cover image The Great Reclamation

The Great Reclamation

Rachel Heng. Riverhead, $28 (464p) ISBN 978-0-593-42011-9

Heng (Suicide Club) charts the course of Singapore’s independence through the story of a child who makes a fateful discovery. In 1941, seven-year-old Lee Ah Boon finds a cluster of islands hitherto unknown to the fishing village he lives in. Over the difficult years of Japanese occupation during WWII and the postwar period of self-governance under British rule, the mysterious islands prove to be an abundant source of fish. Then, local government officials, colloquially known as the Gah Men, propose a land reclamation project to build new housing. The landfill that results threatens the islands and the livelihood of the villagers, and it presents Boon with a difficult decision as a young man—should he defend his old life as a fisherman or fall in with the anticommunist Gah Men in the march toward progress? Heng wrings a great deal of emotion from Boon’s experiences and relationships, notably a childhood friend who becomes a leftist and resists the Gah Men, and articulates the individual sacrifices and the inevitable divides that arise in nation building, skillfully capturing the inner psyche of a Singaporean everyman caught between two immovable worlds. This epic undertaking is not to be missed. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (Mar.)