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Breaking the Tongue

Breaking the Tongue

Author(s): Vyvyane Loh

Location(s): Singapore

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical

Era(s): 1940s



On the eve of World War II, Claude Lim, a Chinese youth, uncertain of himself and his nationality, is being raised in a family that strongly identifies with the British colonists in Singapore. The family neither speaks nor understands Chinese and is proud of that fact. Their placid lives are disturbed by the hodgepodge of Asians, Eurasians, and British expatriates shifting in their roles and political sensibilities as the threat of invasion approaches. Prickly, pretentious Claude slowly metamorphoses into a young man with a budding Chinese identity and a wisdom wrought from the tortures and tragedies of war. His parents, Humphrey and Cynthia, cannot bring themselves to accept the changes all around them. Grandma Siok’s cultural ties offer the only practical survival skills for the family until Claude meets Ling-Li, a nurse with incredible acumen among the spies, fifth columnists, and nationalists struggling to position themselves in the social upheaval to come. Loh tells an incredibly powerful story of national upheaval, imperial decline, and a young man’s coming-of-age from the perspectives of several finely drawn characters. Vanessa Bush

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“In the tradition of Rushdie or Ondaatje, this is one of the most accomplished first novels I’ve ever seen.”-Andrea Barrett

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