GABY RUSLI WRITES — In our unremarkable and mundane daily routines, we often forget that we are all the living instigators of history. Singaporean-born Fanny Law has always been aware of this profound and undeniable truth. Though she was dutiful in upholding the Confucian cultural practices carried across international waters from mainland China by her father, she knew women are meant for more than objects of men and fate.
In The Interpreter’s Daughter (2022), Teresa Lim writes in sophisticated English of her great-aunt Fanny Law whose presence has always been felt through her striking photograph in the family album yet never given much explanation. Through painstaking research spanning from her resident city of London to Hong Kong to Singapore and with the help of strangers and peers, Lim pieced together decades of unspoken stories to discover a long-forgotten heroine of a great-aunt whose decision to become a sworn spinster to support her family has also paved the way for Lim to be educated, accomplished, and accessible.
Teresa Lim is a journalist born and raised in Singapore. She studied Economics and Sociology with Anthropology at the prestigious National University of Singapore before pursuing a career in business and finance journalism. She moved to London in 1992 and became a columnist for The Straits Times, Singapore, on life in London. The Interpreter’s Daughter (2022) is her first book.
Lim’s decision to fit a multi-generational family narrative into a three-hundred-something paged memoir proved ineffectual, as it ended up being more unnecessarily overwhelming and long-winded than intended. Nevertheless, the memoir leaves readers wanting to know more of Fanny Law in a memoir about Fanny Law.
One recognizes the importance of providing ample context for a great buildup. Still, Lim’s memoir would have been better executed if the time range in focus was not so ambitiously broad. Unfortunately, this literary miscalculation leaves readers stuck in between an exceptional story and less-than-good execution, somewhat diminishing the memoir’s actual relevance and value to its modern readers.
The initial conundrum one faces is redeemable by the many historical and cultural references made throughout the memoir. One notable historical reference made is to the Nanjing Massacre. One witnesses the invaluable stories told by the Law family members in Singapore whose relatives were directly and horribly affected while living in Nanjing. Lim properly honors the countless lives lost by renewing the historical memory of the massacre. Lim also notes that Southeast Asian countries have much more in common than previously admitted. The shared experiences in the quiet triumphs and the turmoil they withstood throughout history are solid grounds for unity and indivisibility.
The Interpreter’s Daughter is a modern-day revival of timeless feminism— the kind that breaks walls of gender, socioeconomic, and racial divide. One will find that The Interpreter’s Daughter is a worthy read if one can learn to persevere through the opaque parts of the memoir. It is a story of remarkable courage and tremendous love deeply rooted in the innate desire for self-reliance and unity, one so selfless it ultimately leaves everyone better off.
Book Reviewer, Gaby Rusli, is an International Relations LMU graduate and environmentalist who is passionate about Indonesian and Southeast Asian political affairs.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.