Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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Nothing symbolized the internal decay of the British Empire more than the fall of its crown jewel in the East, Singapore, "the impregnable fortress," to a relatively small force of Japanese in 1942. Loh's first novel uses the recent revelation that the British air force was betrayed to the Japanese by a British officer, Patrick Heenan, to spin a complex tale that exemplifies Sun Tzu's saying, "all warfare is based on deception." Most of Loh's story circles out from and loops back to a central sequence: the graphic torture of Claude Lim by Japanese interrogators. Claude's pain triggers a visionary experience, in which he is able to "see" the recent actions of the rest of the characters. Claude's father, Humphrey, a senior bank official, is such a confirmed Anglophile he doesn't even teach his boy Chinese; while his mother, Cynthia, takes assimilation to the extent of having affairs with white men. These include Jack Winchester, a recent arrival, who represents a new English consciousness: vaguely guilty about Britain's past history of racism, but acting with the unconscious superiority that arises from that history. Claude is volunteered-by his father-to serve as Jack's guide to Singapore; in this way, they become "friends." Meanwhile, Han Ling-li, a nurse, has been hired as a secret agent to supply the British with information about Japanese strategy. Ling-li, a nationalist, opposes the British, but prefers them to the Japanese. Unfortunately, her opposite number, British officer Patrick Heenan, is more successful spying for Japan. The convergence of Jack, Claude and Ling-li as the city implodes during the siege initiates Claude's reconciliation with his ethnic past. Loh's prose is sometimes clich?d-Claude's torturer sounds like a movie villain: "But we have ways, you know, of breaking down barriers and extracting information." Despite such lapses, this is a solid and moving accomplishment. (Mar.) Forecast: Booksellers can recommend this debut to fans of Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire or Michael Ondaatje. Strong reviews could lead to brisk sales, primed by a seven-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this first novel from physician Loh, Singapore succumbs to the Japanese during World War II. Lots of publicity. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This extraordinary first novel centers on the intricate tale of Claude, a member of a Chinese family raised to spurn his heritage and position himself to embrace the customs and mores of the British ruling Singapore. The novel is grand in scope, covering such highly charged topics as mythology, race, class, family duty, loyalty, torture, and war. The cast of characters is equally grand, with a large troupe coming from all over the globe. Loh interjects distinct voices in the form of Englishman Jack Winchester; Claude's mother, who has a penchant for English gentlemen; and the wise grandmother whose wisdom and experience is not always acknowledged. At novel's end, Claude finally embraces his heritage. Using Singapore's fall to Japan in World War II as its backdrop, this masterly novel is not only bold and challenging but also beautifully written. The reader will be left breathless by the ending. A definite plus for public libraries where weighty historical or literary fiction does well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/03.]-Christopher J. Korenowsky, Columbus Metropolitan Lib. Syst. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

On the eve of World War II, Claude Lim, a Chinese youth, uncertain of himself and his nationality, is being raised in a family that strongly identifies with the British colonists in Singapore. The family neither speaks nor understands Chinese and is proud of that fact. Their placid lives are disturbed by the hodgepodge of Asians, Eurasians, and British expatriates shifting in their roles and political sensibilities as the threat of invasion approaches. Prickly, pretentious Claude slowly metamorphoses into a young man with a budding Chinese identity and a wisdom wrought from the tortures and tragedies of war. His parents, Humphrey and Cynthia, cannot bring themselves to accept the changes all around them. Grandma Siok's cultural ties offer the only practical survival skills for the family until Claude meets Ling-Li, a nurse with incredible acumen among the spies, fifth columnists, and nationalists struggling to position themselves in the social upheaval to come. Loh tells an incredibly powerful story of national upheaval, imperial decline, and a young man's coming-of-age from the perspectives of several finely drawn characters. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2004 Booklist