Generation and identity in Claire Tham's Singaporan Stories (review article)

Wicks, Peter (1999) Generation and identity in Claire Tham's Singaporan Stories (review article). Asian Profile, 27 (5). pp. 457-459. ISSN 0304-8675


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A debate about Singapore’s identity has bubbled away in the island-state ever since its removal from the Federation of Malaysia in August, 1965. The country’s small size, scant natural resources, entrepot economy, and multiracial population are all factors which have helped give rise to the ebb and flow of public discourse about what Singapore is. The State, in the form of the governing elite of the People’s Action Party, has led the debate, with Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, famously affirming in an interview for the journal Foreign Affairs in 1994 that “Culture is Destiny”. Yet other voices are occasionally heard, especially from academe and from the small, resident literary community. These other voices point to the essential hybridity of Singaporean society, as well as the evolving dimension to Singaporean identity across different generations, from immigrants to native-born. This paper focuses on the contribution of one youthful author to this continuing debate, and furnishes a glimpse of the flip-side of selectively-championed and politically correct “Asian Values”.

Claire Tham is one of the brightest and best of the younger generation of Singapore’s creative writers. A very private person, not much is known of the details of her young life. Born in 1967, she was educated at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, at Hwa Chong Junior College, and then at Oxford University in Britain, where she read Law. Though now employed in a bank, she began writing fiction at a very early age, and once hoped to write “the ultimate rock and roll story”, an ambition that was not, of course, unique, but still proved elusive. Literary recognition, too, came early. At the tender age of seventeen, she won two second prizes in the National Short Story Writing Competition of 1984, followed by the Commendation Award for Fiction from the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1992, and the Highly Commended Award for Fiction from the same body in 1995. She prepares literary reviews for The Straits Times newspaper, and presently is working on a first novel. In the debate about Singaporean identity, Claire Tham’s prose conveys a very dim view of official exhortations to revere authority, uphold the community above the individual, and practise family values.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: No response to requests for copyright permission from publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007 01:03
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 22:43
Uncontrolled Keywords: Claire Tham, Singapore, Singaporean literature, fiction, stories
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200519 South-East Asian Literature (excl. Indonesian)
Fields of Research (2020): 47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470529 South-East Asian literature (excl. Indonesian)

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