LUCY BURDETTE: A couple of weeks ago, Hallie said she'd heard of a book I'd want to read--and boy was she right! You know I love mysteries and other novels with lots of food in them. I also love novels that take place in the Far East. Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu has them both.
Ovidia is a Singaporean novelist and playwright.
Although she's received several national and international writing and
arts awards, when she is recognized at home it is usually because of
her stint as a regular celebrity guest on Singapore’s version of the
Pyramid Game show. But today she's stopped by to tell us about her personal connection to her new character, Aunty Lee. Welcome Ovidia!
OVIDIA YU: In Singapore, unrelated older women are often called ‘Aunty’ as a term of respect. At least it was when I was growing up. Now women my age are often addressed as ‘Miss’ regardless of marital status. I don’t mind, but someone like my late mother would have been offended because by getting married she had ‘earned’ the right to be addressed as ‘Madam’ by strangers and called ‘Aunty’ by family and friends.
Anyway the real life role model for my Aunty Lee was called ‘Aunty’ by us children because she was a Second Wife. I know having more than one wife is regarded with horror in America. I think in today’s Singapore it's generally regarded with horror too. But when I was growing up as part of the first generation born after the war, it was a lot more common.
Having more than one wife was officially illegal under colonial law. But during the Japanese Occupation so many men and boys were taken away and killed by the Japanese that men were scarce after the war. Being a Second or Third wife (and I have an aunt who was a Fourth Wife) was not ideal, but it guaranteed a woman a family network as well as shelter, support and education for her children and a home to grow old in. And she would be addressed with the respectful prefix ‘Aunty’ by younger members of the household rather than the suffix ‘-jia’ applied to servant girls and unmarried aunts.Anyway Aunty X the Second Wife was my favorite adult when I was growing up. My mother disapproved not only because she was a friend of the First Wife but because Aunty X was a fantastic cook. My late mother was proud to be an educated, working woman and felt that someone who actually enjoyed cooking and homemaking was setting women back. But I wasn’t prevented from visiting because although a picky eater, I ate everything I was given at Aunty X’s house. Aunty X had a maid who helped her in the kitchen and I was sometimes allowed to help the maid top and tail bean sprouts or peel chestnuts. But I never learned much more about cooking because of the other big draw of Aunty X’s house: stacks of Readers’ Digest and murder mystery paperbacks.
Aunty X had all the golden age favourites like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh as well as some I haven’t seen much of since then—Margery Allingham, E.C.R. Lorac and Leo Bruce. Once I discovered reading the kitchen was forgotten.
Adjusting to the times, Aunty Lee is a consecutive rather than concurrent second wife but I’ve given her my Aunty X’s talent for cooking and passion for mysteries!
Lucy: Ovidia, I love this story! Do you have a beloved relative, quirky friend or mortal enemy colleague
with characteristics you would like to see in a book? And would this
person be a sleuth, victim or Murderer? Ovida has a copy of the book to give away to one of the lucky commenters...
Aunty Lee's Delights: After losing her husband, Rosie “Aunty” Lee could easily have become one of Singapore’s “tai tai”, an idle rich lady devoted to an aimless life of mah-jongg and luxury shopping. Instead she threw herself into building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee’s Delights, where spicy Singaporean home cooking is graciously served by Rosie Lee to locals and tourists alike. And when bodies start showing up Aunty Lee turns to cooking up solutions...