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The Thorn of Lion City: A Memoir Hardcover – May 28, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lum's heartfelt, harrowing memoir recreates the years her family emigrated to Singapore from China and endured the Japanese invasion of the British-controlled island during WWII. The narrator, born in 1933, is the second daughter of four siblings whose father is an official interpreter; his wages allow the extended family, including the formidable maternal grandmother, Popo, a cook and several indentured servants, to live comfortably and the children to attend English schools. Lum's young life is overshadowed by the tyranny of the harshly autocratic, superstitious grandmother and whimsical irascibility of the spoiled mother, both of whom beat the girls mercilessly for any infraction, while coddling the sons. With the invasion of General Yamashita's forces in 1942, the kindly, educated father works for the Japanese, though his true tormentors prove to be Popo and his scornful wife, who drive him to drink and an early death. In modestly elegant prose, Lum portrays the lean, hard years during which she must navigate the crushing adult forces around her and bear witness to horrible events: bloodshed and Japanese torture, her father's untimely death and the later, shameful abandonment of the children by their mother. Lum's work resonates with power and grace. (June)
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Review

"[A] brilliant memoir...Essential for all large libraries, this will enrich multicultural and memoir collections of all sizes." -- Library Journal, starred review

a "clear-eyed memoir of growing up during the Japanese occupation of Singapore." -- More, June 2007

a "highly engrossing...[and] truly magnificent memoir. It contains equal parts death, delight, dread and hope...[A]n immense and touching book." -- Asian American Press, June 14, 2007
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; New edition edition (May 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484362
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484361
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,572,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A harrowing memoir of growing up in Singapore during the Japanese WWII invasion, Lum's story pays tribute to her quiet, scholarly father, whose kindness and sense of duty bring him no peace.

Son of a Chinese immigrant, married early, a father by the age of 17, Po Lum was thrown on the mercy of his mother-in-law, Popo, when his mother died and his stepfather cheated him of his inheritance. Forever after, Popo ruled the family, a violent, superstitious, fiercely traditional harridan who abused the girl children and coddled the boys.

Lum tells of air raids, house requisitions, the cruelties of the Japanese soldiers who particularly hated the Chinese, food scarcity, the black market and the ingenuity of desperate people. The Japanese remain scary, impersonal embodiments of inhumanity, but the real, visceral horror is in the home, where slave children's lives are casually disposed of and outsiders are shunned.

Devoid of compassion, Popo is a monster, but a very human one, and her daughter, Chiew-wah, adopts much of her cruelty though few of her strengths as the story proceeds. Both women beat the girl children - and worse - while the boys, particularly the eldest, connive at the girls' debasement.

Yet Lum's spirit perseveres, nurtured by her linguist father's kindness and love. Po Lum, unlike most Chinese in Singapore, retained his job. A government interpreter, he worked for the Japanese, so his family was better off than most and often appealed to for favors and charity.

Popo's and Chieuw-wah's behavior toward him is so abusive and contemptuous as to boggle the mind, since he is the family's financial mainstay. Yet the story rings true. The reader will leave this wrenching chronicle of cruelty, powerlessness, resourcefulness and despair wondering how the children, particularly the plucky, bewildered Lucy, faired in later life.
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Format: Hardcover
Lucy Lum's "The Thorn of Lion City: A Memoir" is based on her account of life during World War II in Singapore when the city was occupied by the Japanese army. She grew up in a household where her maternal grandmother was the head of the family even though her father worked as an interpreter for the Singaporean and later the Japanese government. Her grandmother and mother favored sons over daughters and because of that Lucy was frequently abused and neglected. Lucy had great admiration for her father who was the source of strength for her. The memoir was focused mostly on her family relationships with the backdrop of the Japanese war occupation.

This was an interesting account of growing up during World War II in Asia. The author's writing was clear and concise, making it an engaging read. The cultural background that Lucy provided was also helpful for those unfamiliar with traditional Chinese values. I would recommend "The Thorn of Lion City" for those who would like to learn more about the complexities of a typical Chinese family during the late 1930s and 1940s.
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