'Tabatha Stirling’s brilliantly achieved first novel, Blood on the Banana Leaf, explores the relationships between maids and their employers in Singapore, exposing deeply unsettling truths about what goes on behind the glossy surface of that society. Told in the superbly nuanced voices of four very different female characters, it’s a great read; tense, vivid and involving, both heart-breaking and heart-warming. Tabatha is a talented, brave and accomplished writer and I do hope her novel gains the recognition and success it deserves.'
Lesley Glaister is the critically acclaimed author of thirteen novels and the winner of the Jerwood Prize for Fiction 2014 for her novel, Little Egypt.
Here are the stories of Lucilla, Ma'am Leslie, Shammi and Madame Eunice as they strive in their own ways, to exist in a country that harbours darkness below its pristine exterior. As the narrative weaves its candid and often brutal way through the lives of each woman, it examines the effects of loss, madness, violence and hope during a woman's life and in society as a whole.
Lucilla, a maid from the Phillippines, Leslie, a Ma’am from Bristol, Shammi, a maid from a village in Myanmar and Madame Eunice, a Chinese-Singaporean Ma’am, all live in Sabre Green, a leafy enclave on the West Coast of Singapore.
Lucilla has a kind employer who respects her but Lucilla’s smiles mask an episode of a brutal rape and she frets about her parents in Leyte who rely on the money she sends home. Eventually, after confronting her rapist, she leaves Singapore with her employers for a new life.
Leslie has married ‘up’ to a wealthy diplomat who is abusive and having an affair with their maid, Jocelyn. When Jocelyn becomes pregnant, Leslie takes on the role of ‘maid’, while Jocelyn and Ralph live as a married couple. After Ralph disappears in a cloud of blackmail and sexual scandal, Jocelyn agrees to give the baby to Leslie after the birth.
Shammi lives a harsh and lonely existence with a physically abusive employer who controls every aspect of her life. Exhausted from lack of food and guilt-ridden over a sexual assault by her employer’s husband, Shammi attempts suicide but is saved by her kind neighbour.
Madame Eunice is a pillar of Singaporean society but has made many enemies and when Eunice is betrayed by a friend, she suffers a psychotic episode that ends in the murder of Little Ping, her majhong partner. She is sectioned and eventually throws herself off the asylum roof pursued by demons, both real and imaginary.
20 Sabre Green
When I came to Singapore, it was with such happiness in my heart. I knew I was doing a good thing, making my parents proud. The girls that go to Singapore and Arabia are spoken of with reverence and as good, dutiful girls.
Sawtoh, the skinny girl from my village, she married a Western man and now they live in Singapore in a palace with beautiful children and swans. I hear her bed is made from gold and she has many servants. I wish her luck but I never like her much. She was cruel to animals and the younger children. Would pull pigtails and tear clothes and kick the dogs around the village when the mood took her. My Ebu says the devil is inside her mouth.
I don’t disagree with Ebu but I think that she is just very selfish. Most of the girls who marry Western men are cunning but until they have a ring on their finger – they play it very sweet like Bubur Candil. Sawtoh must have been kicking many puppies in private to be able to mask her real self. I feel sorry for that Western Man. He went to the market and bought a duck but it turned out to be a fire ant.
It is very dark here at my Madame’s house. I am expected to wash the car before the family wakes up. As I stumble out with sleep still in my eyes and weary bones that sigh I see the other black shapes washing other cars. We might smile and nod but we never call out. The maids that wash cars know better than that. We are divided between the maids that speak and the maids that do not.Read more...
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