Stranger To Myself: Diary Of A Bangladeshi In Singapore by Md Sharif Uddin

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Stranger To Myself: Diary Of A Bangladeshi In Singapore

Author: Md Sharif Uddin

Rating: B+

There’s a mamak restaurant near my old office where, rumour has it, the workers - after working 14 hours, will shutter the place, rearrange the tables and turn them into beds.

They sleep where they work, so say the rumours. Whether it was true or not, I don't know, but I have always wondered how their lives were like behind the polite smiles. They made me realise how blessed and fortunate I am because unlike them, I could snuggle in my comfortable bed at night, not narrow table in a restaurant.

Sharif is a very eloquent writer, and his voice is really needed at a time when migrant workers are nearly invisible.

In this book he shares his diary entries and poetry where he details life as a migrant worker in Singapore. I love the raw, unpolished prose even if at times he seems maudlin, almost melodramatic. bBut how can he not be when faced with a life where his employers feed his rotten food, or where he couldn’t see his  parents before they passed away or watch his son grow up? 

Sadly, it would appear that even down south in Singapore, migrant workers are treated horribly. I had mistakenly thought that they had better lives.

“The owners of the companies are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. As long as you have the ability to work, they will care. If you stop for any reason, they will throw you out.”

This is a book that needs to be read. The only thing I wish was that it was available in ebook form because physical copies of it are hard to come by and his message needs to be spread far and wide.

Romance novels and its readers get so much of grief!

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I am a reader of many genres. The only genre I dislike is Young Adult, and that is more of an umbrella genre so I don't think it quite counts. (Why do I dislike the genre? Read this.)

It's interesting that when I people find out that I read romance, they will inevitably say: "Don't they all have the same plots? Aren't they unrealistic? Aren't the books shallow and silly?" I rarely get that with other genres.

The reason why this gets romance readers defensive is because it's almost implied that if you read such "shallow, unrealistic and formulaic" books, that means you're shallow, silly and unimaginative too. Of course nothing can be further from the truth as the readers of romance novels are one of the most diverse around.

The criticisms commonly levied against romance novels can be hurled at books of other genres too. Crime and thriller novels are unrealistic (the killer is caught every time? Sure.), fantasy novels can be silly (dragons exist? Hah!) and many genres are written to a formula of sorts. For example, a crime novel usually starts with a crime and ends with the bad guy being nabbed. This is "genre expectations", after all. Yet these books are not as mocked or vilified as romance novels. 

It's not the whys I am concerned about (personally I think it is misogyny). What I am concerned about is all that is said about this genre will keep curious readers away so that they won't look "shallow and silly" when seen reading it.

I was like that too - turning my nose up at the genre despite many years of entertainment from it in my teen years. Then I grew up and it saved my bacon. Let's just say romance novels lifted my spirits at a sad time in my life. (Tl;dr) 

What changed my mind? Brushing aside preconceived notions and being grateful that this genre instills hope, positivity and happiness in me. This genre does it very, very well! On top of that, I find it fun to hang out with it's readers as they are mostly positive and fun. 

Approach romance novels with an open mind. Know that there's a lot of variety within the genre itself and not all will please you. But when you find it - it will be utterly awesome.