Sugarbread

Sugarbread

At its heart, the lovely novel Sugarbread is the story of Pin, her mother and grandmother, secrets and inter-generational cultural change.

Browse titles by subject matter
Subscribe to the Mekong Review
Travelfish.org are big fans of the Mekong Review. If you’d like to read intelligent and thoughtful material about the region, please consider subscribing. We do.

It’s the story of how a Sikh family navigates the racial landscape in Singapore, of how girls and women rise up against the patriarchy daily, and how class infuses all aspects of life, even in the seemingly wealthy city-state.

Jaswal’s was named the Best Young Australian Novelist of the Year in 2014 by the Sydney Morning Herald, and this is her second novel (her first was Inheritance).

It’s 1990 and 10-year-old Pin lives with her withdrawn but elegant mother and hotel-security guard father. Pin wonders why her mother, whom she adores, repeatedly tells her she must not grow up to be like her. When her grandmother comes to live with them in their tiny flat, Pin starts to learn something of her mother’s early life. The book shifts to 1967 and a very different Singapore, which lets us see just how very much has changed for both Pin’s immigrant grandmother and mother throughout their lives. Secrets were kept, and the results echo down generations.

These cultural shifts occur against a physical background of Singapore’s development from a collection of kampungs to a city punctuated by skyscrapers. We loved Jaswal’s rather haunting, intimate descriptions of Singapore:

“ ‘Everything overlaps in this city,’ Ma said. ‘Do you see that? Everything merges together.’ I did see it. Concrete pavements over grass, flats over hawker centres, Malay food over Indian food over Chinese food over McDonald’s. Leaves pointing towards the sky in every possible shade of green—jade; emerald; a deep sea green; a sickly yellowish-green. Beneath them, spotted branches spread in a crooked line across the sky. Behind them, buildings. Underneath those, the MRT snaked across the city. A city; an island; a state; a country. Everything overlapping.”

Food plays a deliciously central role in the novel thanks to Pin’s mother retreating to cook an array of foods as her solace. We see Singapore’s wet markets, where all of Singapore’s people really do come together, and Jaswal’s descriptions of various dishes from the various cultures of Singapore are salivation worthy.

Race is also at the forefront of the novel, and Jaswal illuminates larger issues of multiculturalism often glossed over by Singaporean authorities by focusing in on the minutiae of daily life for Pin at her elite Christian school, which she attends on a scholarship, including racial taunts by her bus driver.

The language is spare and often startling. When one boy is dragged home from playing with the other kids for swearing, Pin writes: “We stood there in silence for a moment, as if mourning the loss of a soldier.”

Jaswal’s criticism of Singaporean values is subtle, but a persistently tiny thread woven through the book: “Daily devotions often had something to do with money and Mrs D’Cruz explained once that this was the only language Singaporeans understood. ‘I say money only and wah … the whole sea of heads before me looks up.’ “

This is a novel about cultural heritage and the challenge of acknowledging one’s history while also growing as an individual. The sugarbread of the title refers to a dish Pin creates for herself of toasted bread sprinkled with sugar; and as she does in the kitchen, Pin learns to do in life, acknowledging and embracing her heritage while also becoming her own person.

Read Sugarbread for its poignant, sensitive portrayal of life in Singapore for a Sikh girl. And while the setting is evocatively Singaporean, in a sense this is a timeless and universal story of coming of age story, beautifully and compellingly wrought.

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General