Author:
• Thursday, February 01st, 2018

Following the meeting with The Book Club ladies of the United Nations Women’s Guild in Geneva on Friday, 26th January 2018, the author, Selina Siak Chin Yoke, kindly offered to answer questions about her book: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, which we reviewed and discussed.

Here are the questions we asked and Selina Siak Chin Yoke’s answers:

Q.
Some of the ladies found the story relatable and were reminded of troubled times in their respective countries. We wondered about the reason why you chose to frame the narrative and themes of the novel in an early 20th Century setting. We also asked ourselves if you thought these issues as relevant in a contemporary context thinking of Amin Maalouf’s book: Murderous Identities.
A.
When I started, I wanted to tell the story that was familiar to me, inspired by my great-grandmother’s life. It so happened that big events in her life took place around the turn of the 20th century, which coincided with a period of huge change everywhere. Malaya felt those dramatic changes. And a backdrop of drama is always useful in fiction!
I think the themes in The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds are very relevant to our lives today, and many readers whom I’ve met at book clubs or who’ve reviewed the book have said this.
They can relate to the issues in the relationships they have with their own mothers and their children; the friendships the protagonist has; even the struggles Chye Hoon feels between clinging to tradition and moving forward with the times. And they find themselves asking some of the questions she asks. That was what I found while writing the book. People across cultures and time are more similar than we think.

Q.
In a general sense, concerning the dichotomy of tradition vs modernity, do you agree with Chye Hoon’s view, or are you closer in spirit to her eldest son’s outlook?
A.
I’m personally in between the two. I also believe that the way we view tradition versus modernity evolves with age. Or perhaps that’s just me! I was more gung-ho previously about embracing all things new, now I tend to be more sceptical.

Q.
A major theme of your book is the overcoming of a patriarchal society and the growth of entrepreneurial spirit in women. Did you set out to write a feminist novel or did these ideas emerge organically?
A.
As someone who feels unequivocally about female empowerment, I choose to create strong female characters. This doesn’t mean that the women in my stories will always be larger than life, the way Chye Hoon is. But they will have the sort of inner strength that’s often overlooked in this world. And they will sometimes do ‘unacceptable’ things!

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