In the 1910s, thirteen-year-old Leong Ping Hung comes to Singapore from China to seek his fortune. Decades later, he is a lonely old man mourning his shattered dreams. His granddaughter Yu Sau struggles to take care of him while trying to make sense of her own life in a rapidly changing country. He speaks Cantonese, and she Mandarin – but will they be able to find common ground through a shared love of Cantonese opera? As Yu Sau looks to her family’s past to understand her present, she begins to uncover the secrets that went missing along with the old man’s cherished opera costume.
2016 Singapore Literature Prize
“Helpless before the heavens we part, what sorrow, what rage; the farewell heart clings to the drooping willow, goodbye tears splash the flowers—The old man struggles to remember the lyrics to Revisiting the Long Pavilion Willows, humming bits and pieces. It’s been too long since he’s sung anything, too long since he heard this tune…” Read the excerpt from Words Without Borders.
Translated from the Chinese (Singapore) by Jeremy Tiang
Publication date: March 2019 (Singapore); 15 February 2020 (UK, USA)
Format: Paperback (Demy octavo) 216mm x 138mm
Pages: 269 pp
Yu Sau, a young Singaporean woman, is left to take care of her grandfather after her parents pass away. Struggling to cope with the indignities of age, the old man remembers how he and his best friend came to Singapore from China as teenagers, and how they both loved Cantonese opera — but only the friend became a professional singer. Meanwhile, Yu Sau struggles to cope with her job, her rocky relationship, and her uncertain place in a rapidly-changing country. When her grandfather dies and her boyfriend leaves her, she realises that she may have to look to her family’s past to truly understand herself. Will she be able to find her two older brothers, one a political exile and one seemingly vanished off the face of the earth — and what secrets are hidden in her grandfather’s old opera costume, now missing?