Benevolent Patriarchy and the ultra-feminism at the junction of reality:

Bolutife Oluwadele
6 min readOct 9, 2022

A review of Letters to Singapore by Kelly Kaur

Courtesy of

To begin with, I have known Kelly for nearly nine odd years now. We first met at Toastmasters, where her captivating storytelling prowess enamored me. She participated at various levels, and I made sure I was present at all those events once they happened within Calgary. She is a master (mistress?) of her art. She made storytelling looks too easy! I did not know her ‘rebellious’ side until much later. Due to apparent racism, I left the particular chapter of Toastmasters I was attending and the club altogether. Kelly and I, however, have maintained contact ever since.

Now to the book review proper.

Let me digress again!

Once I was halfway through the book, I found it very compelling to give her a call! The reason for the call was not farfetched. At a point in the book, I found it almost ‘unbelievable that I was reading just a mere ‘novel,’ but somewhat of a memoir. These letters must be much more than mere works of fiction. How on earth can this just be confined to the simple idea of creative writing? Below is a snapshot of our conversation.

“hey, Kelly, congrats on your book again.”

“Thank you, Bolu. I appreciate your coming for the reading session the other day.”

“No worries, that is the least I can do for a friend.”

“Oh, thank you so much.”

“You are welcome.”

“Did you cause trouble or anything?”

“Common, you know I have followed your advice to stay out of trouble.”

“I am glad to hear that. Going for another Ph.D.?”


“My bad. How are you doing today?”

“I actually call to talk about your novel. I am halfway through. The letters look so realistic. I always immerse myself in the various scenarios described in each letter. Some are so scary, while others speak to issues one is familiar with. Tell me straightway, is this a mixture of fiction and nonfiction?”

“What do you think?”

“Well, the book is so descriptive that my imagination has gone on a wide goose chase with the near conclusion that this is a personal narrative cloak in fiction. That makes compelling reading and easily relatable.”

“Well, I am not telling you anything.”

“Even as a literary colleague and a good friend, for that matter?”

“I am glad you enjoy the book, but I am not answering your question.”

“I understand. I think I am glad we spoke about this, and I can make my own deduction.”

“Good luck to you.”

We both laughed and switched to other discussions.

Now the narrative.

The letters were mainly between Simran, the heroin of the book, her mum, and her other rebellious and quasi rebellious feminism. Only in one letter towards the end was one Steve (must be very special), the only male a letter was written. However, there was a consistent allusion to Simran’s dad as a unique Patriarchy specie that we may consider him benevolent patriarchy. There was also a reference to Simran mum father as a caring man who would not mind sending his sixteen-year-old daughter away in marriage in another country. The presence of these two characters in the novel may have played a role in Simran’s thought of man as a protector.

Upon landing in Calgary, she thought the old driver who brought them from the airport (Simran and her dad) and was now familiar with them would be as benevolent as her dad. She was shocked when the older man was trying to exploit her emotions.

Then her first ‘lover’ boy took her to a club and simply vanished into the dead of the night. Reading this particular letter was almost hallucinating and was as scary as it could be. This is a compilation of innocence, its confusion, and near abuse. It gladdens the heart how Simran survived it all.

The letters between her, her sister, her friend, and her aunt going through various stages of encounters with Patriarchy, with almost adverse outcomes, become the novel’s pillar. The courage to come of a tradition that got females eternally enslaved, the resistance of the old order supported by the old matriarchy to maintain the status quo, all wrapped in success, little success, and resigning to fate encapsulate the essence of the novel.

Not just mere gisting amongst deeply connected females, it is a narration of the ugly sides of Patriarchy at its most charitable descriptions. It was further exacerbated by the ‘uncultured’ professors at school who were almost frustrating the efforts of a young lady grappling to reconcile herself to two conflicting cultural imperatives. Though it also happened, those experiences, as ugly as they were, helped in no small measure to sharpen the rebellious Simran.

The composure and motherly mien of Simran’s mum were noticeable in many letters. Her submissiveness to benevolent patriarchy and perhaps an appreciation of her daughters who are doing everything possible not to be ‘like’ her, worshipping on the altar of demeaning cultural practices. On the one hand, she loves her daughters’ courage (especially Simran and her equally ‘rebellious’ elder sister) in carving some niches for themselves, and on the other hand, she prefers that they do not rock the boat too hard. She loves the stability of the family, even if the burdens have to be disproportionately burned by the women. To her, the men should be left alone to live in their world of nonaccountability, while the women must do everything possible to hold the family together.

The novel did a great job promoting Calgary and many ambivalences of places and significant events. It also balanced the skewed diversity against people of color generally. The now ubiquitous unconscious bias and prejudices against those that “do not look like us” were brought forth in the book. It was even well echoed in one of her professors’ remarks, “you do not write like us.”

Letters to Singapore represent a voice of dissent while searching for self in any situation, home and abroad. Simran was young in a new ‘world,’ and her freedom, not unusual, was becoming a near albatross, at least with the barrages of learning, unlearning, and relearning she had no choice but to go through.

It is many letters of near fatality and survival, broken and about to be broken marriages, entanglements, and ultimate frustrations in some instances. A story of hidden love, as with Lyn and the challenges of deciphering between kindness and philandering. All in an effort to find the real meaning of freedom, especially for the female specie.

Towards the end of the book, which I was reading while airborne, I was already preparing my punchline for the author!

Just Simran has broken all glass ceilings on her way, I thought, and was both angry and disappointed that she was about to give in. The compelling appeal by her mum, sister, and friend to return to Singapore after her degree, even after being offered a master’s degree admission on a ‘platter of gold’, was beyond irritating for me. Then she wrote how she was selling her books, furniture, and other belongings, then driving through the city with Steve as a goodbye gesture to the city she has come to love. I was angry.

However, the last letter brought me back to life. I gladly award the heroine trophy to Simran for the courage of purpose, tenacity, and boldness to finally shatter the remains of the glass ceiling standing on her way to reaching the height she rightly deserves.

The author, my good friend, is undoubtedly an engaging writer. The compelling nature of the book and its near reality is out of this world. Little wonder, the novel made it to bestsellers in Alberta instantly.

This is a book I will gladly recommend to anyone struggling with trying to ‘boil the ocean’ in order to please all but self to read and absolve themselves in the well-crafted book, which in my unsubstantiated opinion, remains a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction.

To Kelly, more ink to your pen. I look forward to your next novel, the Queen of storytelling.




Bolutife Oluwadele

Author of “Thoughts Of A Village Boy”|| Chartered Accountant|| Public Policy Enthusiast & Scholar || Business Consultant|| Columnist @premiumtimes ||MAN U FAN