Fiction

A “Mixture” of Stories that Takes You Around the World

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Rojak: Stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group

by Alice Clark-Platts & Others

5 star

5 Stars

RojakHaving recently arrived in Singapore and looking to read some of the best local writing, I was rewarded when I read this gem of a short story anthology. The Malay word for “mixture,” Rojak is an apt title for this collection of short, easy-to-read stories that take the reader around the world and leaves them with exotic tastes to savor and provoking thoughts to ponder. It is indeed the “perfect mix of short stories for the adventurous and the armchair traveler” with tales from Singapore to Mexico, England, South Africa, and elsewhere. There’s something for everyone in this book.

The anthology is well written and edited. Some stories are concise with clear endings while others end leaving the reader craving more. All pack a strong punch, filled with emotion and depth in mere pages. Many could serve as the basis of full-length novels. Although written by 19 authors with diverse writing styles and interests, the book features a coherent narrative and themes guided by the deft hand of Singapore Writers’ Group founder Alice Clark-Platts, who brought an eclectic “mixture” of members together to write this anthology.

I’m looking forward to reading more short stories from the Singapore Writers’ Group and follow-on works by the book’s contributors. Read this book for a taste of what this talented group has to offer, and if you are in Singapore, get to know the SWG. It has a bright future on the Singapore literary scene.

I give Rojak five (5) stars and recommend it to anyone interested in Singapore, travel stories, or well-written short stories.

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A Stunning Departure from Afghanistan that May Leave Some Behind

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And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

4 star

4 Stars

As a fan of Khaled Hosseini’s books, I jumped at the chance to read his latest novel. The author once again delivered a gem of a book with vignettes woven into a complex tapestry of the nation and culture that is Afghanistan. Hosseini has arguably done more than any other author redefining contemporary Afghanistan beyond the caricature of a tragic, war-torn mess. His previous bestsellers, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, paint a colorful portrait of a haunting land misunderstood by many.

His latest is a departure from his tried-and-true formula of writing epic stories that bring to life the rich culture and heritage of the Afghan people. Set in far-flung locales from California to France and Greece, And the Mountains Echoed takes readers to new places and realities. Although the author tried to depict life in the United States and Europe, he merely whetted my appetite to read more about Afghanistan. His homeland is where his pen spills mastery onto the page.

Hosseini detoured from his almost-mythical stories of Afghans who persevered under the most difficult of circumstances toward the frailty and flaws of human nature. And the Mountains Echoed offers more shades of gray than its predecessors. The moral hazards and ambiguity in his characters come to life in fateful decisions that lead to pay-off or penance as their choices affect others whose lives they touch…and their own. The morality tale the author spins may leave readers used to rooting for his typically heroic figures wanting. Those expecting this book to be another Afghan epic may be disappointed.

I laud Hosseini for departing from his previous works and breaking new ground. Though I wished at times while reading the book that it was more like what he is best known for, I appreciated his determination to write something different. It adds to his standing as one of today’s best writers of historical fiction. If you’re a fan of his books, you can’t go wrong once you understand that this novel is different from the rest. I give And the Mountains Echoed four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

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Sand Omnibus Holds Up Under Weight of Howey’s Silo Saga

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Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey

4 star

4 Stars

After the runaway success of his “Silo Saga” series, Hugh Howey must have been under pressure of sand-dune proportions to come up with a worthy follow-up to his blockbuster. That his new, five-story “Sand” omnibus comes on the heels of the last “Silo Saga” installment was a stroke of marketing genius by Howey. He put the proverbial glassblower in the oven while it’s hot by releasing another series sure to bask in the glow of the “Silo Saga.”

Therein lies the weakness in the new “Sand” series – it feels rushed and reads like a vague retelling of the author’s other works. The “Sand Omnibus” comes off as an above-surface version of the silo world introduced in Wool. Although the “Sand” series has some notable distinctions from the “Silo Saga,” the similarities are too obvious to ignore. Both are set in post-apocalyptic versions of what was once the United States, featuring a changed environment created long ago by self-destructive ancestors. Ageless technology from a bygone era keeps survivors alive in hostile landscapes. Both series feature several protagonists’ points of view that jump from character to character as the storyline progresses. The reality of both worlds shatters when two worlds collide. What was new and refreshing in the “Silo Saga” leaves the reader with a “Sand” aftertaste like grit in one’s teeth.

The omnibus does break some new ground for Howey. His imaginative, “Max Max”-style take on how people adapt to living on the surface and sand diving in a desert world is fuel for the imagination. He delves deeper into human relationships as told through a dysfunctional family almost torn apart by the sands of time. The author’s portrayal of love, loyalty, and camaraderie among family and friends is uneven but a gripping story. His depictions of humans using vibrating dive suits to move through sand like water seems unique in literature, as are other adaptive technologies harnessed by post-apocalyptic humanity.

Although the “Sand Omnibus” is well written, its storyline and pace suggests that the author should have slowed down and spent more time tightening the plot to avoid questionable coincidences and tidy conclusions. Had the series not been published in the aftermath of the ground-breaking “Silo Saga,” it might have elicited a better response. I give the book four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian science fiction.

Sand Omnibus is now available at:

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