Genre: General Fiction
Publication date: April 19th, 2018
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 304
2003, Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into an intense friendship and offers Szu a means of escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness.
Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience.
Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti is about friendship and memory, about the things we do when we’re on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later. Beautifully written by debut author Sharlene Teo, and enormously atmospheric, Ponti marks the launch of an exciting new literary voice in the vein of Zadie Smith.
When I first heard of SHARLENE TEO, a Singaporean-born author, releasing her debut general fiction Ponti, I was very intrigued. It’s amazing how more South East Asian authors are given the attention to shine in the publishing industry today.
Right off the bat Ponti is very nostalgic for me, being of South East Asian descent as well. I love Sharlene’s writing from the very beginning. She writes in this very familiar manner and of the wonderful things about being a South East Asian that pulls you into the book.
Her descriptions of Singapore in the late 80’s all the way to 2020 are very apt and appealing. I was constantly reminded of how much I loathed my secondary school in that nostalgic way that was described from Szu’s point of view. Everything else mentioned in this book – from the multiracial food and diverse languages and accents used – are reasons why we need more diverse reads like this.
Ponti gives a colourful representation to how a Singaporean/Malaysian teenager feels on a daily basis. You feel the loneliness among the chaotic hustle of living in a busy city like Singapore. And on top of that, I love all the pontianak references and stories, which are very well-known among Malays. I got chills at some parts of the book where paranormal events were explained. But I wished Sharlene had written more on the paranormal aspects since I cannot think of any other internationally-published book who would tell the tales bomohs, pontianak, orang minyak and such!
What I enjoyed the most in Ponti is the different narrations given by the three main female characters. We get to see Amisa in her youthful glory in the late 70’s, Szu as an awkward and struggling teenager in the early naughties, and Circe a newly divorcee in 2020. Each narrative brought different flavours into the book, giving us slices into what happened to each women at the end and how their lives heavily intertwined with each other. There weren’t much character development for each character, but each of their life struggles are something to appreciate. The way each women shaped their life based on major disappointments they’ve experienced would definitely appeal to the reader. The pain each person went through is very deeply felt, and what makes Ponti a worthwhile read.
Ponti‘s plot might be the only thing to disappoint you. But nothing else! Its lack of plot contributed to the slow-moving pace of this book, but with only 300 pages, Ponti won’t necessarily be a drag when you read it. While the book’s ending was pretty mysterious, I think it suited the entire vibe Ponti gave. It’s a book that makes you wonder what’s the real deal behind all three women and how it affected their lives. Although, I wish there was more depth to the story in all its entirety. I would have loved to know more of Amisa’s past and how Szu turned out in the future.
But overall, Ponti is a breath of fresh air in the book industry! I genuinely enjoyed reading Ponti and appreciating the similarities and cultures of South East Asian countries that I grew up with being reflected in this book. And I hope you enjoy it too!
Perfect for readers looking for diverse reads by writers of colour (WoC), Ponti is a great introduction to the busy Singaporean life and how three women learned to live with the consequences of the actions made by the other.
Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.