Meira Chand: A DifferentSky



Side the box creative thinking and decision making that I felt the country would need to move forward I often reminded myself though that it was a fairly new country and was as successful today as it was because of the straight and narrow path it was forging Ms Chand though has introduced me to the S This is the kind of historical fiction that educates effortlessly Set in Singapore spanning 1927 through 1946 this novel was a uniue read for me in that it covered an era I love in a setting wholly unfamiliar to me Chand s characters aren t royalty or society elite but every day people caught up in a changing landscape real historical moments meet the every day Chand s focus in this novel is on three primary groups in Singapore the Eurasians Howard Burns his mother and his sister local citizens of indigenous and European descent viewed by the white Europeans as only a step above natives the transplanted Indians Raj Sherma who migrated to Singapore for economic independence and ends up embroiled with the Japanese by a twist of fate and the Chinese Mei Lan a smart young woman whose family straddles modern European ideas and traditional Chinese culture and is caught herself between accepting her family s wishes and starting off on her ownIn almost any novel the lives of women interest me most so I was unsurprised to find that Mei Lan s story grabbed me immediately However Chand s detailed plotting character development and nuanced study of race class and education sucked me and I ended up caring deeply for both Raj and Howard as well Even though I think the acket blurb tries to imply a love triangle this isn t ust a historical romance set up in an exotic locale This is really a novel about Singapore and the occupation of the land first by the British and then by the Japanese Identity and alliance is intrinsic to the story Howard s mother Rose perceives the European disdain for Eurasions to be right and appropriate while Howard chafes at the implication Raj struggles to rectify his experiences with the Japanese every one he s met has mentored and educated him with the virulent anti Japanese sentiment in Singapore Both Howard and Raj are captivated by Gandhi s anti colonial revolutionary actions in India but are split as to whether Singapore should take up the movement Mei Lan is desirous of the university education her brother is given but feels committed to her Chinese identity especially when news of Japanese brutalities in China reach SingaporeLike Nevil Shute s A Town Like Alice this book covers the before during and after of occupation and I appreciated Chand s ability to offer the spectrum of emotional responses My only complaint is that despite the novel s length 483 pages some moments felt thin and underdeveloped Enormous events are skipped over casually alluded to and years pass with only a vague comment The dips in and out of the lives of the secondary characters was both enjoyable and maddening I loved the additional facets through which the story was told but I was frustrated by the lack of development and resolution with them as they were as compelling as the leadsThis was my first Meira Chand novel but I m absolutely going to look for the rest of her books this was a meaty engrossing sink your teeth into historical novel that will stay with me I m haunted by the characters and I wish I could follow them another twenty years. Ngapore the three are thrown together in unexpected ways and tested to breaking pointRichly evocative A Different Sky paints a scintillating panorama of thirty tumultuous years in Singapore's history through the passions and struggles of characters the reader will find it hard to forget.

Shifting landscapes regroupigs realignments and new beginnings Singapore was now a place of strikes mass meetings and general unrest stirred up by communist activists and socialist minded nationalists Assassinations were commonplace as was the sight of rioting school children proficient in mayhem as much as in study While a work of fiction Chand draws on important historical figures of Singapore such as its first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Japanese diplomat Mamoru Shinozaki credited as the Japanese Schindler for saving many Chinese and Eurasians during the Japanese occupation of Singapore Singapore s first Chief Minister David Marshall etc Chand succeeds in bringing to life these crucial events in Singapore s history Perhaps if I had read this book in secondary school I might have appreciated Singapore s history Chand weaves in plenty of well researched details about life in Singapore during those various times perhaps the most interesting of which were the ethnic divides Europeans vs everyone else You can t trust the Asiatics most of the Malays are illiterate and except for a minority of Straits Chinese who have been educated in English medium schools none of that lot can speak our language and neither do the Indians by and large We depend upon the Eurasians to manage everything for us They re a dependable lot The Eurasians in particular have a tenuous place in Singapore society a people of shadows Rose s family for instance is described as such Her ancestors carried the names of disparate European cultures Pereira Martens Rodrigues de Souza O Patrick Thomas McIntyre van der Ven Washed upon the shores of Malaya these men married local women and their children then intermarried again and again until a hybrid people was formed Yet for all it s lush sweaty historical details it is hard to really sink into this book Perhaps its too many characters and the way they are put together to showcase different aspects of Singapore s history and its diversity put me off a little It felt a bit too heavy handed Still it makes a great introduction to Singapore its history and its people I read this book because it gave a history of Singapore pre during and post WW2 so I learnt that it was a fractious place of riots resentment of Colonial rule and communist uprising It was interesting to me because my grandparents and great grandparents would have been there during this time my grandmother was evacuated from Singapore before the Japanese attacked and two of my great uncles were prisoners of war So in that respect it was interesting but I m afraid to say I found the story slow moving and hard going The relationships between all the characters kept it going for me but the horrors they had to endure were awful and felt unrelenting It was an endurance to get through the book Not to say all stories have to be happy happy oy but the emphasis on politics violence and tragedy made it a bit of a chore to finish A beautifully written haunting yet hopeful romantic but tragic story of a Singapore that existed not so long ago but is so very different from the Singapore of today Modern day Singapore is a pristine organized law abiding society the people I met while I resided on the island did not uestion did not riot accepted the status uo It was much rigid than what I was used to and I often found myself frustrated with the lack of entrepreneurial think out. R old Howard seethes at the indignities heaped on his fellow Eurasians by the colonial British; Raj fresh off the boat from India wants only to work hard and become a successful businessman As the years pass and the Second World War sweeps through the east with the Japanese occupying Si.

Meira Chand takes the readers through a Neimhaim (Neimhaim, journey of Singapore through the lives of three characters Raj Mei Lan and Howard The year is 1927 and the story moves from one riot filled scene to another tracing the history of Singapore s turbulent past Chand s descriptions are stark and gory The streets and scenes of Singapore described in the book bear no resemblance to the law abiding and peaceful city of today Being a resident of Singapore the story meant to me thanust the story of few fictitious characters Chand managed to weave the story in such a way that the past continued to lurk through the streets that I walk This book is a must read for those who want to understand the Singapore of today The races don t mix here you see Chinese keep to themselves in Chinatown as do the Malays in Geylang the Indians in Serangoon Road the Eurasians in their Eurasian pockets and we of course being the ruling race can t afford to hobnob with any of them Live apart work apart socialize apart That old adage familiarity breeds contempt is true than we know Oh Singapore land of my birth and residence for most of my 30 odd years of life So I suppose I should know you well But really my Singapore is one from the 1980s onward and having lived here in the US for a few years now perhaps I don t know Singapore as it is today any It is after all a country that changes so much in such a short span of time Buildings get pulled down and replaced roads appear out of nowhere Shops and restaurants pop up and fade away so uickly I m likely to get lost the next time I visitBut one thing I do know vaguely that is is Singapore s short history as we were made to learn it in secondary school although in a dull bored out of the eyeballs kind of way So it was with a little trepidation that I picked up A Different Sky from the library for Indian Swiss writer Meira Chand takes us through 1927 Singapore and the unrest stirred up by the communists through to the horrors of WWII and the subseuent Japanese Occupation of Singapore then to liberation and the promise of independenceWe first meet our three main characters on a trolley in Kreta Ayer which has been stopped by communist demonstrating during the second anniversary of Sun Yat Sen s death Young Howard is with his anxious mum Rose little Mei Lan is on an outing with her amah Ah Siew and Raj is heading back to the cloth shop in Serangoon Road where he worksTheir lives are so different and Chand makes full use of her disparate characters to illustrate the broadness of Singapore society Mei Lan born into an elite Chinese family whose fortunes have now fallen Howard a Eurasian furious at the way his people are treated by the colonial British Indian born Raj an enterprising youth interested in working hard and making his fortune Their lives intertwine in these tumultuous years of change although early on the different races tend to keep to their own kindHere I have to interrupt and add that Singapore was founded by the British in 1819 and became a major trade city attracting many settlers from Malaya and the rest of Asia especially China and India During World War II Singapore was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945 After the war Singapore reverted to British control with increasing levels of self government being granted It eventually became an independent republic in 1965 Howard found he had returned to a place of. Singapore a trading post where different lives ostle and mix It is 1927 and three young people are starting to uestion whether this inbetween island can ever truly be their home Mei Lan comes from a famous Chinese dynasty but yearns to free herself from its stifling traditions; ten yea.

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Meira Chand is of Indian Swiss parentage and was born and educated in London at Putney High School She studied art at St Martin’s School of Art and later specialised in textile design at Hammersmith Art School In 1962 she left England to settle in Japan with her Indian husband Although she spent several years in India in the early 1970s she afterwards returned again to live in Japan In 1997