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Women, Consumption and Popular Culture (Vol. 4 No. 1); Life, Community, and Ethics (Vol. 4. No. 2)

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From the opening scene where the protagonist comes to the disorienting realization that he is being tortured, it is clear that Vyvyane Loh’s debut novel Breaking the Tongue is deeply concerned with torture, and in this paper I contend that torture structures and refracts the multivocality and multiplicity of the nonlinear narratives that comprise the text in ways that imagine its traumatizing effects, including positioning the reader inescapably as part of the historical tragedy of the Sook Ching Massacre in particular and colonialism in general even decades after the fact. I argue that this focus on torture is meant not only to centralize protagonist Claude Lim’s experiences to effect a certain commentary on Singaporean nationality and nation-building, including a narrative of being chosen that refracts and plays upon a sense of both traumatic history and working through trauma, inextricably entangled with decolonization and the Sook Ching Massacre, but also to mimic, mime, and otherwise enact the subsequent traumatic effects of torture and thereby positions the reader paradoxically as a victim of, witness to, and perpetrator of torture as well. In this paper, I will focus mainly on the character of Claude and the Sook Ching Massacre as it is represented in the novel, and how the novel intertwines anxieties about colonial legacies of deculturalization with the trauma of war, specifically the singling out of Chinese persons qua Chinese drawing upon pertinent concepts on trauma from Cathy Caruth and Dominick LaCapra.

KEYWORDS: Vyvyane Loh, Breaking the Tongue, Sook Ching Massacre, Singaporean national identity, chosenness, Chineseness, trauma history

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