What comes to your mind when someone asks you for recommendations of books by Malaysian authors? Most people think of Tash Aw’s critically acclaimed novels, The Harmony Silk Factory and Map of the Invisible World. The Gift of Rain and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng are also hot favourites among readers who love Asian fiction. Perhaps you’re thinking of Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride, the tale of a young woman who is asked to be the bride of a wealthy family’s deceased son.
More recently, Zen Cho is winning fans all over the world with her historical fantasy novel, Sorcerer to the Crown in which a magician ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover the reason behind England’s dried up magical stocks. We’re more than delighted that Malaysians are making waves in the global literary scene but here are 8 more books we think you should add to your to-read list if you haven’t done so yet!
Once We Were There by Bernice Chauly
Chauly’s debut novel follows a journalist, Delonix Regia, as she falls in love with the cultured and sensitive Omar amidst the political tumult of the 1990s Reformasi protests in Kuala Lumpur. Del emerges from the bleakness of the times and settles into domestic bliss with Omar. Their idyllic family life plunges into darkness when their 2-year-old daughter Alba is kidnapped. Driven to despair and madness, Del dives deep into the darkest secrets of a hedonistic city where babies are sold and women are trafficked.
Join Bernice Chauly as she launches her book at The Cooler Lumpur Festival on Saturday 19 August 2017, 4:00PM – 5:00PM.
More details here!
Yesterday by Felicia Yap
“How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday?” In this world, there are two types of people: Monos and Duos. Monos can only remember the last 24 hours whereas Duos retain their memories of the last 48 hours. Everyone records their actions and the events of the day in their iDiaries. Set in an alternative contemporary world, the novel follows Mark, a Duo novelist cum aspiring Member of Parliament, and his conscientious Mono housewife, Claire. When a dead woman is found in the river, her identity as Mark’s mistress is exposed and Mark and Claire’s seemingly perfect lives are upended. In a world where people manipulate their memories constantly, whom can you trust? Can you trust your husband? Can you even trust yourself?
Champion Fellas edited by Dipika Mukherjee and Sharon Bakar
As the tales in this anthology illustrate, sports bring out the best in people, challenging each of us to overcome the odds. In one story, a young man with cerebral palsy conquers the swimming pool. In another, an aerobics enthusiast faces crushing poverty and challenges the account of a fortune-teller to make a career in sports. The dark and bitter side of the field is also explored in some tales. A national hero gets away with rape. A schoolboy is bullied. Champion Fellas presents short stories and non-fiction pieces entered for the D.K. Dutt Award for Literary Excellence in its inaugural year.
Kebaya Tales by Lee Su Kim
This collection of short stories sends you down a rabbit hole into the world of the Babas and Nyonyas. Interspersed with full-colour pictures of gorgeous kebayas and accessories, these stories are sprinkled with the superstitions, cultural rituals, events and sayings unique to the Peranakan community. These stories have all the elements you’d expect in a drama – arranged marriages, love stories, inheritance disputes. Laced with gentle humour, these stories are based on or inspired by real-life events as told to the author by her nyonya mother, grandmother, and the bibiks in her family.
The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng
Who says steampunk has to be Victorian? Who says steampunk means corsets and petticoats made of iron and steel? Most steampunk stories are set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras but this anthology turns the steampunk-means-Victorian notion on its head, infusing the genre with the legends and spirits of Southeast Asian folklore. Children upgrade their battling spiders with armour, large fish swim the skies, and airships run on volcanic gas. Some of these tales and characters will be familiar to Malaysians. Ivanna Mendels tells the story of Malin Kundang, the Indonesian figure whom Malaysians know as Si Tenggang, an ungrateful son who refuses to acknowledge his mother. In Alessa Hinlo’s story, there is a manannangal, a vampiric-like creature similar to the Malaysian penanggalan.
Sister Swing by Shirley Geok-lin Lim
This story follows the lives of three orphaned sisters, Yen, Swee Yin, and Paik, as they leave their sheltered lives in a traditional home in Malaysia for the harsh reality of 1980s America. The story swings from Malacca to upstate New York to Long Beach, California as the sisters explore what it means to be Asian in America. Everyone has a specific idea of what it means to be Asian and American. And the sisters are at turns expected to conform to these ideas and at turns expected to rebel against these social pressures.
The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka
Carefree 14-year-old Lakshmi is duped into marrying a wealthy stranger in Malaysia, a world away from her home in Ceylon. Not only is her husband’s wealth an illusion, he is old and unattractive. Giving birth to a child every year until she is 19, she is determined that her children’s lives will turn out better. For a while, there is contentment and peace. But when Japanese soldiers abduct and kill her eldest daughter, Mohini, the family unravels. Lakshmi has fits of rage. Her husband becomes withdrawn. Mohini’s twin, Lakshmnan, turns to gambling, leaving his wife and children impoverished. The Rice Mother is a powerfully evocative novel which juxtaposes the brutal horrors of war against the warm pleasures of family life.
Evening Is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
When Chellam, the family’s servant girl, is banished for unnamed crimes, her dismissal is merely the latest in a series of losses in six-year-old Aasha’s life. A few short weeks before, her difficult grandmother, Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances. Her older sister, Uma, has departed for Columbia University with no plans to return. Her brother is imperturbable. And Aasha is left to cope with her mostly absent father and her bitter, discontented mother. Why was Chellam banished? Why was Uma so intent on leaving? How did Paati really die? The story moves forward and backwards in time, switching gracefully from the voice of one character to another, as the secrets of this dysfunctional family are laid bare.
By Zoe Liew.
Literary fans, check out writers Olivia Sudjic, Cara Ellison, Taiyo Fujii, and more at The Cooler Lumpur Festival. Click here to view the full programme.