Island in the East

I borrowed Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft because it is set in the 1890s and 1940s Singapore, my home. The story is about love, sisterly rivalry and betrayal, themes that appeal to me.

Having lived in Singapore for several years before writing this novel, Ashcroft has indeed given it authenticity – from the weather, the architecture, the multi-cultural atmosphere and, of course, the various venues from Naval Base to Kranji to Bukit Chandu to Nassim Road, Penang Road, Orchard Road, Fort Canning Park, St Andrew’s Cathedral to Changi Person and more. Non- Singaporeans would probably find this warm, tropical setting exotic.

I also like that the two stories are skillfully balanced and leads to a dramatic finale, making it a satisfying read.

Tony’s Wife

A random find, the novel Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, turns out to be a delightful gem. The rich story tells of two talented working class kids who marry and become a successful singing act (he sings what she writes) until time, temptation and responsibilities of home and family derail their dreams.

Set mostly in the Big Band Era, (the story actually spans from the 1930s to 2000), what I like best about this Italian-American tale is the structure: the chapters are organized according to musical terms which give directions (such as Feroce Risoluto – CapriccioAccelerando Volante Dolcemente Crescendo Marziale Diminuendo Pizzicato Teneramente Inquieto Calando -Triste ), adding to the authenticity of this engaging story.

I simply love the effortless writing style, the evocative prose (such as The ability to relieve another human being of worry and anxiety is the single greatest act of love one can do for another; Love doesn’t fix anything and it can’t make you do the right thing even when you want to. You have to choose love over everything else, and the person you love above all others; Men lose their way when they get old. We (women) find ourselves, they get lost; The truth tastes like wine that’s turned), the true-to-life characterization and the nostalgia of this captivating book.

Nostalgic Melodies of Yesteryear

This month’s edition of Coffee Morning and Afternoon Tea features Joe and the Soul Express in their debut performance at the Esplanade Recital Studio. They have been invited to do this gig after the Programme Manager, Christopher (“Chris”) de Souza, heard their “utterly amazing” performance at the Outdoor Theatre two years ago.

As today is the first day of Ramadan (the Muslim fasting month), Joe (the lead singer) said they were all nervous, despite having been at the venue since 7 am to set up. (He only came on after the band – consisting of guitarist Walid, percussionist Ibrahim, bassist Bani and keyboardist whose name was not mentioned – had played an instrumental number.)

Today’s “theme” (in Joe’s words) is Cliff Richard, Paul Anka and Tom Jones. The Cliff Richard numbers are Summer Holiday, Lucky Lips, Living Doll and The Young Ones. The Paul Anka numbers are Put Your Head On My Shoulder, Puppy Love and Diana. (Like me, the first time Joe heard Puppy Love was a Donny Osmond cover. It was only later that we discovered it is actually Paul Anka’s song. I also have the CD containing Cliff Richard’s cover.) The Tom Jones numbers include the “very scary song” (again, in Joe’s words) Delilah, Help Yourself and It’s Unusual.

The only two songs I’m unfamiliar with (the first, titled something like Fall In Love and the other a Motown-Soul number by Al Green) are two of the most impressive performances today. Joe’s vocals are indeed impressive; and there is no doubt he is a consummate performer. I was tickled pink at his impromptu lyrics as he sang; especially the Al Green number, when he walked towards a member of the audience to gently remind him to “please put your handphone away” without missing a beat or changing the melodic line.

Very often performers keep the “best” for the last. The final song Joe and The Soul Express performed is the very, very nostalgic Those Were The Days, first recorded by Mary Hopkin in 1968. The encore demanded by the enthusiastic audience was a pleasant surprise (a Cantonese number by Alan Tam aptly titled Friends).

It was a really entertaining and enjoyable performance. If the afternoon gig were as well received, I hope Chris would invite them back for future performances.