Director's Note Apr–Jun 2014
While on a dreadfully long flight from Singapore to Washington D.C. recently, I decided I would finish a book instead of surfing through the channels on the in-flight entertainment system. On a whim, I had brought along a copy of Between Stations, an autobiographical journey of cities in India, China and Singapore by the poet Boey Kim Cheng.
Twenty hours (and 320 pages later), I felt completely reinvigorated by Boey’s beautifully crafted travel memoir. I felt I had somehow experienced what the erudite Italian writer Italo Calvino called Invisible Cities – cities of the mind conjured purely through powerfully evocative words that vividly create fantastical imaginings of a city.
In this issue of BiblioAsia on literature, reading and memory, Boey repeats this magical act of rebuilding a city of the past through his teenage recollections of the red-bricked National Library at Stamford Road and the musty old Bras Basah Road bookshops. Claire Tham recounts her childhood reading staples of Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse and how magically they left on her subconscious such an indelible impression of post-war England that when she eventually visited London, it was “as familiar as a recurring dream.” In Meira Chand’s recollection of her experience researching her latest novel A Different Sky, she details her struggles reconstructing the world of post-independence Singapore – a world she had not experienced herself. She discovered her voice – her 2am moment as she calls it – only when she was able to people that empty, vacant world with the memories of others, ultimately, becoming a willing repository of the lives others had lived.
We are delighted that the much-lauded English novelist Neil Gaiman gave the National Library permission to reproduce his powerful speech on libraries, reading and daydreaming. In his stirring entreaty championing for the continued existence of libraries, I was intrigued by his idea that books are a way of talking to the dead, giving us access to cultures and tales older than most of the places we know, older than some of the ancient civilisations of the world.
Closer to home, Dr Azhar Ibrahim turns the spotlight on literary pioneer Suratman Markasan and shows us how his works not only serve to critique and question current issues but also act as the social memory of the community in “Suratman Markasan: Malay Literature and Social Memory”.
In “First Words: Women Poets from Singapore”, senior librarian Gracie Lee traces the female poets who made an impact on Singapore’s literary scene from the 1950s to 70s and paved the way for newer generations of writers to come. The 1980s was a boon for Chinese children’s literature and in “1980年代儿童小说中的“新加坡儿童” Jessie Yak looks at how Singapore children were portrayed in these works. In “சிங்கப்பூர் பெண் எழுத்தாளர்கள் - ஒரு பார்வை” Sundari Balasubramaniam highlights Singapore female Tamil writers who made and are still making waves in the local Tamil literary scene. Finally, Lynn Chua highlights the gems of the Asian Children’s Literature collection in “Folk Tales from Asia”, unique handmade books that hail from countries as diverse as Japan, India and China.
I hope this issue will move you to pick up a work of literature and lose yourself in a world that only exists or exists once more in words and the imagination. Or as Gaiman quotes from Einstein, maybe we should all read a fairy tale.
Director, National Library