At times savagely funny, at others heartrendingly sad, Ponti is a novel about three lost souls struggling to find their way in the urban jungle of Singapore. It follows two young women on the cusp of adulthood who form an intense friendship at a crucial time in their lives, and the mother of one, who faced her own demons thirty years earlier.
The novel is set in Singapore, a vibrant first-world city that seethes with an undercurrent of folklore and superstition. The author describes a smothering tropical climate filled with biting insects and unappetising foods, where the girls flounder in a world of catty teen cliques and consumerism, while the mother sustains herself conducting séances for desperate men.
The motif of the Pontianak, the vampiric ghost of Malay and Indonesian folklore, is central, both as a plot device and a symbol. It seemed to me that there was more than one Pontianak in the story, more than one character nourished by feeding off others.
The author makes no concessions to those unfamiliar with this part of Asia. The reader must take off her shoes and enter into the story. Although I have some familiarity with the Malay peninsular, many references were foreign to me. But none of that mattered. I simply waded in and let the story take me where it would. A compelling debut.