Monday, October 10, 2011
Does This Book Make You Uncomfortable?
'Lions in Winter' is made up of eleven short stories by Weena Poon. Focused on Chinese Singaporeans, it tells of stories of people in Singapore and Singaporeans overseas in namely America and England, the turbulent emotions, mindsets of an era in the 1980s, the societal norms and expectations of young people then, why some leave and others return.
Many of the themes are relevant today, still. Is it that much of a surprise? Perhaps not. Living in a small city makes people complacent, fall into a cycle of sheltered comfort and sometimes, snobbery. It also makes people hungry, restless, and often, inciting a feeling of adventure, to leave for a couple of years to live elsewhere, and in the future, perhaps come home, or sink roots elsewhere for the next half of their lives. It's too scary how often I've been hearing this phrase from strangers, acquaintances and friends- "I feel like a stranger in my own country" or "I don't feel like I belong". What does it take to foster belonging? If majority feels this way, then what's inherently off/wrong/missing? Are we the cause of our dissatisfaction? Or are we stuck somewhere between the grid in Maslow's hierarchy of needs?
It's excellent writing made up of astute observations gleaned from perhaps the author's own experiences or from her sources. It's why I dislike the book, but will still recommend it to the friends. While it tells stories of Chinese (Singapore) cultural norms, behavior and values, it's also symptomatic of our society, generally. It makes me cringe to know that every behavior I abhor comes together in a book, and by the time I flipped the last page, it has the power to leave a sour aftertaste and incite a special anger that's always kept carefully repressed till humans raise these controversial issues inappropriately.
The stories would have been inspired by the writer's association with them, and unfortunately, these people are real and nasty. It makes me uncomfortable to read about horrible stories in a familiar context about chauvinistic men, greedy brides, long-suffering husbands, calculative relatives, strait-laced Chinese families and their gay son, having to shop for 'cheaper bags' for others who forgot about the sales tax etc. Every single stereotype of all that you hate about that horrible kaypoh relative appears in the stories. We aren't perfect. The stories also highlights our flaws, and in that, I feel guilt too. Told you it sounds familiar.
An excerpt from the ending of the story that titled the book, about Freddie who's studying in Manhanttan:- "It was very strange indeed for me to come back to such a place, after the hurly-burly of New York City. It was like climbing into an old closet that you had hidden in as a child, and feeling the familiar corners. Like Goldilocks, we pronounce this world too small, but the next world, perhaps, is too big. I could never get used to spending the Lunar New Year in snowstorms, to the luxury of red packets in Amercian dollars. And yet I could not fit in to the Singapore of Francesca, of Chong and his marina club membership, and Mrs Ong with her heartbreaking sadness in her Tweety Bird T-shirt. I wondered if Jimmy would ever return, and I wondered about my own plans after I graduated. Why do we constantly turn our prows to distant shares? When do we know when to leave, and when to return? Could we really, really bear to leave those we knew behind, even if we no longer loved them?"