Disclosure: I received a copy to review. All opinions are my own.
Sarong Party Girls, the debut novel by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, dives into the dazzlingly glamorous and moneyed world of modern single women in Singapore. Its club scene serves as a setting that reflects the society’s dichotomy between men and women, rich and poor, and the powerful and powerless.
This solid, indulgent read pulls its title from the real-world term “Sarong Party Girls” that stems from Singapore’s colonial past when British soldiers would bring in local girls, often clad in sarongs, to parties. In recent years, Singaporeans have used the term to coin young, provocatively-dressed Asian women who frequent swanky night clubs in search of rich, white men who they believe can provide them with a fabulously cushy lifestyle along with a “Chanel Baby” – the ultimate status symbol of a half-White, half-Singaporean child.
The freshly original book follows the salacious life of Jazzy, a 26 year old self-acclaimed Sarong Party Girl, who devises a plan with her best friends Sher, Imo, and Fann to capture the hearts and wallets of ang moh, or rich, white, ex-pat men. In her materialistic brand-name world filled with luxury goods, Jazzy claws her way to the top with fierce ambition, dedication, and cunningness. Her anthem in the search for the ideal mate could easily be Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies.”
Through Jazzy’s quest, the author exposes an undercurrent of sexism and class divisions that tarnish the shiny exterior of Singapore’s A-list social scene where money, champagne, and girls run freely but often at a price.
With the lead character Jazzy, Lu-Lien Tan creates a believable, unique protagonist who possesses both strength and vulnerability. Jazzy is caught between two worlds: her everyday traditional and humble life living with her parents and her glitzy night life climbing up the social stratosphere. You’ll root for Jazzy, but feel shocked by some of her choices. You’ll sympathize with her plights, yet scorn her vanity. You’ll realize she’s a product of a patriarchal environment where modern women may appear predatory, but are also preyed upon by opportunist men. You’ll realize she’s fallen in too deep, and hope she’ll be able to pull herself out before it’s too late.
Lu-Lien Tan lends authenticity to the story by writing Sarong Party Girls in Singlish, or the colloquial language of Singapore signified by its distinct cadence and slang that’s a blend of English mixed with other Asian languages. Though phrases like “Catch no ball” and “Walao eh!” may be unfamiliar, the reader can easily determine their meanings through context.
Sarong Party Girls is an engaging page turner that provides an insider’s view into the exciting and mysterious world of Singaporean night life and the modern women who live it. Through Jazzy’s story, the book remarks on themes universal to women and societies around the world whether it be New York, London, or Tokyo: the place of women in society, the quest for a better life, the need to fit in, the exploitation of the disadvantaged, the search for inner strength, the journey to find one’s self.
Sarong Party Girls [William Morrow] releases July 12, 2016. Pre-ordering is available. To find out more and to purchase your own copy, please visit www.cheryllulientan.com/books/sarong-party-girls.
About the Author
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is a New York-based journalist and author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family, and edited the fiction anthology Singapore Noir. She has been a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal. InStyle magazine and the Baltimore Sun. www.cheryllulientan.com
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