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The Great Reclamation

Rachel Heng

April 25, 2023

In the 1940s, Singapore was controlled by the British occupied by the Japanese and comprised of rubber plantations and decrepit fishing villages. A timid little boy is the only one who can help his father, a fisherman, find a string of mysterious islands surrounded by teeming ocean life that will change the fortune of his family and neighbors. While his older brother fishes with their father, Ah Boon gets to go to school, where he meets his first friend, the beautiful Siok Mei. As they grow up, Siok Mei becomes entranced with improving the country through communism while Ah Boon focuses on his own livelihood. The British finally leave, the communists are banished, and the new rulers continue to rule Singapore with punishing vigor of previous colonizers. Ah Boon works with the new rulers to modernize the country, replace swamps with buildings and roads, and improve living conditions, but not everyone accepts the changes. The Great Reclamation (Riverhead Books, 2023) is a both a personal tale and a sweeping story of political and historical upheaval in 20th century Singapore.

Rachel Heng is the author of the novel Suicide Club, translated into ten languages. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers and has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the National Arts Council of Singapore, among others. Heng, who was born and raised in Singapore, is currently an assistant professor of English at Wesleyan University.

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