In March, we hosted the authors of The House on Silat Road for a talk during the #BuySingLit Campaign. Si-Hoe S.S., the ‘real Sing’ whose memories form the basis for this book, recounted her most harrowing experience during World War II, as the family had to evacuate their home as bombs fell around them.
We ran down the stairs, heading for the road. Halfway down, a bomb landed right in our path and burst into flames. Without a pause, Father hauled us high over the bomb, over the fire and dropped us on the other side. We scrambled to our feet and ran on.The House on Silat Road
Children’s literature is no stranger to books about war, or even books about World War II. There are realistic books about WWII, there are fantasy books about WWII, and in the English language alone such books come from such a number of countries that Singapore suffers no dearth in the range of WWII experiences that kids can explore.
But there is something very different and very haunting about hearing the author herself talk about war experiences in Singapore itself. It’s one thing to learn about World War II experiences in Singapore in a Social Studies textbook and it’s one thing to read about the London Blitz and how kids were evacuated to the British countryside.
It is an entirely different experience to read about a semi-fictionalised childhood spent under Japanese occupation in Singapore. There’s a certain amount of distance you will get in reading facts from a textbook, but fiction makes certain aspects more immediate and relatable in a way that is difficult to replicate in a textbook. This is the gift that The House on Silat Road gives to its readers.
The House on Silat Road is the sequel to The House on Palmer Road, a recollection of pre-war childhood adventures. In The House on Silat Road, Sing and her large family enter the war years.
The arc of the book follows the shadow of war, from the first inklings of an interruption to an idyllic childhood to the daily realities of life under Japanese Occupation — not only the terrors of it, but also the little daily joys that could be found, perfectly illustrated by Lee An-Ling’s artwork.
Sing’s internal voice subtly grows more mature with each successive chapter. While this is partly a reflection of her growing older and that the book spans the full length of the war, it also gently and almost inconspicuously highlights the wearying toll this period in Singapore’s history took on its people.
The House on Silat Road culminates in the triumphant liberation of Singapore from its occupiers, and it’s knowing that the Occupation took place on the same land on which we live today that gives the book even more emotional heft. For children, for adults, this book will strike a chord with readers of all ages. Highly recommended.