“Bitter Leaves” by Tabatha Stirling

Bitter Leaves” is a fascinating account of the maid culture in Singapore that pulls no punches, beautifully written and heartfelt: a worthy companion on my very overloaded bookshelves.

I am usually hesitant to engage with darker narratives, but from its beginning, this novel about the lives of four women held me, and I was very impatient to know what would happen to them, though the details of their lives were so engagingly laid out for examination that I was also reluctant to hurry my way through. This is a book to read slowly.

I find it hard to convey why I find Ms Stirling’s novel so special: colours and shades are lovingly crafted and poignantly expressed. It’s also very clear that Ms Stirling is not simply writing a book: she is recounting experiences she has lived through and witnessed, and is offering a plea for humanity in a flawlessly presented text. The details she invites us to share come from the deepest part of her offering as an author.

All of which is really hard to put into words, though I’ve tried, because this book is such a worthwhile, compassionate read.

At times I wondered how the author managed to keep each character separate from the others without going slightly crazy. Reading their stories, I feel as if I have been awarded privileged access into their complex lives: Details and personal quirks come alive most convincingly, and, even when the characters are less than likeable, I can understand and relate to them.

Occasionally, the voices bleed into each other, but it is remarkable how rarely that happens. I’ve waited for many years to read this book, which I first read in draft on “Authonomy” and it has certainly been worth the wait. One to cherish and re-read often.

Thanks for listening.

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