• Friday, April 26th, 2019

Selina Siak Chin Yoke was born into a Malayan-Chinese family in Singapore, which at the time was part of Malaya, becoming Malaysia in 1963. In 1979 Selina was sent to study at a boarding school in Kent, England with some of her school friends. She later studied physics at Southampton University, obtaining a PhD scholarship.

With her degrees in hand she worked for the Atlas Research Fellowship at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, followed by investment banking at Goldman Sachs in London. After her brain cancer, she changed to quantitative trading before dedicating herself full-time to writing. Selina Siak Chin Yoke presently lives in London, England.

Having undergone two major operations – brain cancer in 2009 followed by breast cancer, Selina felt apathetic for a while until she remembered an old dream about writing a story, vaguely influenced by the life of her Nyonya great-grandmother, Chua Paik Choo, to whose memory “The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds” is dedicated. A book that helped Selina Siak to re-discover her roots, she says.

Following the success of her first novel, published in 2016, Selina Siak published her second book “When The Future Comes So Soon” in 2017. It is assigned to her maternal grandmother, Chang Kim Eng, “whose experiences served as the inspiration for this story” Selina says.

“When The Future Comes Too Soon” is a new addition to the Malayan series but can be read as an independent, self-sufficient novel. It follows the middle-class Wong family during three and a half years of the second world war and the Japanese occupation of Malaya, through the life of Mei Foong, Weng Yu’s wife and Chye Hoon’s first daughter-in-law.

The matriarch, Chye Hoon, dies on the eve of the second world war, leaving her family to fend for themselves. Mei Foong is five months pregnant with her fifth child when the British colonisers flee Malaya followed by the Japanese invasion of the country. She struggles to feed her family and make ends meet due to galloping inflation and scarcity during this bleak period of the second world war.

The main character, Mei Foong, is a Malayan-Chinese woman who narrates the story from her viewpoint. She is a strong, intelligent, resilient woman who, due to circumstances, discovers her inner strength. She can take challenges and undergo hardship to survive and keep her family together.

She is a likeable person – illustrated on the book’s front cover – a determined look on her face, despite the Japanese warplanes in the background, as opposed to her husband, an unlikeable, unsympathetic, selfish character. He is cruel to his wife, making it easy for her to be attracted to Chew Hock San, who shows her more attention, appreciation and sympathy.

Mei Foong, although raised in an upper-middle-class family, is resourceful when things get tough, hence her resentment for her aggrieved and faint-hearted husband, Weng Yu, and her loss of all esteem for him. Weng Yu cannot accept the situation his country is confronting and refuses to accept the challenge he finds himself facing overnight after leading a carefree life. He spends his time listening to classical music and gambling, leaving his wife to fend for herself and her family on her own.

In her first novel: “The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds” the author describes an enchanting journey of myths as well as long-established traditions that have continued for many generations in this part of the world. It is a culture where grandmothers tell their grandchildren bewitching tales of genies and fearsome warriors with magic swords. One of the main themes is the emphasis on the importance of protecting one’s own cultural identity and traditions from fading away through time in a changing world.

The book also depicts the vibrant, colourful food as an integral part of the story and is one of its essential themes: the frying of garlic, the toasting of dried shrimp paste mixed with chopped chillies producing “a pungent aroma in the air” and the making of different kinds of pickles and the varieties of Malayan kueh (cakes).

In her second novel: “When The Future Comes Too Soon”, Selina Siak uses a faster pace compared to her first book. This is owing to the seriousness of the subject (world war two) she is tackling, i.e. the harshness and brutality of humans towards each other during wars and invasions and in particular, the savage behaviour the Japanese inflicted on the Malayans – abandoned by their British ruler – bringing pain and misery on harmless, defenceless people.

Other themes in the novel are love, loyalty, betrayal and regrets as well as the difficulty for some marriages to survive under rough conditions and unexpected afflictions.

Selina Siak said: “In writing historical fiction, historical accuracy is vital to me”. Therefore, the author had to undertake thorough research. “She cross-checked facts and used a mix of sources: archives, libraries, the Internet, anecdotes from interviews and subject experts. she also reflects the world as it was in her stories”.

“When The Future Comes So Soon” is a compelling, skilfully written book with a great deal of intense feeling. It is about being taken by surprise when the future arrives faster than expected, creating confusion and devastation by upsetting the daily routine once lived in peace.

The characters are vividly portrayed; thus we commiserate with their misfortune, suffering and endeavours to survive the brutal Japanese occupation, each one in her or his own way.

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Category: Book Reviews
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