Today, I would like to talk about two absolutely wonderful novels based on Indian Diaspora settled in Singapore – two novels written simply, yet evoke such empathetic response within their readers.
If you have been looking to give Indian Fiction a try; I would definitely recommend picking up these beauties’ – they would definitely have you hooked right from the start ❤
Harbeer is a tormented man. His wife has left him and, even though she is lost, pays him secret visits. His younger son, Narain, is dismissed from the army under suspicion of homosexuality, so Harbeer sends him off to study in an American college. Desparately trying to adjust in an alien and often hostile environment, Narain battles homesickness, determined to fit right in. However, he is called home to care for his wild and reckless younger sister, the conservative Gurdev, married, with three daughters, tries to adapt to changing Singapore. Then, one night, Amrit disappears, only to return a different person. Balli Kaur Jaswal’s award-winning first novel is a tender yet powerful depiction of mental illness.
Set in Singapore, spanning two decades, it is also a poignant, unsparing portrait of a family struggling to preserve tradition in the face of an ever-changing nation.
Another reflective and questioning book by the author – what does one actually inherit from the legacy of one’s family? Would you want to have a choice, would you choose to have the bad with the good?
These are only the surface of the many inquisitions that the author manages to get the reader to ask themselves while reading the book. But the major question that remains at the forefront of the reader’s mind is – how the protagonist’s (your) life would be different, if she (you) had, had a supportive & empathetic member in her (your) family to help, listen and guide you?
Our protagonist is part of a dysfunctional family – with a long gone mother, a strict authoritarian father as well as one absent brother and another an overbearing one – and no one to talk to – she doesn’t take long to deviate from the path set for her, partly due to her early academic success.
But instead of helping her, all her family does is, become all the more oppressive and imposing – fearing the reprisals from the society; they do all they can to stifle her, instead of trying to help her in all the ways they can.
However, this is only part of the story – the readers also find out that the overbearing brother and the absent brothers have their own struggles while their authoritative father is grappling with his own issues.
Again, the author provides a judgement free writing style, giving the readers a wholistic view of a family grappling with their own insecurities, anxieties and deviance in a society that will never be able open to accepting what they consider “abnormal”.
A definite recommendation to those who would love to read from Indian authors, but sometimes find the books too tedious to get through.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Shortlisted for the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2017 Singapore Book Award for Fiction
Finalist for the 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize
Ten year-old Parveen Kaur (Pin) knows she must not become like her mother Jini, but doesn’t know why. She tries to figure out her mother’s moods through her cooking even as she fights other battles – being a bursary student in an elite Christian school, facing hateful racial taunts from Bus Uncle and classmates like Abigail Goh. When her meddlesome Nani ji Kulwant moves in, installing portraits of Sikh gurus whose features seem to change with the atmosphere of the house, she brings with her a new set of rules. And old secrets begin to tumble out.
A powerful coming-of-age story about women, sexism, racism, food and memory, Balli Jaur Jaswal’s life-affirming second novel is hard to forget.
Sugar bread is my introduction to Ms. Jaiswal’s writing-and I have to be honest; with the first book, she has cemented herself as one of the few Indian authors I would blindly buy.
Sugar bread, is a novel about the Sikh diaspora living in Singapore and the story is told in the naïve and innocent voice of a young girl; Pin – torn between the modern world she is growing up in and the traditional values of a family in a society far removed from her family’s country; yet who still cling tightly to their idea of the perfect culture traditions/society; especially by Pin’s grandmother-whose arrival in her home not only disrupts her home life but also her mother’s behaviour drastically.
It is judgement free style of writing of the author gives the readers a chance of going into the plot without being influenced by the author’s opinion and views – being able to empathize; not just with the protagonist; but also the people she loves and cares about and a society she found herself living in, but mostly found exasperated by.
Sugar bread is Pin’s journey of understanding her mother-the reasons behind her mother’s transformation from a strong, decisive independent woman, to a meek submissive woman who tends to bow down in front of the aceberic comments and taunts of her own very religious and traditional mother.
This beautiful book explores multitude of issues including racial discrimination, patriarchy, sexual abuse and caste is m even in a society that is supposed to have been a new, modern beginning eons away from the country they left behind.