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Book 62 Completed

October 12, 2010

This review will be short. Not the long rambling diatribes that accompany some of these books — no, just a simple, straightforward review. (Man, who am I kidding? I always end up rambling when really I should just limit myself to a paragraph.)

I’m too tired to conjure anything of substance and any brain power I do have needs to go straight into grading essays. (Although, I did finish grading one entire class today. Which sounds good until you realize that 25 essays from one class is not even 1/4 of the essays I have left to grade.) When I finish their essays (which are, surprisingly, insightful and interesting this year (and still mind-numbing; there’s no way around that) — I’m patting myself on the back for not assigning hideous “poetry analysis” papers and allowing them to really write about how their lives connect to the literatures we’re reading), I have six weeks worth of journal entries and poem packets to grade.

Some student looked at my piles of work today and said, “That’s a ridiculous amount of grading. English teachers have it rough.” Amen.

Okay. So. Foreign Bodies by Hwee Hween Tan.

My partner in this challenge — Ng Yi-Sheng over at said that the book received “ambivalent” responses from people over in Singapore.

I think ambivalent perfectly captures how I feel about this book.

I didn’t hate it — it didn’t have the recipe for a book I could hate (although, there were one too many “fart” references and/or jokes for my taste — even to the point where the author said a character made a “lip-fart” and I wanted to say, “Enough! Enough! Stop with the pre-occupation.” Maybe it’s just because I hate that word. But whatever). The book was trying a little too hard in some places — too hard to be funny, too hard to make a point, too hard to “accurately” portray the Singaporean youth culture.

In general, I think the book doesn’t know what it wants to be. The chapters are divided up by character — each person central to the plot taking time to present part of the story. The female character of Mei carries most of the plot in her chapters. (So, easily, she is the most readable.) Andy — the young lad accused of running a gambling syndicate and stuck in jail — carries the most ridiculous and boring chapters. I often felt like reading his sections was like reading a bad essay about “Why I am who I am” — complete with pages about Doom playing and bizarre play-by-plays about afternoons where nothing happens.

The style wants to be breezy and fun. The content is anything but that. We have severe issues with injustice, God, sexual abuse, and morality. And it’s a situation where the author says A LOT…but actually says very little. Some of the larger issues were a tad cliché’.

But still — the writing was easy and not offensive. The different perspectives kept things moving (ala Amy Tan, I suppose). The basic plot kept me interested — I wanted to know what happened — I didn’t lose interest in finding out if Andy is convicted or released.

In the end, I think the book has one look at modern Singapore and the people who live there…but I wouldn’t trust it as a full picture. I don’t think its intended to be — man, I hope not. But as a piece of writing, I think it’s “meh” — I’m ambivalent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 11:47 am

    Hey, I uploaded a scan of the book cover so it won’t be the only book up here that doesn’t have a cover image.


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