Saturday, 4 August 2018

State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang: a book review

State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang is that new breed of Singapore novel which treads gently into areas which have hitherto remained untouched, perhaps because of the country's so called Out of Bound Markers (Subjects and government policies which are too sensitive to be debated by the general public).

As the title suggests, this novel is mostly set during the years of the Malayan Emergency of 1948 – 1960. During those years an active Communist insurgency was playing out in the jungles of Malaya (today's Malaysia) though the troubles reached as far south as Singapore itself.

Through the characters, which include a British journalist, a communist rebel fighter and her family, Tiang takes us through the reality of a divided nation fighting its own government. The author does not hold back in describing the often brutal tactics used by the British colonial regime – the Malayan Emergency was fought against the colonial authorities – to control and finally subdue the armed insurrection.

Among the tools used were torture, concentration camps and other harsh tactics used by authorities around the world to crush similar ideologically motivated armed uprisings. While these methods are 'geography-neutral,' i.e. they may be used by any country against any uprising, the harsh impact on humans varies subject to place and time. Tiang's novel highlights the repercussions of such extreme and brutal tactics on Singaporeans and their families.

Although fiction, State of Emergency is generally factually true to historic events. It shines a light on a dark segment of Malayan / Singapore history. And none too soon. It is hoped the novel is the first of many more such works revisiting a difficult period of Singapore's history. Surely, there are more stories about the Emergency buried in the concsiousness of Singaporeans and Malaysians which deserve to be heard by the general public?

Imran is a Singapore based Tour Guide with a special interest in arts and history. Imran has lived and worked in several countries during his career as an international banker. He enjoys traveling, especially by train, as a way to feed his curiosity about the world and nurture his interest in photography. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram(@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

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