GABY RUSLI WRITES — We all carry the power to take charge of our destinies and choices. Empowerment of oneself and those around us is the key to unlocking this power.
In Letters to Singapore (2022), author Kelly Kaur tells the story of Simran, a twenty-year-old Indian-Singaporean girl who narrowly escapes an arranged marriage by studying abroad at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Canada, in the 1980s. We become observers in Simran’s journey while witnessing painful glimpses of women’s challenges. Simran’s sister, Amrit, struggles to accept infidelity in her marriage. Simran’s childhood friend, Amy, aims to marry rich at her mother’s behest, while another friend, Anita, is a victim of domestic violence. Finally, Simran’s mother is a living testament to abandoned hopes and dreams when she was forced to marry at sixteen.
Kelly Kaur is an Indian-Singaporean writer. She obtained her degrees at the University of Calgary before settling in Calgary, Alberta. Her short story, The Kitchen is Her Home, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize XLVII. One of her poems, “A Singaporean’s Love Affair” is going to the moon twice: It will be sent on the Nova Collection of the Lunar Codex for the Nova-C mission and the Polaris Collection for the Griffin mission as part of NASA’s Artemis Program which aims to preserve and archive the works of contemporary artists in lunar time capsules.
Modern writers today are burdened with the colossal task of writing the next hit. However, this is not the case for Kelly Kaur. Kaur’s decision to tell Simran’s story through a series of letters has unexpectedly brought authenticity and gravity to Simran’s journey, personalizing her as though she were a loved one. Perhaps when writing Simran, Kaur was reminiscing back to her younger self, which explains the sense of déjà vu one gets when one reads Kaur’s biography.
Through Simran, Kaur inspires today’s adolescents without sugar-coating the ups and downs that lie ahead of them. With no parental figures to pose restrictions, Simran starts to understand the consequences that come with her actions and decisions. She stumbles to accept this new feeling of self-accountability and responsibility as she was never exposed to it until she ends up alone in a foreign country. Finally, Simran finds a balance between what is expected of her and what she wants for herself. Her experience was able to put things in perspective for her. Kaur is not encouraging children to abandon their parents. Sometimes, though, a little space is precisely what a young person needs to find themself and realize all the necessary things to carry them throughout their life.
With the current generation determined to curate foretastes of the perfect life, one forgets the significance of integrity, hard work, and togetherness. Letters to Singapore restores one’s courage to live in the moment and on one’s own terms, even when it may not be the easiest path.
Book Reviewer, Gaby Rusli, is an International Relations graduate and environmentalist who is passionate about Indonesian and Southeast Asian political affairs.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.