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Breaking the Tongue: A Novel
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Breaking the Tongue: A Novel

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  239 ratings  ·  38 reviews
"This masterly novel is not only bold and challenging but also beautifully written. The reader will be left breathless by the ending."—Library Journal "A moving accomplishment."—Publishers Weekly, starred review "Vyvyane Loh's richly ambitious narrative weaves the personal and the political into an unforgettable novel."—Claire Messud "In the tradition of Rushdie o ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published March 1st 2004)
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Mindy McAdams
When the Japanese invaded Malaya, they walked and bicycled south from Thailand, and the British (who had occupied the peninsula for quite some time) fled before them like rats deserting the proverbial sinking ship.

In Singapore, a largely ethnic Chinese population watched the colonial overlords -- who had long banned the Chinese from their posh "whites-only" clubs and cricket fields -- first pour in from across the Johor Strait and later abandon the coveted port altogether, surrendering ignobly i
Sara Westhead
The book can be a little confusing in the beginning, as you bounce between 'past' and 'present' without anyone telling you that is what is happening. It really is a wonderful story about life in Singapore under British rule and the invasion by the Japanese during WW2. While life as a colony was peaceful, Loh does not mince her words in the truth of how poorly the British treated locals - basically taking over someone else's country and treating them as second- and third-class citizens. She highl ...more
Before the story begins, there is a page of this book that talks about the dangers of being deculturalized. Interestingly enough, the book seemed to argue the opposite to me. Each time a character named a race or culture (e.g., British, Japanese, Chinese, etc), it had such a negative connection to it that it almost seemed derogatory. This is quite powerful, as I can only remember one truly derogatory racial term in the entire book. As the characters focused so much on race and culture, all I cou ...more
The rich historical background added a sense of discovery to this narrative of colonisation, since I am almost completely ignorant of Singapore's history. Extremely well-written for a first novel.
Angela Bong
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I finished this one a few days ago, but had to give myself a few days to sift through everything, try to figure out how I could possibly explain this book in a way that would do it justice.

The Lims - father Humphrey, mother Cynthia, Grandma Soik, teenaged Claude, and little sister Lucy - are an English-speaking Chinese family living in British-ruled Singapore during WWII. None of them, save Grandma Soik, speaks or understands Chinese. They all enjoy the upper-class life Humphrey's bank job buys
May 13, 2010 Joey rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Singaporeans, people interested in Singapore
Breaking the Tongue may not be the easiest book on your to-read list but it is strangely absorbing. Author Vyvyane Loh weaves an emotional story of human failings and human strength right on this little island, Singapore.

This book is neither nationalistic nor biased in its story telling. Instead, it is a recount of a history we ought to have known, but perhaps never really did.

There is Claude Lim, a Chinese boy of an Anglophile family stuck between two cultures – an inability to fit with the Bri
Picked this one up at the local library after reading Lazy River last week and wanting to delve a bit further into the Singapore of the Japanese occupation. Found this 2006 Guardian review, written coincidentally by one of the translators of the Eileen Chang collection I'm reading at the moment:

Only a quarter of the way through, the only thing that is sustaining my interest in reading this novel is the anticipation of the bigger picture coming together and
This book is brilliantly written. I have been trying to think of how to describe her style; structurally, she in some ways reminds me of Amy Tan, and in some ways reminds me of T.S. Eliot. Regardless, throughout the book I was enthralled. I think readers who enjoy a novel strictly for entertainment would be pleased, if they like the subject matter. I also feel that those who enjoy delving deeper into a novel - picking apart symbolism, allusions, that sort of thing - will love this layer cake.

This story was a bit disorientating at times, but I think I progressively enjoyed the subtleties. Wrought with emotion and history. I feel like the development of the characters only scraped the topsoil, and would have wanted a more chiseled evolution.

The story is set in the birth of Singapore -- from English hands to Japanese hands. Chinese, Malay, and Indian inhabitants of the island are at the mercy of the war that ensues.

The thing I enjoyed most about this book, and what was probably Vyvyan
I would have enjoyed this book more if the narrative had been structured differently, but in spite of this, I did like the story. I did not know much about the fall of Singapore during WWII, and the little I did know was from a European perspective. It was interesting to learn about it from the perspective of a Chinese boy who was experiencing life under British Colonialism (as a second class citizen), and then the battle and ultimate fall of Singapore. He want from a life of comfort and relativ ...more
This is an amazing work of historical fiction from the pen of Vyvyane Loh. She has created believable characters, particularly the young hero Claude Lim, and put them in an historical setting that is brought alive in this intelligent novel. We see the Chinese family trying to emulate their British colonial masters and watch as their society crumbles in the face of the Japanese invasion of December, 1942. But mostly this is Claude's story as he learns from his Grandmother Siok, befriends the Engl ...more
Nanna Tirsted
After a slow beginning I grew to love it.

The book starts out a bit flat but it really takes off when the war comes crashing down on the family and the main character Claude steps to the plate and becomes a person.
Another moving novel of WWII in pacific, Singapore specifically. Color, class, identity, British colonialism. Shutteringly vivid.
I was excited to read a book based on Singapore during WWII-a rare find. But it was long, draggy, too many characters with little extensive character development until the end. You were left lost at times. The ending was powerful and saved the book. Ended up being the only reason it was a good read. The book did do a beautiful job showing the effects of imperialism on culture ad how we see the hierarchy of the human race. It also did a wonderful job describing how war effects civilians and the r ...more
Taught with V for Vendetta, The Gate to Women's Country, Utopia, and Kite Runner -- utopian/dystopian visions.

Hard to get into, but generally students came around and understood. Could do more with themes of female characters, language, silence.

Would teach this class again. Would also teach with Asian-themed lit, post-colonial lit, coming of age stories.
What I appreciated most from this book was the author's skill to juxtapose the diverse and complicated culture of Singapore and it's people. The jumps in time line were a bit confusing at first but made more sense as you continued in the book. You will need to know how to read Chinese in order to get the full meaning of the end. I would recommend this book to those interested in stories not told from a traditional European point of view.
Eric Smith
I just reread ""Breaking the Tongue"" and I have increased my rating to five stars from 4 1/2. I might even read it a third time! I highly recommend this novel. I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Vyvyane Loh and bringing her to Philadelphia to lecture. She was amazing, her struggles to get the book written and published were epic. Talking to her about that process and about the book's content was just a total pleasure.
Herlveron Sagulu
Not an easy read, but I enjoyed it. An ambitious novel with complex plot, rich with racial tensions in Singapore during WWII.
Sarah Jane
Now I want to learn more about the Japanese invasion of Singapore. Asian history, modern and ancient, is not something we covered in any World History class I've ever taken.
The setting and historical background are interesting. I did not know much about this transition. It is portrayed vividly and piques one's curiosity. The characters seemed exaggerated to me, but my book group didn't think so. I am not sure The Body scenes really add much- perhaps just the obligatory brutality required in books dealing with this era.
Well written, although the fragmented style was a little hard to follow, at times. Interesting insight into the colonialism of Singapore and its relationship with England, China, and Japan in the 1940's. It is a bit of a difficult read because of some graphic description of torture by the Japanese as they occupy Singapore.
This book was an emotionally moving book for me. History, colonialism, and cultural memory are a few of the themes dealt with. Enlightening since I didn't know much about this era, or this specific conflict.
woah. this book blew me away. the writing style and the era remind me of Wong Kar Wai's 2046. It was more than just wistful though, it was heartbreaking in place and horrifying in others. highly recommended.
L. Peat
Excellent fast paced fiction about the early days of Japanese invasion of Singapore. A few phrases of dialogue are written in 21st century diction, but other than that, the 1940s mood is sustained.
This was a great, but very brutal, exploration on the effects of, and how one belongs to a particular culture. Takes place during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during the Second World War.
Andy White
History and perspective was interesting, and the perspective of the different cultures on Singapore was also interesting, but didn't find the characters engaging and somewhat transparent
More useful as a pretentious coaster than an even halfway decent depiction of Singapore/Chinese Culture/Chinese Language.

Very sanctimonious. Very insulting. Very frustrating.
It was great to read about Singapore. I had no idea. It was powerfully written. I'm still looking for someone that speaks Chinese to translate the last few pages for me...
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Vyvyane Loh was born in Ipoh, Malaysia and moved to Singapore with her family when she was five. Besides her rigourous schooling in Singapore, she studied ballet (Royal Academy of Dance syllabus and exams) , the piano (Royal Academy of Music), and Speech/Drama (Trinity College). She spent a brief period in Canterbury, Kent, before starting college at Boston University where she double-majored in B ...more
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