Finalist for the
Singapore Literature Prize, 2004
Malaya. A land of unparalleled richness. For centuries, the peninsula has attracted fortune hunters, money-grabbing pirates and migrants seeking a better life. Among those whose lives are rooted in the Malayan soil are three families – the Wongs, sons of the Chinese earth; the Wees, subjects of the English gods; the Mahmuds, scions of the Malayan soil – each with different dreams for the bit of earth they live on. Their destinies meet and this clash of hopes inevitably leads to tragedy.
In A Bit Of Earth, Suchen Christine Lim deftly weaves historical fact and a fiery imagination in a visually powerful multicultural story that spans three generations and four decades – proving once again that she’s one of Asia’s leading fiction writers.
‘The tale begins with the arrival of Wong Tuck Heng in the fictional valley of Bandong in Malaya in 1874. Tuck Heng is a 15-year-old orphan who flees his village in Kwantung province because of political persecution. After his father, the village physician, posts a politically-inflammatory poem on a wall, the family is hunted down by the Manchu authorities. Tuck Heng’s hope is that Malaya will bring refuge and a new life. But his first encounter with the new land is a reminder of the insidious reach of the old. He witnesses the punishment of an adultress, who, by tradition, is stoned publicly and drowned in a pig basket. … Suchen Christine Lim’s fourth novel is her most ambitious so far. Lim has always been fearless in tackling a multiplicity of voices set against a broad canvas. But in this new book, she has surpassed herself.’
~ Ong Sor Fern, The Straits Times, Singapore
‘Astonishing tour de force. You have created a physical and social landscape and peopled it with characters with real human feelings on issues of political import as well as on the everyday strains of personal and social survival. I can see why it might have upset ethnic groups wanting to see things in a particular way – you are able to articulate feelings from different perspectives of the same issue. And so many perspectives. As a child of immigrants who feels more Scottish in Italy or Ireland than I do in Scotland – I felt it said as much to me as to the descendants of the characters. So much of what is said about a country or a people is a projection of the wants, needs, and aspirations of the speaker. How that is understood by those who act or react is determined by the economic, social, and political climate it is heard in. And your book makes that flesh. And convincing, because the detail is so precise. And always a story – never a tract. Thank you.’
~ Martin Marroni, Poet & Flautist, Scotland
‘Just a note to say how much I’ve enjoyed reading A Bit Of Earth. So much so that breakfast, lunch and bedtime took much longer because I was so engrossed in reading it! I was very impressed by the range and scope of the novel – how you pack in so much very fascinating history. Also how you deal with the conflict within families as it relates to a political situation. Tuck Heng is a wonderful character and I was totally hooked on his particular story. And you bring the whole thing to a splendid climax. I enjoyed learning so much about other cultures and was sorry to get to the end of the book!’
~ Diana Hendry, Poet & Writer
‘Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed A Bit of Earth. I could not put it down once I started on it. I sat up to 4 a.m. on successive nights devouring the pages. Your story just gathered pace as it went along. It is the best novel written by anyone in Malaysia and Singapore, and Quayum agrees with me. Historically it is also important.’
~ Wong Phui Nam, Poet, Malaysia
‘Tremendously Inspiring…My name is Faraha Hamidi and I’m an English Literature major from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). I have just finished reading your novel ‘A Bit of Earth’ and all I can say is, I am in love with the book. I really love how you put the story together and present it in such a way that the story has moved me in so many ways. It changed my perspective on Malaysian society. In many books that I have read, the authors tend to be biased in their attempts to portray portions of a community to which they do not belong, but I did not find any of that sort in your book. …. ‘A Bit of Earth’. It’s ‘Unputdownable’ (=P). I love the relationship between Kok Seng and Omar. Their friendship is pure. Regardless of their differences, their friendship thrived beyond race and religion. They learnt from each other and sought each other’s comfort (through letters) in times of difficulties, which in some ways I can relate to my experience- back when I was in primary school, I had some Chinese friends whom I greatly treasure, and as far as our friendships were concerned, there was not any differences in races and religions. At least, that’s what I felt. This novel has taught me that it does not matter where we live, and with whom we do so, as long as we appreciate the fact that this bit of earth is given to us to be shared selflessly despite our races and beliefs. …Take care Ms. Lim. Do continue writing. =)’
~ Faraha Hamidi, Malaysia