A Different Sky by Meira Chand

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A Different Sky by Meira Chand

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Based in 1920s Singapore we see the beginnings of transition of the country and follow these changes over the next three decades. And alongside this, we delve into the lives of three very different individuals who currently live in Singapore and call it 'home' - for the time being.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 488 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099546245

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We meet the first of the three main characters - Chinese Mei Lan on a trip with her devoted minder-nursemaid into town. The sights and smells intrigue the young girl as they are a far cry from her comfortable home and its surroundings. Rather than appreciating all that space and the beautiful objects in the family home, Mei Lan feels lonely (she's an only child) and even hemmed in. But perhaps she'll change as she grows up.

The other two main characters are young males: Howard who is of mixed blood (Eurasian) and poor but hard-working Raj, originally from India. All three are thrown together initially by a seemingly innocent trolley ride in downtown Singapore - but events suddenly turn vicious and nasty. This chance encounter sees all three meet up again later in life.

In order to understand the actions and choices that these three characters make, particularly as they grow into young adults in society, Chand gives her readers plenty of information and background on each of them. For example, we find out that Howard lives with his mother and sister in a large, but ramshackle building. His mother runs a boarding house and young, single, men seem to be the main boarders. His mother tries to make their stay comfortable. I got the impression that Rose (the mother) feels just a little awkward and even a little inferior in their company. She's dealing with well-educated men with rather posh, London accents. She's painfully aware that Howard, owing to his birth, will never have the opportunities that these young men seem to take for granted but nevertheless she hopes that he'll make the best of his life. We're told why there is no longer any father figure, at great length. At times I felt a little bogged down by Chand's relentless detail.

Chand's style is to pack each page tight with narrative. It starts off like this and doesn't let up for a second. In fact, after I'd finished the novel, I felt as if there were three books in one here. Each of the three central characters is put under Chand's microscope throughout the time period of the book and it seems as if every little detail gets a mention. Even when it's not particularly relevant. At times I felt as if I were being pelted with detail and I wanted to run for cover to catch my breath.

Various incidents and episodes in each of these three characters' lives makes them stop, think and even question the status quo. Howard has a nasty and unsettling incident in a public toilet where his colour is not appreciated by other users. You are not allowed in here, you dark-skinned rascal. If you were older I'd call the police. Scary words for a young boy.

I suppose you could call it a coincidence too far but Howard and his small family unit share the same classy and expensive residential neighbourhood as Mei Lan and her extended family, servants, maids etc. Inevitably their paths cross (they are of a similar age) but, as they are from different cultures and different countries, the family of Mei Lan is firmly against any further contact. But they do meet up time and time again.

Chand gives us mental pictures of the dreadful poverty of Singapore which the locals had to endure day in and day out. As the book takes in the second world war, there's also quite a bit of war violence and bloodshed too. But the unrelenting tone of misery is a bit depressing, I have to say. This is not a book I would choose to re-read.

This is a rather dense, multi-layered book with stacks of narrative. If you like your reading with an eastern flavour then this book may suit.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn.

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Buy A Different Sky by Meira Chand at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Different Sky by Meira Chand at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Different Sky by Meira Chand at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Different Sky by Meira Chand at Amazon.com.


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