The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng offers a journey into a rich history of a region most of us probably know close to nothing about. And does so with wonderfully complex characters who will continue to both surprise and frustrate you as you read.

The beginning of the novel is full of enchanting magic that will reel you in and keep you reading. You’ll want to continue to follow Ah Boon and his childhood friend, Siok Mei, to the end, as they live in and around their kampong.

This novel offers a rich history of the Singapore region in the waning years of British rule. But I must confess, at times, I wished there were more vivid scenes that captured the heartache and trauma of the time, from the perspective of Siok Mei and her work and life. It also surprised me that for a majority of the novel, the islands Ah Boon found as a child were not present, and neither was Siok Mei… which made it hard to realize their full significance or magic in the end. It also made it much harder to believe the love between Ah Boon and Siok Mei, as it didn’t seem fully present or very deep based on what was shown (not told) and based on each characters’ actions.

Overall, this novel is worth the read because it allows readers to learn about the history of this region. And if forces them to ask: What is “progess”? Does progress really entail what we think it does? And what relationships would you sacrifice for it? Is it possible to have progress without sacrificing someone you love?

My Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars

For more information about this novel, see the summary of The Great Reclamation on Goodreads.

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