Yeoh Jo-Ann in conversation with Two Book Nerds Talking

Join us for an afternoon of cake and conversation with bestselling Malaysian author Yeoh Jo-Ann, winner of Singapore publisher Epigram’s Fiction Prize 2018 for her debut novel, Impractical Uses of Cake. She will be at Lit Books to talk about her book with literary podcasters Two Book Nerds Talking, and taking questions from the audience. Book signing to follow after. Also, stand a chance to win one of two copies of the book, courtesy of Epigram!

ABOUT THE NOVEL
Sukhin is a 35-year-old teacher who lives alone. His life consists of reading, working and visiting his parents’ to rearrange his piles of “collectibles”. He has only one friend, another teacher who has managed to force Sukhin into a friendship by sheer doggedness.

While on an errand one afternoon in Chinatown, he encounters a homeless person who recognises him. This chance reunion turns Sukhin’s well-planned life upside down, and the pair learns about love and sacrifice over their shared fondness for cake.

PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
“It reveals a whole side of Singapore that many people in Singapore may not be aware of, with a dry sense of humour and a deep understanding of human difficulties and the problems faced by Singapore as an urban centre.”
— Professor Rajeev S. Patke, director of the Division of Humanities at Yale-NUS College

“Singapore-based Malaysian writer Yeoh Jo-Ann’s winsome debut novel is a confection of serious ingredients iced with whimsy.”
— The Straits Times

“An impressive novel that has cake playing a secondary albeit important role in it. Used to soothe, cajole and impress, Yeoh’s clever use of cakes (they’re delightfully tucked in between her prose) sets the theme of love, loss and redemption in one delicious mix of ingredients.”
— New Straits Times

“Like the tiered cardboard cake on its cover, Impractical Uses of Cake tells a multi-layered, diverse story of Singapore … it stirs in whimsical flavours with its serious subjects.”
— The Weekender Singapore

“This novel has many strengths but chief amongst them is Ms Yeoh’s characterisation of Sukhin, who is surely one of literature’s most charming doormats.”
— Yahoo Lifestyle

Posted on Leave a comment

Lit Revew: ‘Impractical Uses of Cake’ by Yeoh Jo-Ann

Friends know that I’m a sucker for cake. I am also a sucker for books with interesting titles. And so, when I came across Yeoh Jo-Ann’s debut novel, Impractical Uses of Cake, winner of Singaporean publisher Epigram’s Fiction Prize 2018, I had to bite. And what a treat it turned out to be.

Like a good lemon pound cake (a personal favourite of mine), this story has substance but isn’t dense. It strikes the perfect balance between sweetness and tartness, and it is tender and charming without being maudlin. The story gives you plenty to chew on but doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach. (Okay, that’s it for the cake imagery.)

Different types of cake – yuzu coconut cream, lemon sponge, sugee, coffee pound, and orange chiffon, to name a few – feature throughout the novel, as the main character, 35-year-old English literature teacher Sukhin, is something of a cake fiend. He loves eating them, baking them, and sharing them; it is very much part of his identity. In one hilarious and all too relatable scene (to me, at least), Sukhin is out on a date with a woman who chooses an organic soy latte over cake for dessert, and he spirals into an internal monologue where the love of cake is a criterion to be considered “his people”.

One person who does share his fondness for cake is Jinn, his former secondary school sweetheart. Sukhin stumbles on Jinn one afternoon in Chinatown, and she, to his astonishment, is now living as a homeless person in cardboard boxes in an alleyway. She disappeared several years ago and he had taken her for dead. Seeing her again shakes him to the core.

As Sukhin slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her initial disappearance and present situation, he becomes attuned to the homeless, an invisible segment of Singapore society that he had previously not given much thought. Present-day going-ons – juggling teaching, his family, and meeting up with Jinn – is juxtaposed with Sukhin’s recollections of what he and Jinn were before. Sukhin eventually comes to terms with the new reality, and along the way, finds himself fashioning ever more elaborate “shelter” out of cardboard boxes for Jinn. The whole experience changes him in subtle but profound ways.

Yeoh’s writing sparkles with wit and empathy in this poignant, quirky novel. Told in an unhurried pace that’s part of its charm, the story is a beautiful portrayal of a gentle friendship. It deftly explores how life isn’t just what happens to you but what you make of it, and how the only way to live is according to one’s authentic self.

Verdict: A sensitive, heart-warming tale (8/10)

Availability: Paperback, RM45