Sunday, August 12, 2012

"The Black Isle"

Sandi Tan was born in Singapore. She attended University of Kent in the UK and received an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University. Her short films have shown at major festivals and museums around the world, including the New York Film Festival and MoMA.

Tan applied the Page 69 Test to The Black Isle, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
...The Depression had left this part of the world tattered and raw. Walking to and from St. Anne’s, I saw rickshaw coolies squatting in the shade, some without fares for days. Beside them were construction workers (many of them Chinese women), wharf laborers, beggars, all stooping together in what at first appeared to be silent solidarity but, at a second glance, was clearly bewilderment so deep as to have rendered every single one of them speechless. Only their children had the enterprise to beg, filling the district with their ubiquitous cry: “No mother, no father, no supper, no soda!”

After school, I often sat on a stone bench in the traffic island dividing Spring Street, the main artery of Chinatown. This island was tiny: just a small, raised slab with barely enough room for the bench, a hibiscus bush, and the pedestal where Mr. Singh, the Sikh policeman, stood directing traffic with oversized canvas sleeves fastened to his arms like wings. It was here, watching the throngs in cars, trams, buses, and on foot, that I received my practical education.

The Chinese, who made up a little more than half of the populace, came in a wide variety, from slave to millionaire. The ones known as Peranakans, whose families had been in the Nanyang for generations and proudly spoke no Chinese at all, fared the best...
Whoa! My page 69 represents a lull in the dark 469-page sweep of The Black Isle. It's the early 1930s here, and this section comes after the sinister prologue and opening chapters, all chock-full of Very Bad Happenings! At this point, my heroine Cassandra is still a young girl--barely twelve--and since my book charts her progress from unruly immigrant urchin to mature, powerful conjurer, there's still a long way to go. Cassandra is, of course, already gifted--or cursed--with the ability to see the dead, though there's no mention of the dead on this page!

Instead, what we have here is a segue into social anthropology--a guide to the flora and fauna, living and dead, of the Black Isle--following the ghostly roller-coaster ride of the earlier pages and before the terrors soon to follow (the haunted girls' school returns on Page 72). The next chapter recounts the even greater horror of going through puberty on an isolated rubber plantation, where the thin gray trees resemble skeleton armies in the dark.

Hopefully, my Page 69 will tell serious readers that The Black Isle's not just about phantoms but also ghosts of a more pernicious kind: the past.
Read an excerpt from The Black Isle, view the book trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Sandi Tan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue