Ponti by Sharlene Teo

a nutshell: a sultry, atmospheric amble through Singapore from the 1970s to 2020, this novel ponders three troubled women: teenage Szu, her mother Amisa, and Szu’s friend Circe

a line: “I longed for a thick, soupy silence, calm walls behind which nothing hateful happened”

an image: Teo delivers many beautiful images but for me the stand-out was in fact for its hilarity – the hideously funny, highly anthropomorphised imagery of Circe’s mischievous tapeworm

a thought: conversations between Szu and Circe – both of whom are school outcasts – were weighted with very real teen angst, e.g. seeking out things to buy that’ll help them feel prettier, stronger, inoculated against the world

a fact: ‘ponti’ is short for Pontianak – a female vampiric ghost in Malay mythology (a role that Amisa, an actress of bygone days, plays in a trilogy of horror movies … and real life?)


want to read Ponti? visit here

Aya de Yopougon by Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie (tr. Helge Dascher)

a nutshell: set in Côte d’Ivoire during its 1970s ‘belle époque’, this entertaining graphic novel wryly dips into the daily – and nightly – life of a community in Yopougon (aka Yop City), where it’s not just the young people getting up to mischief

a line: “there’s me, Aya, 19 years old, wondering why anyone would think of beer as a vitamin” 

an image: this time I have to comment not on words but on Clément’s brilliant illustrations which subtly amp up the comedy – e.g. a shotgun wedding scene where the bride & groom (each with a black eye from fuming loved ones) are told to “be fruitful and multiply”

a thought: the contrast between Aya’s aspirations and those of her friends is most striking when we overhear her attempt to raise the prospect of studying to be a doctor with her father, who redirects the focus on her finding a good husband – likewise her friends’ aim in life; Aya’s ambition is cast as an anomaly despite the decade’s optimism

a fact: the end comes with a few surprise treats – a glossary & recipes, as well as a guide on how to read a woman’s pagne (brightly coloured wax-printed cloth); apparently the saying goes, “you can always tell a woman by her pagne”


want to read Aya de Yopougon? visit here

The German Room by Carla Maliandi (tr. Frances Riddle)

a nutshell: on stumbling into a personal crossroads, a woman impulsively leaves Buenos Aires for Heidelberg – the city in which she spent her first five years – where her world widens into an unscripted, impassioned realm

a line: “Something suddenly became clear to me: I don’t want to buy a set of coffee mugs ever again, or straighten pictures on the wall, or decide where to put the rug that looks rustic but isn’t … I’d rather be surprised when I open the window”

an image: the final scene (which of course will remain a mystery here) is misty, fragile, exquisite – it veers nebulously towards the magical realism melded into much of South America’s literature

a thought: this was the second book by an Argentinian author that I read this week (the other was Norah Lange’s People in the Room, tr. Charlotte Whittle, And Other Stories); I hadn’t decided in advance which I’d review but chose The German Room for several reasons incl. (i) it had me far more engaged (ii) though the action takes place in Germany, its characters have a deep, fascinating relationship with Argentina as a country, (iii) Maliandi’s beautiful writing deserves to be shared

a fact: the book’s narrator has parallels with the author’s own life – she too is the daughter of philosophers who escaped Argentina’s military regime (though Maliandi’s parents took refuge in Venezuela rather than Germany)

* a bonus fact: film rights have apparently been sold to award-winning filmmaker Diego Lerman *


want to read The German Room? visit here