Book of the Week: Trivialities about Me and Myself
What drives writers to conceive of – and readers to be fascinated with – Man in all his restless, confused and inherently paradoxical condition?
This week's Book of the Week, Yeng Pway Ngon’s novel Trivialities About Me and Myself, weaves an unflinching narrative of Ah-hui, a Chinese-educated Singaporean entrepreneur, who struggles with a split personality condition.
It is set against the backdrop of a newly independent Singapore which has thrown off its dusty cloak of indigenous traditions and practices to embrace the thrill and shine of a consumerist, English-speaking system.
Instead of focusing on what happens on the surface, Yeng explores Ah-hui's psychological struggle with his alter-ego, "Myself". It is ironic that even as Ah-hui resents Myself, Ah-hui ultimately seeks to discover himself more fully.
The main narrative is peppered with Kafka-esque snippets of Ah-hui's daily thoughts, adding experimental touches of ludicrous surrealism to his stark and distressingly. It is no wonder, then, that Yeng won Singapore's Cultural Medallion award in 2003.
In what appears to be an isolated schizophrenic case, Yeng, at closer scrutiny, conjures a profound national allegory.
"It would never have occurred (to society) that a single name, a semiotic sign, could represent two diverse personalities, that on the surface the name referred to one person, but could sometimes mean another inside," Yeng said.
Ah-hui's psychological rift reflects a larger, national trauma that arises within young independent countries. For example, Singapore possesses an ambivalent relationship with its colonial past; simultaneously desiring and rejecting their colonial influences, post-colonial natives struggle to find an organic voice.
One may express wariness when Yeng hangs precariously near the edge of being overly binaristic between his characters Ah-hui and Myself, but Trivialities is a go-to book to understand the struggles of the ordinary people coping with national changes that sometimes seems to mow them over without so much as a "by your leave".
If you want to have a fuller picture of the nuances of Singapore's struggles and burdens, Trivialities satisfies this promise. (Julie Hyun)
You can get the book here.