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Audio book Review: The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng

Title: The Great Reclamation

Author: Rachel Heng (narrated by Windson Liong)
Year published: 2023
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 464 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map)Singapore

SummarySet against a changing Singapore, a sweeping novel about one boy’s unique gifts and the childhood love that will complicate the fate of his community and country

Ah Boon is born into a fishing village amid the heat and beauty of twentieth-century coastal Singapore in the waning years of British rule. He is a gentle boy who is not much interested in fishing, preferring to spend his days playing with the neighbor girl, Siok Mei. But when he discovers he has the unique ability to locate bountiful, movable islands that no one else can find, he feels a new sense of obligation and possibility—something to offer the community and impress the spirited girl he has come to love.
By the time they are teens, Ah Boon and Siok Mei are caught in the tragic sweep of history: the Japanese army invades, the resistance rises, grief intrudes, and the future of the fishing village is in jeopardy. As the nation hurtles toward rebirth, the two friends, newly empowered, must decide who they want to be, and what they are willing to give up.

An aching love story and powerful coming-of-age that reckons with the legacy of British colonialism, the World War II Japanese occupation, and the pursuit of modernity, The Great Reclamation confronts the wounds of progress, the sacrifices of love, and the difficulty of defining home when nature and nation collide, literally shifting the land beneath people’s feet.

Review: I am always up for good historical fiction but didn't realize this was historical until the Japanese invaded and I realized we were going to get to follow this community through decades of change in Singapore. I wasn't even sure what time period the book was set in until these events started.

I really enjoyed the first part of this book when we get to know Ah Boon, his family, and the surrounding characters in his village (Kampong). I felt lulled by the ebb and flow of not only Ah Boon's life, but the sea, which is so important to the fishing village's daily routine. The narrator's voice was perfect for this book and went a long way to setting the pace and feeling of the novel.

The novel lost me a bit in the World War II section, but picked up again in the post-war years when Singapore experienced unionization efforts, modernization, and the changing lives of Ah Boon and his family. Seeing him go beyond the fishing village, work with the wider community as part of the new apartment buildings (think modern plumbing and amenities that surfaced in the 1950s and '60s), and create a family was satisfying. I feel like I learned a lot about Singapore itself as well as the families/characters. 

Ah, the ending. Well, the last couple of chapters. I get it. It just made me disappointed (in the characters, not the novel). I can't say anymore because I don't want to ruin it for future readers.

I like following families through generations and seeing how history affects them and this was done really well.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Literary Escapes--Singapore

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