When Sharlene Teo started her manuscript for ‘Ponti’, her first idea was to write “an epic Pontianak novel”. Pontianak, a creature of horror, is not an unfamiliar figure for the Indonesian audience, albeit it was known under a different name, ‘kuntilanak’. But what makes Teo choose this ‘exotic’ mythical figure that captures a distinctly Southeast Asian imagination to be the title of her debut novel that was released internationally?
Even before ‘Ponti’ was published it won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award in 2016, and was shortlisted for the Heart’s Big Book Award 2018 and the Edward Stanford Fiction with a Sense of Place Award 2019. How did Teo write stories of Singapore, where she originally came from, for the international audience? And even perhaps, what is considered a Singapore story, when the current Western imagination made it out to be a nation of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’?
Maesy Ang (IDN)