23 November 2011

Book Review: Singapore Swing, by John Malathronas, *****

MBS from the modern art museum

For generations of Britons, Singapore was the international crossroads of the Empire, the ultimate colonial posting, the stimulus for writers such as Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham or Noel Coward. Can today’s hightech 24-hour city with its gleaming skyscrapers and high standard of living provide a similar kind of inspiration to a visitor?

John Malathronas penetrates the Oriental psyche and discovers the hustle among the stuffiness, the thrill behind the Confucian ethic and, ultimately, the joie de vivre in what has been unjustly dismissed as “a shopping mall with UN representation”. Still more importantly, during his quest, he realises that this overcrowded, multicultural, multifaith city-state can teach us a lesson about living together in harmony and with mutual respect.

More about the book and the author here on his website, with some additional material not found in the book.


This is an interesting book in that it combines a travelogue with an easy to read, non academic historical account of what makes Singapore... Singapore.

One arrives in Singapore with Sir Raffles and learns that until the beginning of the XX century there were free roaming tigers in the jungle and convicts were employed to catch stray dogs to be used as baits until the man eaters were finally exterminated.

The debate on the pros and cons of caning is discussed, with real life examples that draw the reader into the controversy, whatever his point of view.

The magically harmonious ethnic mix of Singapore is discussed at length, as well as its colonial heritage, the Japanese occupation during WW II and the separation from Malaysia.

All around, a good primer on the country. It won't answer all your questions, but it will stimulate the reader to read more about this extraordinarily successful country, its pride and its contradictions.

If you want to read more you can read another (in my view less successful) book about life in Singapore: Complete Notes by Neil Humphreys.


  1. Hello Marco, Many thanks for your kind words. I am very chuffed you liked the book. On my website link below you may want to read two poems that didn't make it to the final version.


  2. Very nice post, would love to read more on this topic! Also could you tell me how to subscribe to your blog?
    Singapore Web Design - Web Design Company

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment, you can subscribe using the tools in the left hand column: either subscribe by email or by RSS feed. You can also join this blog with Google friends connect that you find at the bottom of the left column.


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