Secret Liverpool – An Unusual Guide
Coming-of-age novel set in Singapore (the plight of the domestic worker)
7th July 2018
A Yellow House by Karien Van Ditzhuijzen, coming-of-age novel set in Singapore.
Singapore: “Everything was clean and organised. Not a blade of grass was out of place. Lakes in Singapore were ponds, filled with water we had to drink and were not allowed to play in. The only thing towering above the land were the stacks and stacks of apartment blocks and high-rise condos..”
This is a story told through the eyes of 10 year old Maya, who lives with her parents and baby sister in a condo in the city. A new domestic worker – often derogatorily titled maid – appears in their lives, Merpati, or Aunty M, from Java. Maya is witness to the lives of some of the domestic workers whose lives are blighted by abuse in this glittering city – and everywhere in the world where one group of people pays a pittance to have a servant on hand. It is both a fascinating novel and shocking and sobering, that maltreatment of peoples occurs right under the noses of ordinary people. Just think of the teams of Eastern Europeans who often work at car wash outlets across the UK, how many of us have considered their circumstances! Unless you have an employer who cares and treats others with respect, then this will continue to happen.
Aunty M becomes involved in an organisation trying to address the abuse of migrant workers and some of the stories, as seen through Maya’s young eyes are truly concerning. Servants are being starved, have their hair shorn (because the ma’am of the house doesn’t want competition), beaten, and given hours of work that mean little sleep and often no time off. These are stories, REAL stories of exploitation and humiliation.
Maya herself is growing up in a family where achievement and work are of paramount importance and thus her mother struggles to find enough time to balance work and motherhood. Maya is also struggling with bullying at her international school (exacerbated by an unfortunate cockroach incident which becomes the animal by which she is defined) and thus she finds refuge amongst Aunty M’s disparate group of friends, trying to help out and advise.
The style of writing is quite compelling, a coming-of-age story that leads the reader into the twilight world of servitude and abuse in the 21st Century, in one of the most prosperous nations in the world. It is beautifully told through the eyes of a young girl whose growing awareness of inequality and injustice in the world feels raw and heart felt.
The Yellow House of the title is the dream building Merpati would like to build in her home country, when she has saved sufficient money.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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