March 2021 Book Club Report: Yeng Pway Ngon’s Unrest

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March 2021 Translated Literature Book Club Meeting

On the last Saturday of March, our book club met at Wisma Atria’s Toast Box to discuss the late Singaporean writer Yeng Pway Ngon’s Chinese-language novel Unrest, translated by Jeremy Tiang.

Three of us had finished reading the English translation, and a new friend (who didn’t want to be photographed but had kindly taken a picture for us) brought along the original Chinese novel which she’d just began to read. 

We had very interesting conversations about the differences in presentation between the original and the English translation (left to right for English, right to left and top to down for Chinese). We also discussed other book translations by Jeremy Tiang that we’d enjoyed reading, as well as other English translations of Yeng’s works that we might consider reading, such as Costume, as recommended by our new friend. 

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Diving into Unrest, most of us agreed that the novel began with a brilliant opening, curiously vacillating between first and third person perspectives for all six characters and the narrator.

The first half of the novel also offered us a glimpse into the history of 1950s-1980s Malaya, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, such as the anti-colonialism protests in Singapore and the Cultural Revolution in China. For younger Singaporeans and foreigners, the socio-political historical context was interesting to know.

But we didn’t think that Yeng succeeded with the perspective-vacillating experiment, especially as there was an abrupt change in pace and tone mid-way, when the narrator suddenly began a lengthy, awkward monologue about what to do with the female protagonist. And the rest of the story grew lacklustre.

Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • What do you think of the author’s writing style?
  • Did the author succeed in connecting the major themes (sex and politics) of the novel?
  • Which historical themes drew your attention?
  • What made you uncomfortable reading the novel? (the male gaze, depiction of women’s bodies)
  • Would you read other novels by the same author?

April 2021 Book Club Selection 

There are countless translated books out there, but for the convenience of our book club members we will select only books with adequate copies in the NLB. 

For our April book club, we’ll be reading Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, translated by Annie Tucker.

If you’d like to join us, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more details about our next book club meeting!

*Harriett Press’s Translated Literature Book Club is a monthly book club that meets to exchange thoughts on a translated book selected for the month. Anyone is welcome to join us!⁠ Find out more about book club meetings by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!   

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