A Glimpse of Singapore from Afar: A Review of Eternal Summer of My Homeland

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Book Cover

AGNES CHEW’S Eternal Summer of My Homeland, written about the author’s homeland of Singapore while living in Germany, is a capable collection of short stories. Consisting of eleven short stories, the collection is briskly paced given their length.

In particular, Chew is highly conscious of the social and material realities of her protagonists. If Chew does not exactly focus on elaborate descriptions of Singapore, there is a realist tinge to her work to the situations her characters are grappling with–ranging from age to injury. The characters are drawn from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, with the collection serving as an ensemble piece. One can compare this to other short story collections that have sought to depict a place in a specific time.

Chew sometimes adopts perspectives less represented in adult fiction, such as taking the perspective of a child in “When What is Linear Meanders,” or a teenager with braces in “For One Minute on Stage.” Likewise, Chew sometimes reflects on the multilingual and multicultural nature of life in Singapore, pertaining to how some have English names and others do not in an observation that comes up in “Under the Same Sky,” as well as how some have adopted Christianity. However, that being said, perhaps in drawing on her experiences, Chew’s protagonists are generally ethnically Han. But Chew is at her strongest when willing to experiment in her works, as perhaps seen in the epistolary form of “Diary of an Employee”.

All in all, Eternal Summer of My Homeland is well-realized, allowing for a glimpse at the everyday lives–and struggles–of Chew’s cast. If there is a weakness to the works, it is that there is not sufficient length to develop some of the plot threads, while other shifts–even for momentous life events–are sometimes a bit too abrupt. Nevertheless, the stories still manage to accomplish what they set out to do, balancing a character-centric perspective that gets at social reality in Singapore.