(A disclaimer: I consider Jeremy a friend, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of his first short story collection from Epigram Books. I am a long-time fan of his work, and it is with these biases that I write this mini-review.)
It Never Rains on National Day is a collection of eleven loosely-connected stories, in which some characters appear and reappear, which reflects on what it means to be Singaporean in the twenty-first century. They are a timely excavation important questions, and attempt to answer, “What is ‘home’? Where is ‘home”?”, given the ways in which labor, capital, and ideas transcend borders.
These examinations of location and dislocation are rendered in such exquisite prose, and there is a devout dedication to evoking a sense of place in each of these narratives, and not just the ones bearing the titles of the cities or regions they evoke. In “Sophia’s Aunt” (published as “Beijing Hospital” in Asia Literary Review), I was consumed by Jeremy’s evocation of a bleak, impenetrable hospital, where corridors smell “not of antiseptic, but of concrete and radiator dust” and desperate souls cover walls with “earnest graffiti, made with marker pens rather than spray paint [with] a great many phone numbers… preceded by the same single character”—”shen” or “kidney.” I was moved by the anger and sadness of a wife who scatters the ashes of her construction worker husband, “small grey particles, dotted with charred white lumps,” after he is decapitated accidentally in an executive condominium “with the kind of sleek, imposing design that wins architectural awards” in “Harmonious Residences,”
Save for “Tick,” all the other stories in this collection were published previously, and several are stronger—”Schwellenangst” and “National Day” are exceptional—than others, perhaps due to uneven editing. Still, this book is another milestone publication of an important Singaporean playwright, translator, and fiction writer. (Jeremy has translated seven books from Chinese, including novels by Zhang Yueran, Yeng Pway Ngon, and Su Wei-chen and plays by Han Lao Da, Quah Sy Ren and Yeng Pway Ngon; is the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant and a NEA Literary Translation Fellowship; and his play “The Last Days of Limehouse” received its London premiere in 2014 with Yellow Earth Theatre.)
Go read it!