The rocky path to true love is Tan Kheng Yeang’s springboard for his latest work revealing the clash between traditional Chinese values and modern Western ideas. Set in pre-World War II Hong Kong, the story intermittently follows Siu Kam’s quest for a wife he chooses for love, rather than one imposed on him by his parents. The young businessman embraces the modern Western ways that are slowly infiltrating his culture, contrasting with the conservative traditional views his parents hold.
After rejecting prospective brides his mother considers acceptable, Siu Kam becomes infatuated by a lively modern young woman he notices one evening when he is out with friends. He single-mindedly networks among friends to learn of her family and finally effect an introduction. The beautiful Wai Hing, pampered since childhood, is outspoken, independent and Westernized – and Siu Kam’s mother thoroughly disapproves of her.
After a modern marriage ceremony, the couple accepts tradition by living with Siu Kam’s parents. When conflict becomes too severe, the young couple moves to separate housing, but Siu Kam isn’t as modern as he professes to be. Wai Hing is not a traditional dutiful wife and continues nightly excursions with friends. Strife intensifies until Siu Kam flees to Singapore to think things over.
Although this purports to be a love story, few are likely to follow Siu Kam and Wai Hing to the end, as their story is merely a vehicle for the author to describe cultural changes in long-winded philosophical digressions. Sentences are burdened by length, clichés (“a treat to behold”), heavy similes and over-writing in general (”highly censurable to expatiate on a fault that might be damaging to his character as a hero,” or “her distress was not such as required the officious services of a valorous and accomplished knight.”) Flat, contrived characters further hamper enjoyment of the story.
In sum, the novel needs substantial revision, particularly to enliven and tighten the narrative, before it can appeal to a large audience.
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