The Heartsick Diaspora

Book Cover: Myriad Edition

‘Set in different cities around the world, Elaine Chiew’s award-winning stories travel into the heart of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas to explore the lives of those torn between cultures and juggling divided selves. Chiew’s stories are interlaced with humour, compassion and the importance of food and cooking, and the memories that meals evoke, as her characters negotiate unfamiliar worlds, raise children in another country or introduce parents to partners who don’t speak their language.

In the title story, four writers find their cultural bonds of friendship tested when a handsome young Asian writer joins their group. In other stories, a brother searches for his sister forced to serve as a comfort woman during World War Two; three Singaporean sisters run a French gourmet restaurant in New York; a woman raps about being a Tiger Mother in Belgravia; and a filmmaker struggles to document the lives of samsui women — Singapore’s thrifty, hardworking construction workers. 

Acutely observed, wry and playful, Chiew’s stories are as worldly and emotionally resonant as the characters themselves. This fabulous debut collection heralds an exciting new literary voice. 

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The Heartsick Diaspora’, 2nd Place Winner, Bridport International Short Story Competition, 2018

“Florida Rednecks Love Moo Goo Gai Pan,” Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Honorable Mention, February 2018

“Face”, First Prize, Bridport International Short Story Competition, 2008.

“The Heartsick Diaspora”, Special Mention, Saboteur Awards (UK), 2020.

Press and Praise

‘Innovative in format and original in content, it is clever, multi-layered, challenging and political. It’s also full of verve and wit.’
— Monica Ali, author of Brick Lane

‘Elaine Chiew’s short stories are hugely incisive. Here is a satisfying mix of poignancy and humour, light and dark — an unforgettable journey into the hearts and minds of the displaced. Chiew brings original and multiple award-winning skills to great effect in these sparklingly intelligent explorations of identity and displacement. The added charge in Chiew’s work comes from her impressive range — her clever, nuanced and varied stories are perfectly balanced.’
— Vanessa Gebbie, author of The Coward’s Tale

‘Elaine Chiew’s witty stories in ‘The Heartsick Diaspora’ offer us a rich palette of feelings and experiences that often converge: humour, melancholy, rage and tenderness. Issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural identities are embedded in the everyday — in the kitchen, on the bus, or at school — as characters navigate between connection and isolation, visibility and invisibility, familiarity and distance.’
— Intan Paramaditha, author of The Wandering

‘ ”The Heartsick Diaspora’ is thoughtful, complex, emotionally resonant, both aware of the need to establish its own truth and of the danger that need involves… The stories are as deeply felt as they are, on occasion, playful; there’s a kind of impertinence of tone, a creative intelligence that lets Chiew get up skin-close and yet maintain a distance that allows her, and us, to see the larger picture. ‘
— Charles Lambert, author of The Children’s Home

‘ ”The Heartsick Diaspora’ is an unflinching examination of the hybrid and hyphenated lives of global nomads, shining a bright light on Singaporean-Chinese voices, but also the larger Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese diaspora. It is philosophical and poetic in turns, and stories like ‘Face’ and ‘The Heartsick Diaspora’ and ‘Mapping Three Lives’ are absolutely stunning. Memorably populated with characters who linger in the mind long after the last story ends, this book is a truly impressive debut, full of humour and heart.’
— Dipika Mukherjee, author of Thunder Demons

‘ The characters in Elaine Chiew’s wonderful and vibrant collection, ”THe Heartsick Diaspora’, are drawn with so much insight, humour and compassion. It is an original and beautiful collection.’ 
— Karen E. Bender, author of Refund

‘In ‘The Heartsick Diaspora’, Elaine Chiew allows us to visit a breadth of experiences among Chinese migrant communities, both past and present. The range of the emotional worlds of the characters represented in the book is depicted in fragments, echoing the disjointed, often repressed manner in which many of the immigrant families communicate with one another. The stories do an outstanding job of capturing an atmosphere that is recognisable, but presented in fresh tales to engage the mind and heart of the reader, even as they entertain. It is a brilliant first collection by Chiew, marking her as a writer to be watched.’
— Shelley Bryant, author of Cyborg Chimera

‘ A spectacular read! What a handsome showcase of the consummate storyteller Elaine Chiew. Hers is a winning voice, working in pathos with great élan. We become witness to such a rich understanding of human emotion and desire. Elaine lets scene and character speak for themselves, with such self-assured perspicacity ‘ 
— Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, author of Singular Acts of Endearment

Singapore Unbound My-Book-of-the-Year
— Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, 2019
— Felix Cheong, 2020

Recommended as part of ’10 Short Story Collections by Asian Authors released in 2020′
— Stacey Megally, Bookriot

Chiew possesses a talent in writing lyrical prose that oscillates between humour and seriousness. She has a knack of injecting subtle humour that allows the reader to laugh and cry for the characters at the same time.
— Yang Ming, Inkpantry

‘ Chiew guides the reader through different timelines and countries. She writes with an eye that is sharp for observations unique to environmental locale and sensitive to the small idiosyncrasies that differentiate individuals from one another.’
— Shiea Ting Ting, Chiao Tung University Taiwan (Asian American Conference)

‘…infused with humour and a penetrating intelligence.’
— Petina Gappah, The Guardian

The characters in Chiew’s stories are often far from home, caught between worlds. Part of the Singaporean and Malaysian diasporas, they’ve headed to the U.S. and UK, but are tied to the family and values they’ve left behind, a push-pull of re-invention, cultural expectations and obligation.’
— Eithne Farry, The Daily Mail UK

‘A teenager is plagued by hungry ghosts who follow him around his Housing Board flat, demanding blood and forcing him to buy them kim zua (joss paper offerings). A “tiger mother” copes with the stress of her child’s London prep school by rapping. An American doctor finds out more than he would like about the dysfunctional sex lives of his Singaporean immigrant parents. This debut collection looks at Singaporeans and Malaysians living in diaspora in short stories that are wickedly funny or melancholic.’
— Olivia Ho, The Straits Times

Chiew’s willingness to engage with a range of different genres gestures, I think, to the fragmented nature of diasporic lives, and the difficulties faced by “ethnic writers” in finding an authentic authorial voice, or in unraveling what it means to be an “ethnic writer”.
— Rosie Milne, Asian Review of Books

These stories do what short fiction does best: point a light at lives rarely given voice, and depict dramatic situations which involve and vex the reader.
— Aiden O’Reilly, Litro

The characters in Chiew’s stories are smart, uncertain, brittle, needy, insecure, vulnerable, ambitious, resilient, sassy, anxious and aggressive and don’t always come out of situations ‘on the up’. They are also hard-working, giving more to society than society gives to them.
— Janet H. Swinney, The Short Story UK

[Chiew’s] writing ranges from thoughtful to provocative, pithy and vibrant observations bring these short stories to life. She has the ability to transfer emotions from the page, straight into my heart and mind.
— Liz Robinson, LoveReading

To carry all the history, the changes, the diversity of location, people and families and do it faultlessly through a series of stories with barely a flicker of fault in any is a major achievement. Each story is a dense little gem in itself, a meaty little tale packed with so much information, hinting at so much more. As a collection – building the foundations of the others even deeper – they are outstanding.
— Hilary White, NB Magazine

This is an author for whom words dance, and often with a wonderfully rich self-awareness to the steps.  There’s a tart edge to her writing, it feels fresh and fun and although the subject matter is both serious and sometimes dreamlike[…] Chiew manages to convince in narrative beat and human heartfelt engagements and her stories stick around, bringing a familiar smile in an unfamiliar world.
— Eric Page,

‘ ‘ The Heartsick Diaspora’ is elegantly restless. The stories contained within slip between continents, and weave between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with ease, neither hurrying the reader, nor allowing time to dawdle and gawk at the carefully expressed foreignness of the diaspora experience. This is only possible because of the humour and sensitivity of Chiew’s writing, which bestows an overarching, gentle humanity upon each story.
— Han Clark, Lunate

‘[Chiew’s] work shines where she delves most boldly into the interstices of culture to pick apart pervasive but ill-understood representations and generalizations. Throughout the collection, she creates spaces for us to envision the ways in which contested identities may flourish in otherwise hostile surroundings. She challenges us to consider what lies beyond stereotypes and to connect past and present in our conception of what it means to be Asian. The Heartsick Diaspora is an intelligent and touching collection, and well worth a read for anyone interested in a breath of literary fresh air.
— Maggie Wang, Singapore Unbound

‘Another acute observation of the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese diasporas, this debut collection divulges the fragmented sense of self caught between cultures. Not answering the common question of local identity but rather widening its boundaries, characters seem incredibly believable while still carrying the analogy of our place in the nation’s evolution.’
— Joy Ling, Esquire SG

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