Review: Pawn By Amanda Lee Koe

Amanda Lee Koe’s short story ‘Pawn‘ published in QLRS is reviewed by Kaani contributor Prashila Naik.


Pawn, a short story by Amanda Lee Koe, and published in QLRS, is possibly one of the most subtly unsettling stories I have read. It is set in Singapore and its protagonist is of Chinese origin. But the story could be set anywhere else in the world and with a character of any ethnicity and it would still be as unsettling. For it works at the lowest level of the human condition, fully aware of and exploitative of the eccentricities of the societies, gently mocking and at the same time, shedding a tear for the unfairness of them all.

Pawn begins with a description of Delia, and instantly throws us into her world. There is  no exaggeration, for Delia’s life as it then begins to unfold is exactly how the first paragraph has promised it will be. Yet these men only had eyes for the pretty women in the office building, holding open elevator doors, loaning umbrellas, offering up gifts of uninitiated teh-ping.  
Delia struggles with who she is, she might also want to change that, but the ways of this world which only understand the physicality of beauty, do not make it any simple for her. She longs for that physical beauty. Its very lack defines her existence.
And so when beauty is presented to Delia in the most unexpected of places, she grabs it by both hands. And this introduces to another layer in Lee Koe’s story, the class divide that becomes redundant in the face of extreme beauty. Delia’s life changes, she begins to blossom, aware of the power of her – even if limited – financial means. What if she does not posses the power to change how she looks, she possesses the power to change the way the world ‘looks’ at her now.
Pawn is economically written, every emotion blunt, every outrage dangerously silent. The language is unadorned with any kind of literary excesses, even if at times too plain and unremarkable. I would have also liked more on Amanda’s relationship with her parents. The little passage in the story acts like a tease, you expect it to mean something more, and wait for it to return, but the story moves on, more desperate now, possibly in an indication of life’s desperation in general. Delia cannot afford to lose what makes her happy. None of us can afford to. We are all pawns to our desires after all.
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Reviews of short stories can be sent to

(The story should be published in English in any online journal. Pick one or more short story. The story should be available online and published between 2012-2018. Preferably Asian journal/ writer. Within 800 words.)


3 thoughts on “Review: Pawn By Amanda Lee Koe

  1. Enjoyed reading the review. I found it an interesting story, quite classic in its construction. Strongly contrasting characters, each person wanting different things, tightening of the tension as the story proceeds, and then the release of the conflict’s narrative “energy” at the end, in the form of an epiphany. If the characters’ genders were swapped (“Delio was the sort of man you took one look at and instantly knew he’d never once been touched by a woman…”) it would probably work just as well. Perhaps the characters should’ve been written as less shallow or at least more nuanced in their shallowness. The story didn’t strike me as being about gender or location or class (as Prashila argues) but rather about the things we are willing to substitute for love. We claim we want love, perhaps we even believe that to be true, but mostly, the envy of friends will do.


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