Singular Acts of Endearment is an enticing book, full of humour and fascinating trivia as well as profound and thought-provoking ideas. A multi-layered book that will stay with the reader long after the final page, says Mandy Pannett in this review.

Singular Acts of Endearment‘Life is a series of happenings’ says Jasmine whose journal entries and notes provide the story lines for this novel. She repeats this statement several times until the very end (more on this later) and it provides a perfect basis for the anecdotal style of writing which Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé uses with such apparent ease together with a lightness of touch juxtaposed with moments that are both poignant and profound.

The actual narrative is incidental to a wider range of themes and topics. Jaz, together with some friends and family members, takes it on herself to care for Ah Gong who is dying of cancer and whose only consolation seems to lie in visiting gardens and devising plans for making a small one of his own. Against this backcloth of dying and death the author touches on ideas about friendships, relationships, the passing of adolescence, the significance or otherwise of memory and the past, the whole point of life with its series of happenings and the attempt to make sense of fragments.

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[Photo by Zafar Anjum]

Carly’s Song by Enigma

Ah Gong talked about this amazing dry garden he visited once. He called it “the place where all of the beauties of Buddhist precepts come together and concentrate”. Some Zen priests in the fourteenth century designed the first temple gardens. The dry rocks were sometimes stand-alone features or grouped together, alluding to some Buddhist imagery. Something remote about how the world was but illusory, and everything could be distilled into a single breath or a child pointing at the moon.

Ah Gong didn’t think of himself as a Buddhist. He said this once and quite poignantly – that one could appreciate religious imagery and iconography from a purely aesthetic point of view, devoid of its religious symbolism and underpinnings. Even when those very underpinnings were there from the onset, part and parcel of the works’ construction. Ah Gong has studied a bit of Judaism, Islam, Taoism, and explored the plethora of Christian denominations. At this old age, he says he’s simply more at peace having explored all of them, sat with their distinct tenets, and journeyed with them throughout his life. Ah Gong expressed such humility when he said that – more as a confession than declaration – as if all his reading hadn’t made him none the wiser about the largeness of life.