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  • Aliyah Khan from ELEVEN

3 SingLit Memoirs That Will Tug at Your Heartstrings

Whenever I find myself feeling particularly jaded, I like to read memoirs. Getting a glimpse into someone else’s life and reading about their most vulnerable and intimate moments always manages to comfort me somehow. Sometime last year, I decided to pick up three Singlit (Singapore Literature) novels – just because I really love SingLit, and being able to relate to the authors made the experience all the more compelling! Coincidentally, all these stories centre around death, grief, and the meaning of life. But they make for a contemplative read that tugs at the heartstrings.

1. Loss Adjustment by Linda Collins

“I have had nothing bad happen to me except my own doing. I have let this cowardice envelop me, and I can’t shake it off. I will commit the worst thing you can ever do to someone who loves you: killing yourself. The scary thing is, I’m okay with that.”
 —Victoria McLeod, Laptop journal, March 30, 2014.

Loss Adjustment is a story of a mother’s devastating grief as she recounts losing her 17-year-old daughter to suicide. She embarks on a tumultuous journey of sorrow, anger, regret, blame, and, most intensely of all, pain, as she attempts to make sense of her world and the meaning of life after her daughter’s death.

This memoir is contemplative, heartbreaking, and heavy as it is riveting, warm, and brimming with love. Linda writes with such brutal honesty and poetic finesse that I was floored entirely from start to end, despite having to take short breaks in between to catch a breath or wipe away my tears. I adore how she did not force a clichéd (and extremely unhelpful) narrative of false positivity and the classic ‘time heals everything’ nonsense. She fully allowed herself to grieve, despite all its ugliness, no matter how long it took.

As a New Zealand expat, she also offers commentary on Singapore culture — from the unjustified academic pressure we put on students and the prevalent mental health stigma in our society, to the way funeral rites are carried out and how vastly disorienting it was to navigate as a foreigner. She also discusses the dire need for more mental health awareness, seeing how suicide is the number one cause of death amongst millennials in Singapore.

Loss Adjustment shattered me. But I loved it, and I will never stop gushing over what a remarkable and poignant read it was. I admire Linda’s incredible strength and courage to share such vulnerable and intimate moments with us in order to honour the life of her daughter, Victoria McLeod, so she can live on forever in this exquisitely written memoir.

2. The Good Day I Died by Desmond Kon

The Good Day I Died is the story of how Desmond Kon died and came back to life. This phenomenon, better known as a near-death experience (NDE), makes up the entire premise of his gripping memoir. Desmond vividly recounts the spiritual, other-worldly beings he encounters during his NDE, and describes these fleeting yet striking confrontations in astounding detail.

Arranged as a quasi-memoir, this book is constructed as a self-administered interview that is incredibly easy to follow. The Good Day I Died is a meditative and stimulating read, of which I greatly appreciated Desmond’s candour and the effortless ways in which he allows his readers’ minds to ponder upon philosophical questions about their lives.

What struck me the most about this memoir was his adamance on not subscribing to a particular religion, given the fact that his NDE has indubitably transformed his life and shaped his perspective on spirituality. In a separate interview, Desmond says he is God-fearing “with every nerve and sinew and bone in my body,” yet is also “absolutely, completely and utterly, and yet never seemingly enough” God-loving. Despite our contrasting religious beliefs, I resonated strongly with this sentiment.

Overall, The Good Day I Died was a contemplative and informative read that provides introspection on spirituality and life after NDE. This book certainly made me re-evaluate the ways I approach certain trials in my life and encouraged me to view things from an alternative lens. I’d recommend this book especially to those who are musing about life, death, and what happens after.

3. The Magic Circle by Charmaine Chan

“I sit by your bed and watch you, as I sometimes do. There are days when you are so beautiful and vivacious and alive, we cannot believe that you are going to die. Other days, we are convinced you are at death's door and that this, this is the day that we will lose you … Now I bear witness to the disease that is eating you up alive, ravaging your physical shell. I look at your wasted body, once so slim and graceful; at the jaundiced pallor of your once perfect skin stretched tight around the still lovely bones of your face; at the way shadows collect in the hollows around your eyes and your collarbones. And very slowly, inside me, something small starts to crack. A tiny fissure that spreads and widens, before splitting open entirely to let something hot and liquid well up like molten lava, threatening to spill out the sides of my mouth, as rich and bitter and metallic as blood. Is this then what heartbreak feels like?”

The Magic Circle tells the story of Charmaine Chan and her family after finding out that her sister Elaine is diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. As her family grapples with Elaine’s imminent death, Charmaine poignantly recounts her vibrant childhood in Singapore and every single memory she associates with her sister. It is a heart-wrenching book about the realities of losing someone you love and the indescribable and excruciating pain you cannot escape from when it inevitably happens.

Charmaine writes absolutely stunningly in this memoir — I was mesmerised by every word. The Magic Circle is nostalgic, vulnerable, honest, and hit close to home. I thought this book did a great job in depicting the emotional turmoil one goes through when their loved one is losing their battle to cancer – an experience that I sadly share and can empathise with Charmaine.

Overall, The Magic Circle is a beautiful read that tugs at the heartstrings. It is a book I wish I could reread again for the first time, to savour it all again.


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