In this, Meira Chand's latest novel, she continues with the themes that have served her well in earlier work - the search for identity and belonging. On this occasion the setting is Singapore instead of Japan (though she has expanded her canvas to include the Malayan peninsula).
The story features three main characters from the multi-racial population of the island of Singapore. We are introduced to Mei Lan a Chinese girl from a well-bred family, Howard a clever Eurasian boy, and Raj a recent immigrant from India.
The year is 1927, and these three young people, each with their different agendas, are wondering if, with limited opportunities, the island will offer them enough to enable them to settle there.
The author uses as her background the violent and confused events that formed the history of Singapore as it journeys on the path to independence over a period of thirty years and in which each of the characters is portrayed as part of the struggle.
Mei Lan is trying to break her traditional family bonds and express herself as a freethinking individual, Howard is denied the chance due to the policies of his colonial masters to better himself through higher education and becomes in effect a freedom fighter, Raj however does best as he prospers by wheeler-dealing with the Japanese occupiers during the Second World War.
As the level of violence in the streets of Singapore grows by way of communist riots and demonstrations against British colonial rule, the resolve of Mei Lan, Howard and Raj and their families is tested to breaking point. Their personal struggles and victories (particularly during the period of the Japanese occupation) are described in vivid detail, making A Different Sky a novel that the reader may find hard to forget. Four stars.