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A Philosopher’s ‘Singapore Saga’

Two centuries ago, early European, Malay, Chinese, and Indian pioneers fueled the expansion of the port city of Singapore. Now the city’s bustling scenes — replete with administrators, merchants, policemen, boatmen, concubines, slaves, and secret society soldiers — have been brought to life in John D. Greenwood‘s debut historical novel, Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga: Vol. 1). 

Greenwood is a philosophy and psychology professor at The Graduate Center. He first became interested in the history of Singapore while teaching at the National University of Singapore in the mid-’80s. He returned as a senior visiting scholar in 1999 and again as visiting professor in 2008. In that time, he accumulated material for the novel, while also writing numerous books, articles, and reviews on his fields of academic research. 

Greenwood, who had read Edward Rutherfurd’s London, was inspired to give his adopted city the same novelistic treatment. “There were a number of decent histories, but no novel about the founding and early development of Singapore that was true to its history,” he explained.

“Once the thought was out, it became an obsession,” Greenwood said. “That night I could not sleep, and rose at 2:00 a.m. to write the story that forms the prologue of the book.”

This first volume covers the period from 1819, when the settlement was founded, to 1836, the year of a (fictional) sea battle with Illanun pirates that serves as the book’s climax. Greenwood has almost completed volume 2, Chasing the Dragon, which he hopes to release in time for Singapore’s bicentennial in 2019. That will be followed by volume 3, Night of the Hungry Ghosts — after which he hopes to begin work on the second half of Singapore’s first century, a process that, Greenwood jokes, “will probably take me into retirement!”

Beyond SUM

Book Cover: 'Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga, Vol.1)' by John Greenwood
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Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga, Vol.1)
Monsoon Books, 2018

Work By
John D. Greenwood (Professor, Philosophy and Psychology) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“A Philosophy and Psychology Professor Delves into Fiction” (The Graduate Center)

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