Not Here, Not Now: Remaking Singapore’s Chinese Diaspora in <i>The Inlet</i>


  • Hui Min Annabeth Leow Independent


Singapore, Diaspora, Nostalgia, Nationalism, Race


Through an examination of characters’ relationships and encounters in Claire Tham’s 2013 novel The Inlet, I argue that state narratives of racial identity and national progress may dislocate Singaporean Chinese subjects from a sense of homeliness, by engendering nostalgia for an uncertainly located cultural hinterland. My analysis, which also responds to literary critics Sim Wai-chew and Angelia Poon’s earlier, divergent conclusions about class and linguistic power relations in the novel, intervenes in the common misidentification of the Chinese in Singapore as members of a global diaspora. Instead, in exploring characters’ attitudes within the text towards social and spatial elements that produce cultural alienation and challenge national belonging, I assert that the pressure to undertake a constant reinvention of the self can unmoor Singaporean Chinese from the psychic and physical landscape of Singapore. This process of reinvention, as it occurs amid recent immigration from China as well as historical and ongoing urban redevelopment, leads to a nostalgic yet anxious subjectivity that may be confused with diasporic consciousness. Based on such a reconsideration of the nature of diaspora, future investigations into English-language and vernacular literature could establish further implications of these trends on the development of Singaporean national identity.

Author Biography

Hui Min Annabeth Leow, Independent

Leow Hui Min Annabeth, an institutionally unaffiliated researcher based in Singapore, is interested in narratives about race, ethnicity, gender and the nation. This article is adapted from her undergraduate thesis in comparative race and ethnicity studies, which explored the sexual construction of race in three recent Singaporean novels in English. She most recently worked on an analysis of contemporary Asian American identity and postracial aesthetics in stories about culinary performance. Her next project will look at Southeast Asian–North American encounters in contemporary narratives about travel and return.