We meet Ah Boon when he is just a boy in a small village. His father and uncle are fisherman and he expects his life will be the same. He is a boon to his family and the village when he can find a set of mysterious islands that are bountiful with fish. As he ages, Singapore’s future is uncertain through the Japanese invasion and the press for independence. He is often unknowingly and unwillingly thrust into the politics of the time. Following his childhood love Siok Mei and then just trying to do the best for his family and his village puts him in situations that really make you ponder and break your heart.
Even though there is a little magical realism in the beginning, I’m not sure it needed it. The history we learn here of Singapore is so engrossing and, at times, heartbreaking. I appreciated that the islands offered hope and refuge but I would have loved this story either way. It really explored identity and culture and the choices that shape our lives. The realities of colonialism are laid bare as a prosperity and culture are at odds throughout Ah Boon’s life.
Read this one if you liked Pachinko or Peach Blossom Spring. This would make a fabulous TV series.
I read this one in honor of AAPI Heritage month, are you prioritizing any reads by Asian or Pacific Islanders this month?