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February 2018: Yeng Pway Ngon 英培安

Yeng Pway Ngon is a Singaporean poet, novelist and critic in the Chinese literary scene in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. A prolific writer, Yeng’s works have been translated into English, Malay and Dutch. Yeng received the National Book Development Council of Singapore’s Book Award in 1988, and the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. He was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2003 for his contributions to literature in Singapore, and the SEA Write Award in 2013. His novel Unrest, translated by Jeremy Tiang, has recently been published in English by Balestier Press, and two more novels - Lonely Face (translated by Natascha Bruce) and Opera Costume (translated by Jeremy Tiang), are forthcoming in spring 2018.

Bio from Balestier Press

The story we have chosen for this month's bookclub is 'Misdelivered Mail' 寄错的邮件, written in 1979 and translated by Goh Beng Choo. Madam Goh, a former bilingual reporter for The Straits Times, has translated several of her husband's stories.

Straits Times article from July 2017 discusses the story:

In Misdelivered Mail (1979), a man tries to get himself posted to the United States, but ends up in a mental hospital.

Yeng drew on his wife's experience of working in Woodbridge Hospital, where patients were dressed in colonial-era police uniforms for lack of a better attire, and also on his own detention in 1977 under the Internal Security Act for alleged leftist sympathies.

"They told me they had arrested me for my own good, otherwise I would have become like the others and have to go on TV and make confessions," he recalls. He quoted then, as his character does to the psychologist assessing his sanity, a line from the 1970 film Love Story: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

You can read the story in Chinese here, and in English translation here. More of his short stories, written between 1968 ad 2000 and translated by Mme Goh, are collected in The Non-Existent Lover & Other Stories.

Yeng's novel Unrest, translated by Jeremy Tiang, is one of the books reviewed by our Writing Chinese Book Review Network, and it will be one of the featured books at our upcoming residential weekend. We're delighted that Jeremy will also be joining us, to discuss his translation and his own work.

There's also an interesting review of the novel here, from Peter Gordon at the Asian Review of Books.

And Words Without Borders has published an excerpt from Opera Costume (translated by Jeremy Tiang), in which an ageing opera singer struggles to recapture lyrics and memories of a thwarted star tenor.