Friday, November 10, 2006

The Great Unwritten Malaysian Novel

There are more Malaysian writers writing about circa WW2 than there are law-breaking Klang assemblymen.
says Xeus. adding that she thinks WW2:
... a pretty pedestrian subject
before listing several examples of her own of books she would like to see written.

The post that prompted it all, of course is this one of Lydia's and it had us totalling up just how many books had been written by Malaysian writers about the Second World War. Answer, not that many. Sympozium listed four:
1) Tash Aw - he didn’t really focus on or write about the Japanese Occupation, did he? No.
2) Vyvyane Loh, yes, but her book was set in Singapore, as was
3) Noel Barber’s Tanamera.
4) The Rice Mother
to which I added Chong Seck Chim's Once Upon a Time in Malaya.

There will of course be one more when Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain is published next March.

But how much is too much?

No-one ever said to Sarah Waters "Don't write about the Second World war, dear. It's been done to death." (Or I don't think they did!) Waters certainly had a different take on the era, telling the stories of the several Londoners, several of whom are gay (or at least displayed some degree of sexual ambivalence). Waters set her novel in the same period of history as others but puts a new spin on it.

Thank goodness no-one said to Larry McMurtree "Oh no, not another cowboy novel!" when he set out to write Lonesome Dove. Thousands of westerns had been published but this Pulitzer prize winner creates a panoramic sweep of the life of the cowboy.

No-one tells British or American writers "Don't write anymore novels about the war (First or Second)/the aftermath of 9/11/ the holocaust ...".

So why should we lay down conditions for our own authors?

The problem in Malaysia is that there simply aren't enough novels of quality being written. I believe that this is gradually beginning to change. At the same time readers here are hungry for fiction set in the present or near present, and which speaks directly to them.

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