State of Emergency: A Novel by Jeremy Tiang

Siew Li leaves her husband and children in Tiong Bahru to fight for freedom in the jungles of Malaya. Decades later, a Malaysian journalist returns to her homeland to uncover the truth of a massacre committed during the Emergency. And in Singapore, Siew Li’s niece Stella finds herself accused of being a Marxist conspirator.

Jeremy Tiang’s debut novel dives into the tumultuous days of leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia. It follows an extended family from the 1940s to the present day as they navigate the choppy political currents of the region. What happens when the things that divide us also bind us together?

This novel is such a satisfying read, and a triumph for Singaporean fiction. Historical fiction like this is helping to create a more detailed and eventful Singaporean-Malaysian historical and cultural narrative . It is something that can give understanding about the origins of people as mixed and migrant communities. The writer has successfully writes about multiple characters’ perspectives and the interactions throughout the novel. The book’s beginning is gripping and it maintains this tone and pace for about the first half. I was engrossed and wanted to learn what happens.

Then the sections on Revanthi and Stella slowed things considerably. Revanthi’s interview rehashes what’s been told earlier and feels artificial, and the story ambles along. Also, there’s something about her that feels shallow, undeveloped. Stella’s interrogations drag down the pace even more. I know there were many sessions but at this point, I started to question if they would amount to anything.


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