cover image A Different Sky

A Different Sky

Meira Chand. Vintage, $13.95 trade paper (488p) ISBN 978-0-099-54624-5

Chand (A Far Horizon) proves herself a master of the modern Asian epic in this tale of Singapore citizens whose lives intersect from 1927 to 1956 as the island strains under British colonial rule, suffers through Japanese occupation, and struggles to turn its racially mixed, socially divided, politically turbulent society into a viable independent state. The novel begins with the Kreta Ayer riot, witnessed from a trolley by, among others, Howard Burns, a young, grumpy Eurasian boy; a well-off and pampered Chinese girl, Mei Lan; and a hardworking, kindhearted Indian immigrant, Raj Sherma. Protected from the mounting turmoil, Howard and Mei Lin grow up and grow together, hoping to dismantle the social barriers between them, but WWII forces them apart. Howard takes uneasy refuge with Communist guerrillas, a kinder fate than befalls Mei Lan, who is captured and brutalized by the Japanese. Readers are immersed in Howard’s ordeal as well as that of his mother, whose house has been commandeered by the Japanese, and his sister, a nurse whose English husband is marched off to a POW camp. As Mei Lan is tortured, her once wealthy Chinese family must make a difficult adjustment in order to survive the Japanese occupation. And Raj enjoys successes in business as his sister’s marriage to his close friend seems destined to fail. After the war, Howard’s, Mei Lan’s, and Raj’s paths converge again as they deal with new difficulties and old injustices. Chand endows her characters with humanity and complexity, making them representative without being stereotypes. She avoids clichés by grounding her characters and their histories in solid research, and offers a credible, compelling panorama of the tragedy and resilience, culture and individuality, political evolution, dissolution, and renaissance of 20th-century Singapore. (Nov.)