The Red Thread by Dawn Farnham

A quick rundown… A tale of love in 1830s Singapore between a Chinese man and Scottish woman.

Strengths: Tells the history of Singapore in a generally entertaining fashion.

Weaknesses: Sometimes the history is a bit dry.

Why I read it: Like to pick up a local book to read when I’m on holidays.

Pages: 328

Published: 2007

Publisher: Monsoon Books

Setting: Singapore

Rating: 8 out of 10

If you liked this, try: The Song of Silver Frond by Catherine Lim for another look at Singaporean history.

When I’m away from home, I like to browse bookshops. I like to look at the different covers of books released overseas and I also like to discover new, local authors that I wouldn’t be exposed to at home. The Red Thread is the result of one of these browsings at Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City, Singapore. (If this bookstore was a man, I’d marry it. It is fantastic, crammed with all sorts of subjects and section on local authors. But I digress).

Dawn Farnham was born in England but grew up locally in Perth, Western Australia. She has lived in many places throughout Europe and Asia, before settling half in Perth, half in Singapore. (Source: author’s website) She is passionate about learning history, and the intensity of her research shines through in The Red Thread. (I’m interested too to see what she comes up with about Perth). The research for this book is first class; so much so, that I was about to take a modern day map of Singapore and trace where the characters were walking. I learned quite a bit about Singapore in the 1800s just from reading this book. It was also more interesting than reading plain history.

This book is more than just history. It also contains an incredibly passionate love story between Charlotte (a Scottish lass whose brother is chief of police) and Zhen, a Chinese man who has come to Singapore to work. Their eyes meet across the harbour and Zhen seeks Charlotte out. Despite the language barrier, love blossoms. Zhen is engaged to be married – what will happen to the couple?

In terms of characterisation, both real historical characters and fictional characters exist side by side. George Coleman, an Irish architect who built many of Singapore’s early buildings and designed roads, plays a large role in the story.

This book is the first book in a planned quartet – it will be interesting to see where Farnham takes the characters in the next book as they seemed to be in a bit of a corner at the end!

A quick read, and very interesting to those who either know Singapore well, or would like to get to know it better.


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