Winners of 2022 SU Undergrad Essay Awards

Weekly column written for the Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here .  Singapore Unbound is pleased to announce three awards for the best undergraduate critical essays on Singapore and other literatures this year. Each winner receives USD250 and publication in our journal  SUSPECT . The awards are generously funded by Professor Koh Tai Ann (Nanyang Technological University) We're grateful to literary scholar Weihsin Gui (University of California, Riverside) for reading the submissions and making the selection. He gives his comments below, first on all the submissions and then on the individual winners.  “The essays submitted for this award are all to be commended for the depth of their textual analyses and the breadth of their engagement with various cultural and literary theories. I can envision all eight essays, after undergoing peer review and varying degrees of revision and expansion, being published in academic journals. I encourage the authors to consider doing so as the

SNOW AT 5 PM Won the Singapore Literature Prize

 A thrill to be read so enthusiastically and preceptively by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, one of the three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize English fiction category. She made her thoughts public on her FB page after the award ceremony was over. She has really good things to say too about my fellow nominees, Cyril Wong and Mallika Naguran. "The Singapore Book Council celebration of the 2022 Prize winners for various genres in different languages was yesterday (Thurday), so I no longer feel bound to discreet silence as one of the three judges for the English Fiction Award. I wrote up my enthusiasm for three of the 33 novels and short story collections mailed to me, and include them here, to share with their readers! "Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M.: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M. may be Singapore first global novel. It is multi-genre, with 107 haiku introducing many of the prose passages. Set chiefly in contemporary Manhattan, with

BOX HILL by Adam Mars-Jones

 I venture that to understand the protagonist Colin, and thus the novel, it takes one to know one, or else someone with a large empathy. As Colin explains it: "Well, Ray's charisma was real, and I wasn't the only one to feel it. But I went along with it. It's only exaggerating a little to say that I knew what I as doing when I fell over those long and insolently extended legs. I was ready. I had no real idea of what I was ready for, but still I was ready. "Even sudden things have a history behind them. Maybe it's the sudden things that have the most history. Sooner or later I was going to have to respond to excitement and danger. It was just a question of when and how I was going to do it. Sooner or later I was going to have to answer the call of the live rail." I give four stars instead of five for what James Wood in his LRB review of the book called "a little Nabokovian velvet," the slight over-deliberateness in the description and placement o


  1st review of INSPECTOR INSPECTOR, and it's a positive one. Nice to feel the reviewer Toh Wen Li's genuine enjoyment of the book, not only in the words of praise but also in the generous quotations of the poetry. Nice too to be acknowledged as "openly gay" in the Straits Times, Singapore's main broadsheet, for the first time, I think. I wish there was some mention of the political dimension of the book, but there are insightful descriptions of the different poetic sequences that focus on technique as well as content. Thanks, Toh Wen Li, for this sympathetic review. Oh yes, and thanks for mentioning my hybrid work of fiction SNOW AT 5 PM: TRANSLATIONS OF AN INSIGNIFICANT JAPANESE POET, which is shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. If you are in NYC, come hear me read from INSPECTOR INSPECTOR on Tuesday, August 9th, 6 pm, at the Bryant Park Reading Room, with three other poets. It's free and open to everyone.

John Clegg's Summer Picks 2022

Thanks, John Clegg , for selecting INSPECTOR INSPECTOR (Carcanet, Aug 2022) as one of your Summer Picks 2022, along with new books by Shane McCrae, Stella Benson, Holly Hopkins, and Don Paterson! "Here are six books I’ve either just read or am looking forward to reading this summer: Don Paterson’s best collection since 2003, Holly Hopkins’ long-awaited debut, the follow-up to Jee Leong Koh’s wonderful Steep Tea, an unclassifiable novel / memoir / load of old nonsense from 1933 (republished by the incomparable Boiler House Press), the latest collection from Shane McCrae (which I was very pleased to see nominated for a Forward Prize), and a 12th-century Arthurian romance in Burton Raffel’s lively-looking translation." Read the picks here . You can purchase the book from the London Review Bookshop or from my publisher .

Two Novels

 The Witch Doctor's Daughter , by Kathrina Mohd Daud. A richly observed coming-of-age tale set in Brunei. If the plot is quite simple and straightforward, I still like the slight twist of having the adoption of a child, and not the choice of a husband, be the trigger for maturation. It's a different take on the age-old marriage plot. Man Tiger , by Eka Kurniawan. I read a story collection by Eka Kurniawan, and enjoyed it very much, and so I was looking forward to reading this novel by him. It's very different. The supernatural element is here too, and so are the richly observed details of life in a small rural town in Indonesia. But the novel forgoes wit and invention in favor of simplicity, and it is all the more affecting for that reason. At the start, we know only that the young protagonist has killed a man, and the novel unfolds slowly to explain why. The revelations are planted smartly along the way to deepen our understanding of that horrific act. A masterly novel.

THE BLACK JACOBINS: Toussaint L'Overture and the San Domingo Revolution, by C.L.R. James

 A rousing historical narrative, impassioned, clear-sighted, and deeply knowledgeable. About the British effort at the abolition of slavery in the latter half of the 1780's: "It was the miraculous growth of San Domingo that was decisive. Pitt found that some 50 per cent of the slaves imported into the British islands were sold to the French colonies. It was the British slave-trade, therefore, which was increasing French colonial produce and putting the European market into French hands.... By 1786 Pitt, a disciple of Adam Smith, had seen the light clearly. He asked Wilberforce to undertake the campaign. Wilberforce represented the important division of Yorkshire, he had a great reputation, all the humanity, justice, stain national character, etc., etc., would sound well coming from him. Pitt was in a hurry—it was important to bring the trade to a complete stop quickly and suddenly. The French had neither the capital nor the organization to make good the deficiency at once and