Photo by: Nicole Fang

Charmaine Leung’s first work, 17A Keong Saik Road, delves into the colorful history of the once notorious red-light district. Retelling tales of Keong Saik through the memories of her mother and herself, Leung artfully brings to light the stories of the marginalized, forgotten women of the past.

Recounted partly in Cantonese, Leung gives an authentic and intimate look into her and her mother’s childhood in Keong Saik Road. In this story of resilience, she tells of her mother’s tough journey from a young girl put up for sale to serving the needs of a business entertainment house to eventually becoming the madame of the brothel. Through poignant flashbacks, Leung also gives readers a preview of her personal struggles with shame and identity growing up in the red-light district.

While much of 17A Keong Saik Road is focused on Leung and her mother, the novel also gives insight into the lives and sufferings of women who lived in the area. Through her relationships and memories, Leung gives voice to the marginalized women such as the Ma Je, Pei Pa Zai and Dai Gu Liong. In their stories, they reveal a world many never knew or no longer remember, shedding light on a relatively obscure aspect of Singapore history.

Laced with anecdotes and flashbacks, the narrative is well-paced with characters being well-developed and multi-dimensional.

17A Keong Saik Road is more than just a personal story. It is a heartwarming story of love, resilience, heritage and redemption.


We sat down with Charmaine Leung to find out more about her childhood growing up in 17A Keong Saik Road. Read it here:

Photo courtesy of: Ethos Books

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