The Thorn of Lion City

Lucy Lum

Lucy Lum was the third of seven children, born in Singapore in 1933 into a Chinese immigrant family ruled with an iron hand by Popo, her fearsome and superstitious grandmother. Popo is a firm believer in the old ways, in stomach-churning herbalist remedies, in the dubious fortune-telling of mystics, and in mischievous little girls like Lucy knowing their place, and is forever keen to dispense her own wicked brand of justice, much to the despair of her adopted family.

Yet the suffering does not end at home. This is Singapore in the forties, a former British colony now living under the spectre of the invading Japanese – the hungry worms crawling down from the north as Lucy knows them – and fear floods the streets outside the family home. Lucy’s father, a kind-hearted and talented linguist, finds himself being used by the occupiers as a translator, and brings back terrifying stories of his merciless employers, family friends blown apart inside their rickety shelters, dead bodies heaped on top of one another by the roadside, that he confides to his daughter under the heavy teak table in the dining room.

‘The Thorn of Lion City’ is a fascinating and honest account of wartime occupation and of a little girl’s upbringing in a repressive Chinese family. At times harrowing, at others touching, it breaks the long silence of the Singaporean Chinese and speaks of hardship, family and the softly-spoken, redemptive relationship between a father and daughter.

Reviews of The Thorn of Lion City

  • ‘Lucy Lum, who now lives in London, recalls these war years – both domestic and international – with pared-down elegance. The events she recounts are vividly shocking…and are described with a quiet matter-of-factness. But there is nothing resigned or despairing in this account. Instead, her observations are full of emotional weight, a cool anger that is all the more potent in its restraint. But more than anything she loves her father, it is his company she craves, his stories that she longs to hear. One senses that is was his affection and respect that gave the already courageous Lum the strength and determination to survive her childhood with her spirit and hope intact.’ Daily Mail

    ‘“The Thorn of Lion City” is a remarkable story of a matriarchal household in Singapore, full of superstitions and domestic human rights violations and the liberating kindness of a devoted father, against the brutal background of the Japanese invasion. It is wonderfully told and has a bright filament of honesty.’ Hugo Hamilton

    ‘Set against the Japanese invasion of Singapore, “The Thorn of Lion City “ is a heart-wrenching story of a young girl’s blossoming away from her grandmother’s cruel and repressive Chinese values. Brave and compelling, it opens an important and forgotten page of twentieth-century history.’ Yiyun Li