New Book Journeys to Singapore’s Rough-and-Tumble 19th Century


Professor John D. Greenwood (The Graduate Center) is taking readers back to 19th century Singapore in the second volume of Singapore Saga, his series of historical novels.

The latest installment, Chasing the Dragon, follows last year’s publication of the first volume in the series, Forbidden Hill

The new book evokes the history and cultural complexity of the port-city’s rough-and-tumble pre-colonial era with a cast of colorful characters, some based on real-life settlers, others fictional. A young man joins a white rajah on expeditions against Borneo pirates; an Indian cattleman turns to tiger hunting after his herd is decimated; a Malay magician uses spells to get his way in a love triangle; a Chinese mother is haunted by her abandoned child; and Chinese secret society gangs murder Christian farmers.

Meanwhile, British ships prepare for the First Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion is brewing on mainland China.

Chasing the Dragon was published earlier this year as Singapore celebrated its bicentennial. Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 following the arrival of Britain’s Sir Stamford Raffles. Raffles developed the island into a major port and base of operations for British trade in the region.

One reason for Singapore’s initial success as a commercial port was a thriving opium trade. The drug was outlawed in China, but the trade continued illegally and fueled a devastating addiction epidemic. The term in Greenwood’s title, Chasing the Dragon, refers to a method of inhaling opium vapors.

Greenwood is working on a third volume, Hungry Ghosts, with a planned January 2021 publication.