If We Dream Too Long is a Singapore Novel. Set in the early years of Singapore’s independence, If We Dream Too Long chronicles Kwang Meng’s foray into adulthood. After graduation, he follows his father’s footsteps to become a clerk.
The monotonous tasks of Kwang Meng’s clerical job takes its toll on him. He begins to see a future of clerical work. Believing he cannot escape from a life of tedium, a heavy sense of alienation envelops Kwang Meng.
As his friends Hock Lai and Portia plot steps towards a bright future, Kwang Meng is left behind. The only comfort he has is the sea. The vast expanse of water represents a freedom he cannot find in his job.
Diving into the waters, he imagines a different world. The world of the sea is a quiet one that is entirely his own. Looking out into the distance, he sees cargo ships and dreams of becoming a sailor and harbours the hope of leaving the quotidian world of his job to experience life in its fullness as a wondering traveler.
Yet, is Kwang Meng’s job that meaningless? Boon Teik, his neighbor, believes that every job is meaningful because each job plays a role in contributing to wider society. Kwang Meng’s ambition to become a sailor then ignores the inherent meaning found in his clerical job. The alienation Kwang Meng feels is essentially purposeful.
This examination of destiny is explored further when Kwang Meng’s father is hospitalized. With his father in hospital, Kwang Meng becomes the family’s breadwinner.
Assuming the huge responsibility of caring for his family at a young age, Kwang Meng’s mother laments the unfair treatment of life towards her son. She hopes that he will “understand everything”.
However Kwang Meng observes that complete knowledge is elusive. “Things just happen, that’s all. So what is there to understand?” he asks.
Reality slaps Kwang Meng in the face and the dreamer that he is realizes that he has dreamt too long.
If We Dream too Long may be found at NUS Press.
Image credit: NUS Press