Victor, Food, and Language in Abraham's Promise

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, National University of Singapore, 1998-1999

The scene in which Abraham waits in a restaurant for his son Victor provides an example of the way Jeyaretnam's settings advance the novel's narrative, provide exposition, and contribute to the characterization of the protagonist. It also provides another instance in which both food and a family relationship awakens thoughts of the past:

The restaurant is much as I feared. The chutneys are bland, the dosai less than crisp and piping hot, and the quantity of sambar, itself rather tasty, meagre in the extreme. Few of the clientele are Indian. Why would Victor want to dine here? Has Serangoon Road become too redolent of paan and toddy, the bad habits of a backward past, too crowded with guest workers scrambling for a taste of their homeland? Or is it that here he can speak English and not be forced into a language with which he is increasingly unfamiliar? I always strove to ensure my son's fluency in Tamil as well as English. I even attempted to teach him Latin but quickly realised that Latin could not be forced upon such a stubbornly reluctant tongue. The boy rebelled, not just against Latin, but also against Tamil, applying real effort only when he knew that a good grade was essential for a university place. Thankfully he did not identify English with my strictures, or else simply recognised the overriding importance of the language, for had he not acquired mastery of it he would not be a lawyer today, commanding the respect and the fees of many of the most influential men of business.

What do these final remarks imply about the relation of language, food, and culture?

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Philip Jeyaretnam