Book Review: ‘9th Of August’ by Andre Yeo

9th of August book by Andre Yeo

This is a book that was just waiting to be written, really. I’m surprised it wasn’t written / published earlier. It’s a no-brainer: Singapore’s a shiny target for the terrorists, and what better time to cause maximum damage than on National Day? So this book by Andre Yeo is about how six suicide bombers have slipped into Singapore, planning to blow themselves up on SG’s 55th birthday in the year 2020.

I like how the author has woven in other stories, about Tun, about Inspector Rahim, and even about Henry. Gosh. Henry’s wife’s last words to him are so shocking when they are finally revealed towards the end of the book. You got me there, Andre! Good one!

I found this book an exceedingly enjoyable read, no doubt due to the author’s astute observations about Singaporeans. It’s totally true how a suspicious-looking character on a train would get zero attention whatsoever. And since a good portion of our train network is underground, if timed perfectly, a suicide bomber on a train could cause a lot of damage when the detonation happens right under a densely-populated area such as Raffles Place during office hours.

One of the suicide bombers even heads to Waterway Point! I certainly sat up a little straighter when reading that bit. Why a terrorist would want to head to a mall in ulu little Punggol, I don’t know. But seriously, guys, don’t come here ok? 😛 I think the author might even have done a little shopping in Waterway Point before since he states on page 195 that the suicide bomber codenamed “Number Two” headed to “level one of the East Wing of Waterway Point” where he saw “several [people] struggling with plastic bags filled with produce from the supermarket”. *Fact-checking!* The author knows there’s an East Wing, but the truth is… the supermarket is actually located in the West Wing, at Basement 2. If you go to Level 1 of the East Wing, you might actually be looking at the Customer Service counter after you head past the cafe. Having said that, please don’t come to the West Wing either! There’s toys ‘r’ us, Daiso, PizzaHut, Times bookstore, McDonald’s! Most of my favorite stores are in the West Wing. Seriously. Why not an Orchard Road Mall though? Oh wait… ‘cos people don’t visit Orchard. 😀 😀

What I’m not too fond of is how the author paints such a rosy picture of Singaporeans coming together after the terrorist attacks, united as one, looking out for each other, etc. The book almost became a tearjerker. But wait… we aren’t the Japanese, you know? I think the book doesn’t do enough justice to our kiasu, kiasi spirit.

I would think that people would lock themselves in their homes, like they usually do already. And they would stock up on essentials (you may think it’s rice and biscuits and water, right? But it’ll also include things like powerbanks, duh!) Possibly people might even pretend they aren’t home when neighbors come asking for some infant formula or water or food. We even pretend we are asleep on the trains when pregnant ladies and elderly folk come on board! So don’t put it past us.

And if the authorities let slip that they’ve received intel regarding a possible attack on National Day, wahahaha, people will definitely be trying to flee the country before 9th August. If they are crazy rich, they’ll jet off. Or cruise. Most of us will be trying to get onto a flight out of the country (especially folks like me who have no bosses to report to). And just about everyone will try to get to JB. We’ll walk over if there’s no other mode of transport available.

And I really don’t think the suicide bombers should target the PM. ‘Cos I want to see how he handles such a crisis. 😛

What an exciting topic for a book. And yet how difficult it must be to write this book. There must still be a “National Education” sort of message about how we stand together united as one. The author is the Deputy News Editor at TNP so yah, I don’t blame him for including an NE message. But if you were to ask me what I really think, it’ll be that we’re more likely to die in a stampede while trying to get over the Causeway to JB before the terrorists even set foot in Singapore.

If the nation is made aware of the fact that an attack is imminent (based on highly reliable intel), I think all hell will break loose. So, will they tell us? That’s something to think about.

Book Review: ‘Sick: A Memoir’ by Porochista Khakpour

‘Sick: A Memoir’ by Porochista Khakpour is unputdownable, but not in the usual ways. I wanted to read this book (and did so in less than 24 hours) because it’s strange. Why is this lady on the cover, with an oxygen tube (or a nasal cannula if you want to be specific) and pills of all sizes and colors? Why’s the book titled ‘Sick’ instead of something like ‘Road to Recovery’, ‘My Battle With Lyme’, or something along those lines? Sure, ‘Sick’ cuts right to it but it still makes you wonder why someone SO, apparently, ill would bother with writing a book and its accompanying strains on time and energy what with the editing, the promoting of the book, tours, etc?

sick by porochista khakpour

“I am a sick girl. I know sickness. I live with it. In some ways, I keep myself sick.”

And while reading the book, I’m thinking this lady is a real warrior. In her shoes, I might have taken the easy way out. Yes, really. After all those hospital visits, trips to meet “healers”, pills, therapies, broken relationships and more, wouldn’t it just be easier (so much easier) to end this life? After all, can you endure chronic insomnia, not knowing when you’ll faint again on the streets, or when you’ll vomit in public, or when there’ll be a relapse? I doubt I can. And having your parents tell you to please leave their home because they can’t live with a sick daughter anymore, and want their quiet lives back? That’s brutal.

If you’ve watched the video I’ve embedded above (if the link doesn’t work, just head to YouTube and search for “Porochista Khakpour with Eileen Myles: Sick | 6-5-2018 | NYPL Author Talks”), you’ll find that the author is a very intelligent individual with a great sense of humor. I’m already planning to read her two novels which were published before this memoir came out. 🙂 [*I love the way she handled that heckler of a woman in the audience, around the 42-minute mark of the video :D]

In this particular book, she mentions a lady who wanted the author’s help with her manuscript for a memoir. But Porochista read the lady’s manuscript and found that it was made up largely of fabrications. So she turned that lady down. I’d hazard a guess that much of this book, if not ALL of it, is true or what the author believes to be true. She’s so brutally honest that sometimes I find myself shaking my head in disbelief and disapproval as I read about how she purchased a CARTON of Marlboro Reds when she went to college and purposely got herself addicted to cigarettes (WHO DOES THAT?!), and how she was STILL smoking when she put together this memoir, as a “reward for some paragraphs or pages”. I have very little sympathy for sick people if they smoke while already ill. They have a right to smoke, for sure. But don’t expect any help or pity from me.

“Another part of it is the thrill of the sick person making herself sicker. If you know a part of you is always dying, taking charge of that dying has a feeling of empowerment. My body goes against me often, so what if I put it through that myself?”

A common theme in Porochista’s life has been that of ‘addiction’. Not just cigarettes, but also drugs. In her younger, and healthier, days, she took cocaine, ecstasy, etc. At some point, she even got sexually assaulted by two men after a drug-fuelled escapade. Later on, as many ill people are, she had a drug addiction because of the medications prescribed to her.

She has managed to present so many years, if not decades, of her life into this one book that has just 250 pages but will leave you thinking she has lived a full life. She has experimented with so much, lived in so many cities, had so many relationships (probably not a good thing) and now she’s a very successful author.

“At some point I questioned why I had for much of my life leaped from one person to another, with no end in sight. I’m not sure my conclusions are good, but I can tell you when the body feels out of place it will cling to anything that looks like life. Cities. Homes. People. Lovers.”

~

I’m not sure what you’ll take away from it.

At the end of the day, it leaves me thinking about wealth and of health. Would you want to be a writer who has gotten accolades from The Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, Cheryl Strayed, etc? Would you want to have to go through what Porochista did in order to get there? 😉 I’ve already read a couple of books recently which made me think that it’s such a privilege to be able to go to sleep at night with little trouble. So many people have to battle insomnia, and so many need pills in order to fall asleep and even if they do get some sleep, they don’t wake up feeling refreshed.

If anything, this book makes me feel even better about my own life, and reminds me of what I need to be thankful for. Sure, it’s probably not the author’s intent. She probably wants to raise awareness regarding Lyme disease, how flawed the medical system is because doctors don’t take young women’s complaints of being ill seriously enough thus leading to delayed detection of Lyme, and shining a spotlight on society’s attitudes towards those who are ill and not being productive, not working and not hustling.

Overall, it’s a great read. It shows you what war and revolution (the author’s family are refugees from Iran), and dysfunctional families can do to young people. And it might even get you alarmed at how a tick bite can lead to severe health consequences. Before this book, I didn’t even know there’s such a thing as Lyme disease!

Porochista currently has two fundraising campaigns going on at gofundme.com. If you are so inclined, go donate some money to help her fight Lyme disease.

Book Review: The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

the girl who smiled beads

I was wrong. I thought this would be yet another book of a refugee who simply wanted to share her story of how she fled the Rwandan massacre at age 6 and eventually made it to America after 6 long years, and how she also managed to graduate from Yale University! “Well done!”, a congratulatory pat on her back, and all should be good, right?

Instead, this book taught me more than I’d expected. What impacted me the most were the bits about how we, as people who have never suffered the horrors of war, think we know what refugees need / want. And in giving to them, we also want to receive appreciation and their gratitude. When we meet someone like the author, whose (internal) response might be “you have no idea”, it’s a punch to the gut.

Clemantine forces me to differentiate between giving and sharing. Giving implies that I’m more privileged, more able, etc. While sharing means the refugee and me are equals. I’ve realised I’m pretty good at giving; what I no longer need, what I can spare, what I can do without. I’m not that great at sharing. (@_@)

And how brutal we all are when we ask refugees to relive the horrors by sharing their stories, made worse with our insensitive questions such as “do you feel guilty that you survived when the others perished?” As usual, Clemantine has a ready response. And it’s gold. Read the book to find out what it is. 😉

Clemantine pulls no punches. She hits you where it hurts, rips your mask of hypocrisy to shreds and grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you up.

This is a book which will definitely teach you a thing or two you never expected. And I’m glad it’s in the form of a book and not a movie. If it’s too graphic, I won’t be able to get it out of my head.

Because this book also has a co-author, Elizabeth Weil, I somehow knew it would be a decent read even before setting eyes on the first page. How much of this book is fact, and how many pages of it is fiction / imagination, I don’t think anyone knows. I cannot remember much / any of what I did as a 6-year-old. And if I had been separated from my parents because of a war when I’m 6, the trauma would have left indelible marks on my memory. Still, this book is based not so much on the author’s childhood / family history, but on her take of what happened, what should not have happened, and what needs to happen from now on. A very good read.