yet the silver lining is ever brighter.
Born to a military man and an artist, Brian Lee has always lived in multiple worlds and in between. Realising in the middle of Biomedical Science studies that he had always loved to read and write, he made a jump from a world of Eukaryotes and Krebs Cycles to a world of words and metaphors. Since then, he has been collecting skills like badges—from logistics to long distance running to business and filmmaking. 
—
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: Ordinary Stories in an Ordinary World by Aqilah Teo

recommended by Brian

There is no other author like Aqilah Teo. Feisty, witty and forward-looking in equal measure, it was a ride with countless unexpected twists and turns. The book’s cover and synopsis told me what it is about, but the writer had made it new, refreshing, and hopeful despite the grim stare of the subject matter.

Ordinary Stories in an Extraordinary World is an account about an autistic boy, written by his sister. Such a title had betrayed none of its contents, as its content is anything but ordinary. Expect action and adventure without gunfights and crooks; expect drama without bathtubs of tears and blood; expect your world to be turned upside down—you’ll never look at anything in Singapore the same way again.

A quintessential real-life modern fairy tale even if Aqilah wrote otherwise—it is down-to-earth, weighty and dark—yet the silver lining is ever brighter.

Born to a military man and an artist, Brian Lee has always lived in multiple worlds and in between. Realising in the middle of Biomedical Science studies that he had always loved to read and write, he made a jump from a world of Eukaryotes and Krebs Cycles to a world of words and metaphors. Since then, he has been collecting skills like badges—from logistics to long distance running to business and filmmaking. 


Review of The Beating and Other Stories December 19, 2014 14:13

Christmas Staff Picks: The Beating and Other Stories by Dave Chua
recommended by Diana
—-
One of the most painful crises of modernity is isolation. It makes you feel helpless and small in the face of larger systems—disconnected. Stories and writers that lay bare this sadness have always appealed to me. Kafka is a favourite of mine because of this (though he does so with humour). And though “The Singaporean knows alienation in a deeply intimate sense,” as written by Gwee Li Sui in the foreword, to speak of it seems like sacrilege. For this reason, I felt that this was an important attempt to touch on this subject; done with cinematic beauty.
Dave Chua’s familiar world is full of the lonely, forgotten and the vanished. There is always an unspoken yearning for authentic human connection, but a resignation at its impossibility. But still, compassion and empathy is possible—from the reader, who after all, lives in the very reality he describes.
Diana is an undergraduate studying English Literature. She has three cats. Her favourite writers are Jeanette Winterson, Aldous Huxley and Franz Kafka. When she’s not reading, she likes to write things, review books, and take pictures. You can find her visual work at Verkur.com
—-
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: The Beating and Other Stories by Dave Chua

recommended by Diana

—-

One of the most painful crises of modernity is isolation. It makes you feel helpless and small in the face of larger systems—disconnected. Stories and writers that lay bare this sadness have always appealed to me. Kafka is a favourite of mine because of this (though he does so with humour). And though “The Singaporean knows alienation in a deeply intimate sense,” as written by Gwee Li Sui in the foreword, to speak of it seems like sacrilege. For this reason, I felt that this was an important attempt to touch on this subject; done with cinematic beauty.

Dave Chua’s familiar world is full of the lonely, forgotten and the vanished. There is always an unspoken yearning for authentic human connection, but a resignation at its impossibility. But still, compassion and empathy is possible—from the reader, who after all, lives in the very reality he describes.

Diana is an undergraduate studying English Literature. She has three cats. Her favourite writers are Jeanette Winterson, Aldous Huxley and Franz Kafka. When she’s not reading, she likes to write things, review books, and take pictures. You can find her visual work at Verkur.com

—-


Review of The Invisible Force: Singapore Gurkhas December 18, 2014 12:00

Christmas Staff Picks: The Invisible Force: Singapore Gurkhas by Chong Zi Liang and Zakaria Zainal
recommended by Adeleena
—
The Gurkhas have been serving in Singapore for more than 65 years, yet so little is known about them other than their reputation of bravery and unwavering loyalty. My personal encounters with Gurkhas have mostly been limited to seeing them on their daily runs around the Mount Vernon camp, so my encounter with The Invisible Force has been enlightening, and at times disconcerting. 
One of the issues facing the Singapore Gurkha community (which I was unaware about until reading this book) is the fact that even after spending more than half their lives protecting Singapore’s most important people and institutions, the Gurkhas and their families have to leave once they retire from the force. The Gurkhas are not allowed to seek alternative employment and their children cannot continue their education in Singapore. Born and raised here, many face a major culture shock upon returning to Nepal. Other challenges faced by the Gurkhas surface in this book: an essential read to learn more about a community that has contributed significantly to Singapore, and yet remains so “invisible” to most Singaporeans.
Adeleena stumbled into the local publishing scene by pure accident six years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. She enjoys spazzing out to re-runs of Game of Thrones and hopes that she’ll get a chance to adopt a dog, cat, and hamster one day soon!
—
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: The Invisible Force: Singapore Gurkhas by Chong Zi Liang and Zakaria Zainal

recommended by Adeleena

The Gurkhas have been serving in Singapore for more than 65 years, yet so little is known about them other than their reputation of bravery and unwavering loyalty. My personal encounters with Gurkhas have mostly been limited to seeing them on their daily runs around the Mount Vernon camp, so my encounter with The Invisible Force has been enlightening, and at times disconcerting. 

One of the issues facing the Singapore Gurkha community (which I was unaware about until reading this book) is the fact that even after spending more than half their lives protecting Singapore’s most important people and institutions, the Gurkhas and their families have to leave once they retire from the force. The Gurkhas are not allowed to seek alternative employment and their children cannot continue their education in Singapore. Born and raised here, many face a major culture shock upon returning to Nepal. Other challenges faced by the Gurkhas surface in this book: an essential read to learn more about a community that has contributed significantly to Singapore, and yet remains so “invisible” to most Singaporeans.

Adeleena stumbled into the local publishing scene by pure accident six years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. She enjoys spazzing out to re-runs of Game of Thrones and hopes that she’ll get a chance to adopt a dog, cat, and hamster one day soon!


Review of The Sound of SCH December 16, 2014 10:17

Christmas Staff Picks: The Sound of SCH by Danielle Lim 
recommended by Chan Wai Han
—
The Sound of SCH is the true story of a journey with mental illness, beautifully told by the author from a time when she grew up witnessing her uncle’s untold struggle with a crippling mental and social disease, and her mother’s difficult role as caregiver.
Unflinching in its raw and honest portrayal of living with schizophrenia, it is a moving account of human resiliency and sacrifice in the face of brokenness. Danielle’s writing spoke to me especially, as I have been a bipolar patient for 40 years, going through the highs and lows of that mental condition with my family lovingly by my side. I have also walked the path of the caregiver to people with various types of mental illness. As an advocate for openness and greater resources for helping mentally ill patients, this book can only add to others’ understanding and concern for this oft-hidden need.
Wai Han, a Jane-of-all-trades, loves to inflict listeners with Cantonese opera tunes. She is a happy grandma to two little ones, but has no hope of passing on to them her interest in writing Cantonese classical poems.
—
Download our holiday gift guide here. All eight titles in the guide are at 20% off, exclusively at our webstore only until the 26th of December!

Christmas Staff Picks: The Sound of SCH by Danielle Lim 

recommended by Chan Wai Han

The Sound of SCH is the true story of a journey with mental illness, beautifully told by the author from a time when she grew up witnessing her uncle’s untold struggle with a crippling mental and social disease, and her mother’s difficult role as caregiver.

Unflinching in its raw and honest portrayal of living with schizophrenia, it is a moving account of human resiliency and sacrifice in the face of brokenness. Danielle’s writing spoke to me especially, as I have been a bipolar patient for 40 years, going through the highs and lows of that mental condition with my family lovingly by my side. I have also walked the path of the caregiver to people with various types of mental illness. As an advocate for openness and greater resources for helping mentally ill patients, this book can only add to others’ understanding and concern for this oft-hidden need.

Wai Han, a Jane-of-all-trades, loves to inflict listeners with Cantonese opera tunes. She is a happy grandma to two little ones, but has no hope of passing on to them her interest in writing Cantonese classical poems.


price