the wonderful world of veena.

22 October 2014

book review: the moonlight palace [liz rosenberg].

While I am continuing to slog through Midnight's Children [Salman Rushdie], I also quickly read The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg this month.

My memory is hazy, but I think I got this one as part of the Kindle First program. Regardless, it appeared on my Kindle at the beginning of the month, and I read it during my baby-sitting and house- / pet-sitting adventures the last few weeks.

The Moonlight Palace is the story of the last living members of one of Singapore's oldest and most royal of families at the beginning of the 20th century as told through the eyes of its youngest member, 17-year-old Agnes.

Agnes is the epitome of the mixed Singaporean of the early 1900s: she is half-Chinese, one-quarter-British, and one-quarter-Muslim. Her paternal ancestor was a sultan in Singapore and built one of the grandest mosques in the city-state; as part of a deal with the British government, his family is allowed to live in the Kampong Glam Palace as long as there is a living mail heir. His name is Uncle Chachi, and Agnes lives in their crumbling palace with him as well as her maternal grandparents, British Grandfather and Nei Nei Down.

Although the Kampong Glam was once one of the grandest and most opulent of residences in Singapore, dwindling finances and a decline in power of the family have sent it into a state of disrepair. Agnes' immediate family - her parents and older brother - died in the flu epidemic, and since that time the family has struggled. British Grandfather has struggled to hold the palace together, Uncle Chachi has struggled to keep the family relevant in a post-British society, and Nei Nei has struggled to maintain a once-glamorous household on small pensions and income generated from boarders. And through it all, Agnes struggles to navigate adolescence and a rising need to help her family survive in the changing climate around them.

I really liked this book. For one, it was a fast read. While being mired in the middle of Midnight's Children, this book offered me a quick and easy distraction from the heavy tome. For another, I learned a little about Singapore at the turn of the century. I admittedly know very little about Singapore's history. I know that at some point it was a British colony, because much of that world was at some point a British colony. I know that it is fairly autonomous, a city-state-country sitting on its own, completely surrounded by water. And I know that it has been influenced by a number of different cultures over the years, British and Indian and Asian and everything in-between. But that's about it. I learned a little more, and there were a number of things I could relate to because they are still true today in India's post-colonial culture and structure.

At times I found myself growing frustrated with Agnes, but then I had to remind myself that she was only 17 years old, and the book was set in 1919. She is young, and it was a different time with different mindsets. It only happened a few times, and it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

In some ways I loved how short and matter-of-fact it was, and in others I wish it were longer and more in-depth. But nonetheless, I enjoyed it.

And now that Singapore has been named Lonely Planet's top country to visit in 2015, I am [not-so] secretly planning an adventure. Who wants to join me?

always reading: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. but there is light at the end of the tunnel -- only about 60 pages to go!

always listening to: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, read by David Pittu. 25 hours down, only 7 more to go! [why I thought reading a 530-odd page book and listening to a 32-hour audiobook at the same time was a good idea is beyond me. I'm just a sucker for punishment, I guess]

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