A Different Sky

Written by Meira Chand
Review by Sarah Bower

This great sprawl of a novel is set in Singapore from 1927 to 1956. It follows the fortunes of three children who first meet when stranded on a bus during a riot – poor Indian immigrant Raj, proud Eurasian Howard and Mei Lan, daughter of a great Chinese mercantile house. We follow them through the last years of British imperialism, the Japanese occupation, to the verge of independence. This makes for a long, complex novel, but one whose tension never lets up until the very last page. Chand is a skilled storyteller and a conscientious researcher who weaves gripping adventure, magnificent romance and well informed history into the sort of book it’s difficult to put down and impossible to read in bed if you want a good night’s sleep!

The author is no great stylist, but this does not matter given the richness of her material and the breathtaking pace of her narrative. When your eight-year-old heroine is preparing opium pipes for her grandmother to relieve the pain of her bound feet, or your hero is undergoing a mock execution by Maoist rebels, you are prepared to forgive the odd cliché or mundane image. Conditions in Changi Gaol or on the Burmese railway in 1943 can speak for themselves. That said, the lush and oppressive tropicality of Singapore is drawn with great assurance and authenticity. You really can feel the heat as crowds gather and armies march.

A wonderful tale of the birth pangs of a nation distilled into the lives of these three central characters and their families. A highly recommended read; informative, thought-provoking and, above all, a story which utterly engages the heart.