And Softly Go the Crossings, won the Book of the Year and Best Literary Work in the Singapore Book Awards 2021. Like my newly published book, this is also a collection of short stories published by Penguin, thus the book piqued my curiosity as to what I could learn from an award-winning writer.
There are fifteen short stories in the collection, all infusing with a strong local Singlit flavour (HDB, competitive environment, mostly Chinese/dialect names) which makes this book the perfect gift for a newly located foreigner to get to know the heart of Singapore.
To be honest, I didn’t like the first few stories. Although I love the title of the book, which was the title of the first story, for the sentimental aura it brought to the collection, the first few stories lack the punch to motivate me to continue with the next few. But as I persevered, for there must be something I missed. But then again, I never really enjoyed many books (or for that matter movies) which had won awards. Perhaps I am a shallow reader. But thankfully, I found myself gradually being immersed in the lives of the other protagonists in the later stories. They were a sympathetic lot, and the author deserves credit for bringing their stories alive for what we often take for granted. She has a gift of subtlety which might easily be missed if read too quickly. After a while, I found myself dwelling into their lives.
My favourite story is Forty, about a pregnant secondary school teacher who had to deal with two classes of unruly teenagers while managing her morning sickness. The ending was so tender I smiled after reading.
I also like the contradictory honesty in Leo’s Home, about how the designer of nursing homes was so proud his designs until he became a resident in one.
Most of the stories are about mundane, familiar and often heard stories (Lehmen Collapse, Mother-in-law’s complaints) which are quickly swept aside like gossips but she brings them into focus and made me think of the people involved and their sides of the stories.
I like that most of her stories are set in real location, like the two Crystal Jade restaurants in Great World City. So, if there is one gripe, it would be in the story SOS, where the fictitious country SunnyIsland has a Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
My friend Peter Morgan just sent me the Nobel Lecture by Kazuo Ishiguro in 2017 in which he lamented that ‘So we come to the present. I woke up recently to the realisation I’d been living for some years in a bubble. That I’d failed to notice the frustration and anxieties of many people around me.’ Danielle Lim certainly took note of all the frustrations and anxieties of the people around me in Singapore.