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The River's Song

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  223 ratings  ·  38 reviews
A beautifully written exploration of identity, love and loss, set against the social upheaval created by the rise of Singapore.

Ping, the daughter of Chinatown’s Pipa Queen, loves Weng, the voice of the people, but family circumstances drive them apart. While Ping goes to university in America, Weng is sent to prison for his part in local protests.
Many years later, Ping ret
Paperback, 363 pages
Published May 27th 2014 by Aurora Metro Press (first published April 1st 2014)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  223 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it

I really enjoyed the use of (mostly accurate) Singlish and the inclusion of small details that make Singapore so unique :)
Uncomfortable themes were used in this book which made it slightly difficult to read at times, but necessary.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a truly a book about Singapore. It reflects moreso the feel and the grit of this multi-ethnic city-state.

I enjoyed this scrappy story about a young girl, her introduction to the pipa instrument and how it serves as a bond to her emotionally-unavailable mother. The section when she's in the US feels quite secondary and merely a means for her to return to S'pore. In other words, when she's in S'pore the story is the most alive, the most heartfelt and definitely the most compelling. There'
Kim Tong Lim
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is truly a fiction made in Singapore with historical background to the Singapore River, before and after the clean-up. The story, though fictional, covers the history of squatters along the river and their eviction to make way for a massive cleanup of the river (1977 – 1987).

I remember the era in the 60’s, 70’s of this waterway where tongkangs, bumboats plied the river bringing goods into Singapore warehouses. It was a different world back then, our economic lifeline.

The story of Yoke Lan,
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this and having visited Singapore few times I found the story very interesting. I thought the characters were so real and very warm. Some had been through awful times and Ping certainly had a rough childhood emotionally.

The cleaning up of Singapore has made a beautiful clean and pleasant city to visit but this was at the expense of the families who lived and worked on the river's edge which is something I didn't know about before but have read about since.

The fact that the two main c
Anne Fenn
Another very interesting novel based on Singapore, 1960s to present day. Emphasises changes to the lives of people living around the Singapore river before and after it was cleaned up in a big campaign by Lee Kuan Yew. Ethnic music plays a new part in it. A lot of focus is on women and girls, their opportunities and restrictions. Some very poetic writing brings the environment to life.
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My experience reading novels by southeast Asian writers over the years has not been generally positive, but Suchen Christine Lim's "The River's Song" proved to be a wonderful exception. Her writing flows like the river in the title, and she manages to skillfully intertwine English, Singlish and Chinese dialect effortlessly, something that very often feels awkward or falls flat on its face when attempted by other writers from the region.

Her story cleverly captures the cultures and habits of east
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Finished reading this book in a week. The River's Song is an easy read, absolute charm, poignant and very likely to stay on my favourite books' list. The plot is easy to follow and author Suchen Christine Lim weaves her story in an effortless spin. Language-wise, it lacks the flowery sentences that Asian author tends to favour - which, I think, is fine. A page-turner, this book is very hard to put down. Even if you do, you will find yourself picking at the pages again at no time. Also, the book ...more
Has its moments.
An insight into the life of the poorer Singaporeans who were forcibly moved from their traditional lifestyles into modern apartments.
A smattering of Chinese culture, beliefs and class issues.
Covers Chinese music and musical instruments.
And a recognition that families have their secrets, people make mistakes and it does not seem to matter what colour, creed or class you are.
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
A masterful piece of storytelling by Suchen Christine Lim. With her tour de force style of prose, she seems to effortlessly delve into delightful meditations on music, race, and class that are subtle yet weighted. Fantastic fiction that makes her far more than how she is advertised as a writer of Singaporean fiction.
Shirley Tan
Nov 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A journey down Singapore's past weaved within a love story. Beautiful, melodious but yet strangely familiar. ...more
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book set in Singapore from the time the government began its cleanup of the river. Modern Singapore, since it rejected Malaysia and decided to go it alone, is an intriguing story. Come what may, it has succeeded in becoming a modern, cosmopolitan, clean and thriving place. But it has lost so much of its heart....

The author's beautiful descriptions of the river and the thousands of squatter families and boating families who lost their homes and livelihoods can almost be
Jan Sandford
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure about this book in the beginning. I didn't like the changes in language from traditional to modern. Sometimes the colloquial speech didn't fit the atmosphere of the story. The tempo was racy so I found myself reading the book quickly. About a quarter of the way through the book I started to enjoy the story more and found myself liking some of the characters. I particularly liked Weng. The childhood love story of him and Ping is written in a gentle, descriptive way. As for Ping, I u ...more
Carole Frank
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, which was voted the best indie book by Kirkus Review, although I have to admit to getting confused with the Chinese names. Ping and her friend Weng grew up by the Singapore river before it was cleaned up, when bumboats and hawkers plied their trades, and before the banks were paved over, the shanties removed and the modern Singapore took over. Then something happened and Ping was sent to America and forges a career in music. However, on her return she wonders if she c ...more
Prerna Gupta
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed reading this book! Most of the books I’ve read in my life have come from the west - American or English literature. So reading stories set in other parts of the world, written by non-English or American writers has been a revelation. I love how the storyline is non-linear which kept me at the edge of my chair and how much of the local culture the writer has imbued the story with.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Singapore river used to be famously crowded, dirty with black flowing river water. The story tells the immigrant life, still connected to the traditional chinese mentality as they settling down the new world.
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's a straightforward story. It's good because it reveals a culture in Singapore for me. I liked learning about pipa music too. ...more
Lee-Ling Ho
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read this some time back but this was one of the few Singapore novels that I truly enjoyed. Appreciated the historical context which I found evocative and fairly accurate, and liked the twists and turns and general pacing of the book.
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I finished the book in three hours because I cannot put it down. The short description is just a small part of the book and thus the book caught me by surprise. Wonderful point of view from the people living along the river.
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Bought this book after hearing the author read out an excerpt during a recent conference. Her version and the narrator's voice (in my head as I read it, later) are very different, but it was nevertheless a very captivating live reading, and also poignant - she gave some sociopolitical background to the novel that I wouldn't have been aware of, otherwise.

The Singaporean novel, from a Malaysian point of view, is very interesting. A lot is familiar, yet I never feel like I quite identify with the
Li Sian
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Mmm, I think Suchen Christine Lim might be more suited to the short story. Despite containing some good moments and a very compelling STORY, this novel definitely felt quite meandering and many of the characters weren't as fleshed out as they could have been. This isn't totally fair, in the sense that I am comparing this less-good book to an incandescently-wonderful book, but it struck me not long after finishing that The River's Song is actually remarkably similar to Americanah in plot: two lov ...more
Feb 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
After 30 years of living in the United States, Ping visits her home country of Singapore for an extended vacation, bringing recollections of her childhood of poverty. As Ping wrestles with the memories of a complicated relationship with her mother, an old flame, and a squatter’s village that no longer exists, she tries to reconcile the past with the woman she’s become.

When new developments are built, it’s easy to marvel at towering highrises and ignore the cleanup that was necessary to make it a
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I felt as though I had been magically transported back to the 1950s where Ping recounts her tumultuous life in Singapore with her Ah Ku. During her recollection, I deeply connected and felt sorry for the various characters, such as Ping's Ma-Jie, the Pipa hostesses, the Clan members and tenants of the coffee shop, who sacrificed their lives just to barely survive in Singapore. There was also an alternative description of how the villagers felt about the rapid modernisation of Singapore caused by ...more
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it
The River's Song is Singapore's very own Joy Luck Club. Many Chinese (or Asian) persons can identify with the strained and conflicted relationship that plagued Ping like a chronic illness, especially between her mother and herself. Being set in Singapore, the geographical and political references strike close to home with themes that matter (alienation, nostalgia, modernity) treated viscerally and sensitively.

In the backdrop of To Singapore With Love (dir. Tan Pin Pin) being banned from public s
Dec 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Having read the truly god-awful Fistful Of Colours, I was pleasantly surprised that Suchen Christine Lim has greatly improved in her storytelling. Avoiding the Orientalist pitfalls, she crafts an intimate, if overlong, story of star-crossed but doomed love over two generations and two countries (three, if you count pre-Independence Singapore). Extensive research into the social history of the Singapore River and Chinese classical music pays off too, although I would have liked her to delve more ...more
jon narick
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I lived in Singapore for 12 years as an expatriate and found this novel very accurate and revealed many aspects of the Singapore River and the mass movement of families in a clean-up operation that was never necessary. As a marine geologist, it was clear to many of us at the time that the nature of the clay soils and weathered laterite contributed to the murky looking water. The level of pollution from bumboats and settlers was a negligible factor and merely an excuse for developers to carve up ...more
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ping’s mother was sold to a brothel as a young child and taught to play the pipa as an enhancement to her courtesan’s skills. The last thing she wanted was for her daughter to become a “pipa girl.” However, she does make it possible for Ping to attend college in America, where the girl recognizes that the instrument is her true calling. Although I am familiar with the music of the pipa, I did not realize that the instrument was designed to be strummed by a player on the back of a horse. As a gir ...more
Denise Tripley
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the moving story of a young Asian woman who goes to live in America for 30 years and then struggles to reconnect with her family and culture back in Singapore. So much has changed during that time. The city is unrecognisable - and her former self is somebody she has long forgotten. Memories come flooding back. The former lover she left behind, heart-broken, as a young woman, is waiting for her, on her return. Can she make things right between them?

Music plays an important part in the nov
Apr 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, ebooks, asia
I don't recall ever reading a novel set in Singapore, so I was really looking forward to reading this. While I enjoyed reading about the local culture, I thought the overall pace of the book was a bit slow. There was very little that made you want to keep on reading other than just finding out how everything ended. I really wanted to care about the characters and their various plights, but I found it really hard to connect to any of them. ...more
Wendi Manning
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was a fast read that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. In a perfect world, this book would have been more concisely written. It jumped around and had the important points buried in too many unimportant details. Maybe this just isn't my type of book.

I received a free copy of this, in exchange for an honest review.
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was lucky enough to receive this book via @NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I agree with the description of this book that it is a beautifully written exploration of identity, love and loss, set against the social upheaval created by the rise of Singapore.
I really enjoy reading about other cultures & this book did not disappoint a sad poignant story. I recommend
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Born in Malaysia in 1948, grew up on both sides of the causeway that separates Malaysia from Singapore. Came to Singapore at age 14, studied in the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus schools, and the National University of Singapore. Taught in a junior college and worked as a curriculum specialist in the Ministry of Education. Resigned in 2003 to write full time.

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