Verdict: REPUBLIC DAY by Jef Tan is a fascinating read. It is also unfortunately marred by its writer's imperfect grasp of the English language.
For the most part, Jef Tan’s REPUBLIC DAY focuses on Michael Chua, a deeply depressed police officer whose life changes after a new drug, as yet undetectable by the police, hits the streets. In a country controlled by the totalitarian government that punishes any kind of drug possession with a death penalty, drug trafficking becomes a form of protest. Michael soon joins the dissidents distributing the new drug.
They’re an eclectic group, to say the least. They’re led by Buddha Keong, a wheelchair-bound mastermind recruiting his cohorts among the sick and the elderly – people deemed useless by the government and left to fend for themselves. Then there’s award-winning filmmaker Mun Choon Hong who chronicles the state’s inhumanity towards its own citizens despite being repeatedly threatened with jail. There’s also the Millionaire Saint. Once ostracized by the conservative society for outing himself as a homosexual, he wants to help various causes in the Republic before he dies from AIDS.
However, the real main character of REPUBLIC DAY is the Republic itself – a tiny, unnamed, east Asian nation. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, the Republic has since turned itself from a poor island into an economic powerhouse. The price was steep, though. Civil liberties are being curtailed by the government. The suicide rates among the over-worked employees are the highest ones in the world. All of the “unproductive” members of society are swept aside and left to rot. Instead, the government spends money on the latest surveillance system, monitoring the populace for any sign of rebellion.
Despite being a fascinating read, REPUBLIC DAY is greatly marred by Jef Tan’s poor grasp of the English language. Here’s a good example of his writing:
The police department was inundated with calls from the panicking public while the train drivers sealed the doors shut, piloting the train to this very station where the police gathered.
Jef Tan obviously isn’t a native English language speaker. He tends to use odd phrasing and write clunky sentences. At best, these make REPUBLIC DAY difficult to read. At worst, they make it sound laughable. That’s a shame. Tan seems inspired by real events and regimes, yet manages to sidestep preaching and writes a novel that is clever and occasionally even funny. All in all, REPUBLIC DAY is one good editor away from being a four-star book.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader