The sound of F-16 fighter jets and choppers roaring in the distance are becoming a more frequent occurrence these days, reminding us that Singapore’s 52nd National Day is less than a month away. As we ponder what it means to be Singaporean, our thoughts turn to an area which is much neglected by even the locals: homegrown fiction. Whether you’re lining up reading material for the rest of the year or just interested in checking out local literature, sit back, grab one of these titles, and perhaps you’ll discover a side of Singapore you’ve never known about.


You might also be interested in: Secondhand Bookstores in Singapore and Stylish Souvenirs from Singapore.

 The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Sonny Liew
singapore fiction books

Two years after making news when its publishing grant was withdrawn by the National Arts Council for controversial and sensitive content, Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye has gone on to make the bestseller lists on both Amazon and the New York Times, as well as winning numerous awards (Singapore Literature Prize, Singapore Book Awards). The intricate (and at times unsettling) graphic novel tells the life and work of the fictional Chan Hock Chye, a pioneering but largely forgotten comic artist whose work reflects the changing political and economic environment from pre-independence Singapore through five decades and three Prime Ministers.

Get it from Epigram Books.

The Ministry of Moral Panic

Amanda Lee Koe
singapore fiction books

For a debut collection, Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry of Moral Panic is refreshing, evocative, and entrancing, so no surprises it won a spot on the longest of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and a place on The Business time’ Top 10 English Singapore Books. Her heartfelt characters, who have been compared to those out of a Murakami novel, include an ageing Yé-yé Pop singer with heart problems, two conservative middle-aged women holding hands in the Galápagos Islands, and even the famous Maria Hertogh, who lives out her days as a chambermaid in Lake Tahoe following the 1950 racial riots.

Get it from Epigram Books.

It Never Rains on National Day

Jeremy Tiang
singapore fiction books

Many Singaporeans would realise that It Never Rains on National Day, a fact that evidently hasn’t escaped Jeremy Tiang’s thoughts too. In his first short story collection, the New York-based writer tells the of a foreign worker who gets decapitated in a HDB building site accident, a Singaporean wife who negotiates Beijing on her own as her British husband waits for a heart transplant, and how Singaporeans across the world (included those exiled from our little red dot) mark National Day in their own ways. In well-measured prose that’s elegant and confident, it’s hardly surprising that the book was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize last year.

Get it from Epigram Books.

If We Dream Too Long

Goh Poh Seng
singapore fiction books

Written and self-published by the late Goh Poh Seng in 1968, If We Dream Too Long can be considered the first true Singaporean novel, and has been used as a required text in many literature courses both locally and in the region. Through light prose and the author’s extraordinary wisdom, it explores the hero Kwang Meng, as he navigates the dilemmas and challenges of his youthful aspirations while adhering to the demands of society and family. You too can follow young Kwang Meng as he takes refuge in dreams of faraway exotic places and ‘merges’ himself with the sea, all in a search to find his way.

Get it from NUS Press

Big Mole

Ming Cher
singapore fiction books

Remember Ming Cher’s Spider Boys, the decades-old seminal novel detailing the seedy underbelly spirit of late 1950s Singapore? Big Mole is the sequel to that story, tracing the life of the titular orphan Big Mole – the only girl in a Chinatown youth street gang – who runs an ornamental fish shop with her wayward boyfriend Hong. When their friend is murdered in cold blood, Hong forms a band of brothers and swears revenge, dragging Big Mole into a brutal story of mass murder and dangerous affection for Kwang, the ex-Spider Boy. And yes, the original street-slang Singlish that garnered much praise in the original book is still here to stay.

Get it from Epigram Books.

Fistful Of Colours

Suchen Christine Lim
singapore fiction books

Winner of the first ever Singapore Literature Prize in 1992, Suchen Christine Lim’s Fistful of Colours is an exploration of women’s fight for equal rights over 80 years of Singaporean history, as told through one day in the life of Ong Suwen, a young teacher searching for her identity as a woman and an artist. Peer into Singapore’s history at a personal level as she uncovers the hopes and struggles of our first generation of immigrants – from Chinese coolies and Malay waiters to Indian doctors – each with their unique and vibrant voice, and also those of Suwen’s fellow artists. Beautifully written and lyrical, the book exposes Singapore for what it was and still is: a largely patriarchal society that strips women of their dignity.

Get it from Straits Times Press.

Gone Case

Dave Chua
singapore fiction books

This classic coming-of-age story by Dave Chua revolves around Yong, a 12-year-old boy who witnesses the breaking up of his family due to financial woes and begins to experience the paradoxes of life. Set in a typical neighbourhood HDB estate, read on as the boy balances the rigorous demands of school while taking care of his younger sibling, deals with the death of Ah Por, gets into trouble with the neighbourhood gang leader, and as any such story should go, falls into infatuation with a girl. Winner of the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award in 1996, this is one poignant story with plenty of moments to remember.

Get it from Ethos Books.

Shop other Singaporean literature and more at these 5 Indie Bookstores in Singapore.

Top Image: Epigram Books