Breaking the Tongue

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am

Breaking the Tongue

by Vyvyane Loh

Norton $117

Humphrey Lim is a Singaporean Chinese who instils a fascination with European culture into his family, which reinforces their confidence in the Allies as the second world war looms. But the British colonial army pulls out, leaving the island state to the Japanese. The story centres on Claude Lim, chronicling the teenager's disillusionment. By the end, Claude has cut out his tongue, because he can't speak Chinese and refuses to communicate in English. Several paragraphs of Chinese characters in the last chapter aren't translated. In her afterword, Loh says this is the 'point where the book literally becomes impermeable to the English reader, and that experience of being unable to cross a linguistic barrier was one I wanted my readers to wrestle with'.