Book Review: To Know Where I’m Coming From

Title: To Know Where I’m Coming From

Author: Johann S. Lee

Call No.: LEE

Review: Many have anxiously awaited Johann S Lee’s second book, 15 years after Peculiar Chris – hailed as Singapore’s first gay novel – left its mark on a conservative reading public. Lee’s debut showcased talent, candour and a riveting storyline about a teenage boy coming out – surprising, then, that its then 21-year old author had never considered himself a writer. Peculiar Chris displayed a precocious storytelling gift that has not gone to seed; despite pursuing a career in finance since he left Singapore 15 years ago, Lee’s natural narrative ability is back and stronger than ever in To Know Where I’m Coming From. 

Again, the protagonist is loosely autobiographical; Ben Goh is the prodigal son who returns to his family home in Singapore to recover from a badly broken relationship. Initially, Ben quips about his situation, noting that gay men have five ‘Ds’ in their lives – drama, dress, decoration, dance and dermatology – but gradually, he develops a more serious viewpoint as he sees Singapore again through the eyes of a more mature, Westernised gay man. 

True to its title, Lee’s book explores what it means to know your roots. The story bravely tackles the issues surrounding modern homosexuality, and lays bare what it takes to come to terms with being a modern Singaporean. Lee’s real strength lies in his alter ego’s frankness with his readers; melancholic and bereaved, Ben is a flawed yet likeable character, freely sharing his hopes and fears, propounding both realism and romanticism as he finds himself attracted to a younger man and a country to which he had never wanted to return. This punchy read keeps you engrossed all the way to its surprise ending.

Source: June Lee from Time Out Singapore. 2008.