REVIEW | Stay Alive in Singapore!
Well it happens in this book. Really.
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Let’s face it, zombies are totally in.
Ever since the popular television series The Walking Dead premiered, it has garnered fans from all over the world over six seasons and counting. Adding on to this is a multitude of zombie movies, from the funny (Zombieland) to the action packed thriller (World War Z) and even the newest blockbuster from Korea (Train to Busan). Some of these are based on books since the literary world has been even more prolific in terms of the zombie genre with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies having hit the silver screen in early 2016.
What’s more, we seem to sadistically find the idea of being chased by zombies fun. Cue the zombie run started in 2014 where your goal was to complete the obstacle-filled 5km without getting ‘eaten’ by the zombies who chase you and try to take your ‘life’ AKA the sashes around your waist. Or how about the app that simulates zombie sounds as you take a jog, with the man-eating grunts getting louder when you slow down? If anything, companies have realised that people, strangely, like zombies and hence, zombies have, funnily enough, become marketable.
That’s where Land of the Meat Munchers comes in as Singapore’s answer to the worldwide zombie craze. Nicholas Yong’s protagonist, Jim, is one of the last standing Singaporeans in a zombie-infested island. The novel follows him on a supply run that packs a few surprise encounters (alive and undead) as he navigates streets that are familiar to us all, equipped with dry humour and a parang.
Before you assume that this is nothing but a diluted local version of anything you’ve seen on the global market, look again. The title itself suggests it is anything but with the common term ‘zombies’, replaced by ‘meat munchers’, which is our protagonist’s name for them. The zombies are also dubbed ‘wayangs’ in the course of the novel for the unnatural manner in which they move. If that naming isn’t uniquely Singaporean, I don’t know what is.
Yong proves that his novel is rich in local flavour by giving us likeable, realistic characters to follow. They are not glorified survivors but ordinary folk and with their own methods of dealing with this disaster. Even in the face of a zombie apocalypse, his characters do not lose their Singaporean spirit. Uncles and Aunties refuse to leave their HDBs that they paid so much for; they didn’t lose it to the government and neither will they lose it to zombies. In a move that will seem like déjà vu to most Singaporeans, our ex-colonial masters abandon us once again in this new battle against the undead.
It doesn’t stop there, by exploring a zombie ridden Singapore, the novel hits pretty close to home in plenty of ways. We’re often used to seeing the damaged Statue of Liberty or American towns in zombie flicks but in this particular story, derailed MRTs and a deserted Tiong Bahru, in all its hipster and unfortunately, unappreciated glory, are the setting. It’s rather eerie, imagining the place you had dinner at last Friday as the lanes the protagonist is sprinting for his life in.
Language is another way in which this Singaporean zombie apocalypse seems a little too possible and a little too real. These characters speak Singlish, rest assured, the novel is otherwise in perfect English, but knowing that the conversations in the novel are almost exactly like the ones you would be having if a zombie apocalypse actually happened seems slightly surreal.
Several pages of illustrations pepper the novel, adding to the gory images that our imagination fabricates as we read and satisfying that morbid fascination we have with the undead creatures. Thrills aside, Yong manages to capture genuine struggles with issues such as morality, mortality and the fragility of the human spirit that his characters face in the end of life as we know it.
Prepare to not put this book down until you reach the end and it is not advisable to read this close to mealtimes. This book is a must for all zombie fans and at least if the zombie apocalypse does hit Singapore, you’ll be mentally prepared. For other stories that will leave your heart thumping, check out the collection of Asian Spine Thrillers and The Girl Under the Bed.