Singapore is a unique agglomeration of cultures, history and contemporary prosperity, and so for this lover of South Asian literature, Zafar Anjum’s The Singapore Decalogue is a welcome entry into Singaporean literature from an Indian migrant’s perspective, writes Elen Turner in her review
Singapore is a unique agglomeration of cultures, history and contemporary prosperity, and so for this lover of South Asian literature, Zafar Anjum’s The Singapore Decalogue is a welcome entry into Singaporean literature from an Indian migrant’s perspective.
The format of The Singapore Decalogue (subtitled Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent) is creative: it is a novel, of sorts, but it is also akin to a collection of interrelated short stories. Each chapter narrates events from one month in the life of Asif, who, at the beginning, October 2005, is a Bangalore bachelor about to immigrate to Singapore. The protagonist, Asif, is the focus throughout the book; his life progresses from one event to the next, his consciousness and worldview undergoing development, suggesting the label of novel. However, each chapter stands alone to some degree: characters who take central roles in one chapter are entirely put aside in the next, sometimes never seen again. Asif’s life progresses, but author Zafar Anjum suggests, through this structure, that life can be compartmentalised, for good or ill.
Book review by Krishna Udayasankar, Ph.D.
The Singapore Decalogue: Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent
by Zafar Anjum
Red Wheelbarrow Books, Singapore, 2012
As a reader, one of the most precious pleasures I enjoy is being given a window into reality, into the simple yet profound events that surround a character and her or his life. Zafar Anjum’s The Singapore Decalogue does exactly that. Like the perfect host, it invites you in with grace and promise, makes you comfortable, delights, feeds, and entertains. And then, once you become good friends, it hits you hard with its revelations and keeps you hooked with its well-written narrative, right to its surprise (in fact a dash shocking) ending.
Well-written and balanced
The Decalogue holds equal joy from a craft perspective: As a writer, I am undeniably jealous of those who are able to give glimpses into what may, at first, seem ordinary; the things, people, and the events that form part of our everyday fabric of life. Zafar Anjum’s work delivers completely on this count by taking us into the subtle layers of human ambition, need and frailty that underlie the routines and unstated actions that we go through everyday. Specifically, it offers bold and yet believable insights into the mind of a foreign talent in Singapore. Asif Basheer, the central character of the ten pieces that form the Decalogue, is someone the reader will come to like, sometimes dislike, sometimes disagree with, but always resonate with in one way or another.