Jeyaretnam, Philip 1965(?)-

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JEYARETNAM, Philip 1965(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1965, in Singapore; son of J. B. Jeyaretnam (a politician); mother a lawyer; married Cindy Sim (an actress), 1988; children: one son. Education: Cambridge University, J.D. (with honors), 1986.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o 2003 University of Hawaii Press, 2840 Kolowalu Street, Honolulu, HI 96822-1888.

CAREER: Law partner in Singapore; writer. Guest of Melbourne Writers' Festival.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship to University of Iowa International Writers' Program and Harvard Law School; Airy Neave Award (Great Britain); named Young Artist of the Year, Singapore National Arts Council, 1993.


First Loves (short stories), Times Books International (Singapore), 1987.

Raffles Place Ragtime (novel), Times Books International (Singapore), 1988.

Abraham's Promise, University of Hawaii Press, 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: Philip Jeyaretnam burst onto the literary scene in 1987 with his debut book First Loves, a collection of short stories centered on the lives and loves of Chinese families in Singapore. The book became a bestseller in his home country and won the hearts of many critics, including Ilsa Sharp of Far Eastern Economic Review, who declared First Loves "the best collection of short stories to emerge from a young Singaporean author in recent years." The author's style, Sharp suggested is "distinguished first by a very fine command of detail and carefully crafted structure; and secondly, by the most sensitive and delicate handling of sexual and adolescent matters ever seen in Singaporean fiction."

Trained in law, Jeyaretnam seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, J. B. Jeyaretnam, a former opposition leader of Singapore's parliament; and his mother, a British-born lawyer. But the younger Jeyaretnam, while taking up a position as a partner in a law firm, was equally drawn to literature. "As a lawyer, you do help real people with real problems," he told Far Eastern Economic Review interviewer Murray Hiebert, adding, "I want to be a writer but live like a lawyer."

Jeyaretnam's first novel, Raffles Place Ragtime, is a comedy of "deceptions and misunderstandings," as Christopher Holmes put it in Far Eastern EconomicReview, "chiefly practised on each other and themselves by the endearingly humble (and bumbling) Vincent and his tantilising fiancée, Connie." In searching for new ways to praise Jeyaretnam, Holmes facetiously chided the author for not only "[being] absurdly young to be writing with such humour and aplomb," but also for the sin of being "married, a graduate of [Cambridge,] and a lawyer."

With Abraham's Promise, his second novel, Jeyaretnam had to face down comments that the main character was based on his father, who became something of a folk hero after being dismissed by the parliament and disbarred following accusations of false declarations. While the elder Jeyaretnam was later found innocent of the charges, he remained blacklisted by the media. In Abraham's Promise, the title character is an aging teacher and political gadfly still coping with the effects of blacklisting by the regressive British ruling party in the 1960s. This "novel of regret," as Barbara Quick described it in the New York Times Book Review, provides "an intimate glimpse of the political, moral and culture life of Singapore from World War II onward." On a political level, noted Charles Briffa in World Literature Today, the novel "is a barbed shaft. Under the British, Abraham's philosophy does not get him into trouble, but after independence he speaks against unjust measure and is politically punished. And on the personal level, it is an emotional landslide," as infidelity and crossed loyalties enter into the picture.

To Briffa, Jeyaretnam "loves delving into characters to view a perspective of consciousness and an emotional attitude. Character gives his fiction location and tone."



Far Eastern Economic Review, March 24, 1988, "A Sexual Awakening," p. 91; February 9, 1989, "Vignettes of Singapore, Inc.," p. 47; January 18, 1996, "Family Resemblance," p. 62.

New York Times Book Review, February 25, 1996, review of Abraham's Promise, p. 21.

World Literature Today, summer, 1996, review of Abraham's Promise, p. 765.


Singapore Culture and Information, (March 12, 2002).*