In many ways, Rachel Heng’s spellbinding novel The Great Reclamation is as much a sweeping coming-of-age story as it is an exhaustive history of 20th-century Singapore. The book—cleverly titled after Singapore’s 1966 post-independence program that added 1,525 hectares of land to its southeastern coast—begins with the journey of 7-year-old Ah Boon. A misfit among his fisherman family, Ah Boon goes on a fishing trip one night with his father and older brother off the coast of their village. There, he discovers a group of small islands that seem to not only appear with the moon, but also bring with them a bounty of fish. As Ah Boon grows up, he inevitably begins to confront the changing world around him. He meets great loves, suffers incredible losses, and above all, wrestles with the cost of modernization, as local government officials push for a land reclamation project where he grew up. Heng uses Ah Boon’s arc to tell the story of Singapore through its many shifts—from Japanese occupation to British colonial rule to its independence and stratospheric prosperity. Told with a critical eye, nuance, and heart, The Great Reclamation is a moving look at what human innovation looks like, and the price we all have to pay for it. —Rachel Sonis
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