Art & CultureArt/Culture/Literature

An Intricate Castle- Tabula Rasa by Jayanthi Sankar

Singaporean writer Jayanthi Sankar, with her newer ways of story-telling in her historical novel, through her non- linear style, with immense research, explores the innate nuances of deep, human minds. She delights us with the history and origin of the fine island of Singapore from ancient to modern times. As every character, from kings to colonisers, natives to immigrants, men to women, tells their stories through the author, a reader is not just made a part of the entire experience but also transported through different eras, times, and emotions. Tabula Rasa captures the British colonialism continually influencing the trade and migration of different ethnic groups in Singapore for centuries.

The people who populate the book are genuinely human characters from various walks of life, Li Wei, Muthu, Li Xiu Ying, Adnan, Ali, Rose, Lily, Albert, Senior, Shanti, Rani, Kavitha, Meena and Suresh, each with their unique life challenges. The pages where Li Wei and his mother Rose communicate tersely and curtly say a lot about the psychological workings of the two characters’ minds. There’s much to learn about Raffles, Hastings, the Javanese influence, the way people from China, the Indian subcontinent from the current Bengal and Southern India influenced the shaping of Singapore.

A 2022 NYC Big Book Award ‘Distinguished Favourite’ in the category of Historical Fiction and an ‘honourable mention’ in San Francisco book fest award 2022, Tabula Rasa is a must read that shatters some misconceptions that abound knowingly and unknowingly about its inhabitants, their origins and histories around the world and prejudices about Singapore.

Publishers: Zero degree publishers
Year: 2021
Price: Rs.470
ISBN: 978-81-949734-9-2
Book link:

Through an intricate castle of the past and the present, she proves once again how seasoned storytelling can bring together different threads of stories together to fit them like a jigsaw puzzle that creates a beautiful picture.

The characters vary in how she has created them with their idiosyncrasies, quirks, peculiarities and yet are typical representatives of the class they belonged to in the society that the author helps hold the mirror high to reflect.

The socio-cultural mixture of the beautiful red dot is just a mere tip of the colossal iceberg of various mental, physical, psychological, and economic changes Singapore as a living entity has gone through over the centuries. It is a very intense and interesting account of various aspects of the fabric of its life, from its dockyards, the shipbuilding industries, the life of contractors, immigrant labourers, their psychological and practical life challenges, the attitudes, aspirations, dreams, successes and failures of the characters all interwoven in a colourful tapestry of visuals and sounds of past and present Singapore.

The circumstances that could’ve led to the name of the island, the old kings who ruled this land wisely, or otherwise, the immigrant population from different surrounding parts of the world, China, Bangladesh, India, especially the Tamils. Each has contributed to enriching the fabric of Singapore’s society and how this land of immigrants with its multifaceted, multicultural, multi-ethnic and interracial connections.

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