Wednesday, February 07, 2007

One for Yang-May's Suitcase

Novelist Yang-May Ooi set me this poser in an e-mail a while back and asked me to pass it on to you lot.

She will be back in Malaysia this month. She wants to do some book-buying while she's here. Supposing that she has room for no more than five books in her suitcase, which are the local books she should carry back with her?

Now I've been thinking this up and down. Some of the books I'd want to recommend are out of print. Others such as Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory and Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain are published (or in the case of the latter - soon to be published) in the UK anyway.

Then there horrendous gaps in my own reading. I bought Lloyd Fernanado's Green is the Colour, for example, but haven't read it yet. Much else has slipped by me and I haven't managed to get beyond the first page of any novel in Malay apart from kids' books. (Shame, shame and more shame!)

Plus enough writing friends of mine read this blog to drop by and strangle me if I don't include them in my top five, so ... erm ... I'm going to fence-sit.

All this is an introduction to one book which I think Yang-May should slip into her suitcase if she doesn't have it already: Rehman Rashid's A Malaysian Journey.

Rehman is a friend from way back. Met him at an old boy's reunion at Malay College in 1985 when I was teaching there. I remember we had a conversation at the rest house in Kuala Kangsar about the traumas of turning thirty (aiyoh, such spring chickens!) and we discovered that we share exactly the same birth date.

Rehman was writing for the NST and I loved his friday column, Scorpion Tales, and can remember some of them still. (Including a curious one about a caterpillar he wrote after Operation Lalang.

I took my Form Four kids up to KL and Rehman gave them a talk about the work of a journalist at the New Straits Times' offices and the grand tour. On another occasion, we roped him in to judge a debate against Royal Military College.

Our paths divided. I left Malaysia to do my Masters and was away for the best part of two years. Rehman moved to Hong Kong to work with Asiaweek and later to Bermuda.

I didn't know Rehman was back in Malaysia until one day in 1993 when I went into Skoob and saw copies of A Malaysian Journey of the counter. And when I picked it up, it opened straight to a page about my husband bullying him at rugby practice which made me laugh out loud. (That's Abu all right!)

The book I loved - a series of vignettes from his travels across the country weaving together the personal and political landscape with a freedom and honesty that was extremely rare at that time (pre, of course, the anything-goes until-someone-sues-you days of blogging).

It was, and I would argue, still is, a very important book

The book has now been reprinted. As Rehman says in his new foreword to the book, copies were changing hands for many times the initial price on the internet without him making a cent from the transaction - so why not bring out a new edition?

The book was intitially turned down by every publisher Rehman approached because the subject matter was too hot to handle, and so he had to self-publish. Now he says those same publishers were falling over themselves to reprint A Malaysian Journey, but it was his turn to reject them, choosing once again to handle the whole process himself.

So Yang-May, I'd say, put this one in your suitcase and we'll go browsing for the rest.

Unless you guys have any better ideas?

(Rehman will be appearing at MPH in April - more news about this later.)


(Suitcase pic by Tom Slaughter. Book cover from Rehman - click to see full size)

57 comments:

Chet said...

Adibah Amin's This End of the Rainbow.

The latest Silverfish New Writings.

bibliobibuli said...

good contenders, chet

haven't read the adibah amin book yet, though, so can't add that myself. snw6 is a pretty good snapshot of local writing.

YTSL said...

Hi Sharon --

Definitely agree with you re Rehman Rashid's "A Malaysian Journey" (which I not have read but think so well of that I've gifted more than one copy to friends of mine who have yet to visit my native land).

Also would like to second Chet's nomination of Adibah Amin's "This End of the Rainbow".

And to round up the list of five, here's also nominating:-
Lat's "Kampung Boy" and "Town Boy" (which I think go really well together); and
one of Archipelago Press' "Sketchbook" series (with this Penangite's particular vote going to "Penang Sketchbook" by Chen Voon Fee and Chin Kon Yit).

bibliobibuli said...

i covet the 'sketchbook' editions ... oh yes

Sufian said...

Wilayah Kutu and ELARTI!

bibliobibuli said...

of course of course!

wilayah kutu it has to be

and elarti thrown in as a bonus

animah said...

Sad isn't it that I can only think of Lat.

bibliobibuli said...

why not lat, then? i'd uphold his 'kampong boy' and 'town boy' as very important works

Madcap Machinist said...

Vote for Lat & Rehman's book also. I haven't met anyone who doesn't know Lat's work.

"Honk! If You're Malaysian"? Must!

I carried 12 books in my suitcase (and backpack) during my last trip jumping on and off trains in Europe. 8 books the year before in NZ, and still managed to keep to the weight limit. So... five books only ah Yang-May? More can la...

suggestion: bring only disposable undies and eat everything else. Make that edible undies. :p

bibliobibuli said...

yang-may - i think machinist is right. okay lydia's book goes in ...

Lydia Teh said...

Madcap Machinist, thank you for mentioning my book. I'll remember you forever now :)

Haven't read Adibah's This End of the Rainbow but I'd rather nominate As I Was Passing and Malaysian Flavours by Lee Su Kim. I think Rehman's book is a good choice tho I haven't read it (in Sharon I trust). And Lat's!

Kak Teh said...

I've known rehman for along time too and indeed kak adib. also enjoyed lee su kim's. so - i'll have these three plus lat and Salina by samad said, of course!

Ruhayat X said...

"Wilayah Kutu"? Only if she can find a copy. I'm not sure if the last 15 copies I sent to Silverfish last month are still there. That's one book that will never be reprinted for sure; it carries the curse of the demonchilde, long may it rot in hell.

I'd suggest Generation, a compilation of non-fiction works by Sheryll Stothard, Kam Raslan and Amir Muhammad. Also if she can find it on the shelves.

Ruhayat X said...

Oh yes. And Malaysia: A Pictorial History 1400-2004 by Wendy Khadijah Moore.

Unfortunate that it also starts at the fascist-nationalist Year One (surely the artifacts from Hindu/Buddhist times is as much a part of this country's history? And where is the Bumiputera - as in, orang asli - representation?), but informative nevertheless.

thereader said...

I read a portion of Malaysian Journey a while back. Never finished it. Something about swimming with dolphins put me off.

Rob Spence said...

Thanks Sharon - I shall definitely get hold of this. Tell me - what does the average Malaysian make of Burgess's portrayal of the place?

bibliobibuli said...

rob - i will put that question up front. the feedback i've got is that most malaysians still can see themselves in the portrayals no matter that they are not incredibly flattering.

naughty princess said...

CONGRATULATIONS to you! I found your blog via MPH QUILL. I am addicted to books, too. :) And I love what's written here. I'm so jealous;) My blog is nothing compared to yours. BRAVO!!!

roberto said...

Another reprint? Isnt that the 4th one?When will Rehman Rashid stop reprinting and start writing?

I agree with THE READER. The dolphins whatever flying with some sailfish or other and the obscure big words did put me off Rehman's book.

So I waited for his next book and it never came and now Voila!The same old book appearing again and I still have the old one on my shelf!Rehman, If you were to read this and if you were to write again, in our lifetime, please use less incomprehensible words for us, the poor mere readers la bro! You dont have to use big words to be a good writer la!

intellectually tall said...

SWEET SHARON;Been too busy with my work to comment on your blog of late.I'm a medical doctor you see. Setting up a new clinic soon. Your blog is as prolific as ever.You're a legend in your own right sweetie! :)
Congratulations on being bestowed as one of the 50 most influential blogs in Msia. In my opinion yours is THE BEST!I'm sure many others would attest to that!You should write a book sweet ma'am!You should write a book!!


THEREADER,ROBERTO; you echo my sentiment on rehman's book. It is an ok book but it would have been a great book if he had written it with less self-aggrandizement and not used too many superbombastic words in one sentence. I had a major migraine after just reading one chapter. He also tends to be overpoetic too. Is he ever going to write another book? Remember that writer that I mentioned months before that w**ks all over his lone book? He's the one la!

bibliobibuli said...

well, i still loves rehman's book and if a writer wants to fling around big words (as anthony burgess does too, including some i'm sure he invents!) why not?

i wish too some other local classics would be reprinted. too much is allowed to slip away.

and if you read the foreword to the new edition you may understand better why another book has not appeared since

i also would love a sequel and i hope that in time there will be one!

Anonymous said...

Alamak!Rehman has reprinted his book again????? Poor guy lah!One hell of a long perpetual writer's block. 17 years still hasnt written another book ah.Yes time to write a sequel.

Anonymous said...

Books such as "Firewife" and Hilary Tham's poems Yang-May can get over the Internet.
A yummy cross-section of Malaysian writing:
1. One of K.S. Maniam's books (get an educated recommendation coz I've read only like one and a half of his books including 'The Return' which I found fascinating)
2. Lat's, of course.
3. Xeus's 'Dark City' (a taste of the new yet traditional style)
4. One of Silverfish's New Writing (recommendations, please, coz I've read only a couple)
5. A Malaysian Journey.
Heck, it's one of a remarkable kind, purple prose or self-conscious scribblings notwithstanding. Allow the man his vocab. It's original work. Who else in Malaysia has written ONE noteworthy and insightful book with literary quality in 17 years?
(RR, don't mean to set you off again; I read it in my early 30s, should read it again soon to see what I think of it now.)

All the best,
Argus

sassian said...

Oh those MCKK kolek kids with their faux-literary pretensions. How can they write about the Malaysian experience when these native Etonians are never a convincing part of it? *sniffle*

Anonymous said...

All kinds make up Malaysians.
Who can lay claim to being a more convincing part of it than another?

Anonymous said...

Wonder how many times more Rehman is going to keep reprinting his one and only book. Like all the others above, I still have it with me. By all means, use all the extensive vocabulary that you have but use it to write another book!

thereader said...

I have nothing against writers using pompous words, but I do have a kneejerk dislike for pompous writers. Rushdie I have long placed into this camp also.

This explains my disdain for literally self-aware books that are conscious that they are creating literature, or at least something important.

They're about as annoying as movie characters who wink at you from the big screen. Is that meant to be clever?

bibliobibuli said...

no-one can claim to be more malaysian than others. so then, we need a plurality of voices. and hey don't knock mckk 'cos i am an old girl of the school having taught there for 3 and a half years.

Anonymous said...

Don't give excuses not to write another book or to reprint an excessively self-indulgent only book. No matter how beautifully you write in your 'foreword' to explain why you havent written another book, they are but excuses!Like 'thereader', I have nothing against big words but with big-headed writers, yes!And in this writer's case, he keeps reprinting his masturbatorypiece over and over again.

There are so many other good writers in this country who deserve to be praised and put on a pedestal. Lets do that!

Chet said...

Let's also be brave and put our names below what we write.

BTW, A Malaysian Journey is 17 years old??

Chet

Sufian said...

Anonymous,

At least he's written a book.

Maybe that's the only one he's going to write, but so what?

It's not like if he writes another book, we are going to get world peace, multiple orgasms for all, free drinks at the mamaks, or intelligent supermodels!

I think it was Whistler who said, 'Art Happens.'

roberto said...

And in his case, 'Fart Happens'

Anonymous said...

I'm not against him not writing another book but to reprint the one and only book to death is something else,man.I still have the 2nd or the 3rd reprint and the pages havent turned yellow yet. Yes no doubt that it is a 'good' book but as the saying goes,too much of the same old good thing is bad!

Reprinting to death the SAME ONE and ONLY book is usually done posthumously, not while the writer is still alive. If this happens in the US or UK, the critics will shoot him down,man!

Sufian said...

It was reprinted because it's out of print and there was demand for it.

I don;t think one has to die to do that...

Anonymous said...

And if youre still alive, even more reason to have an updated or revised version, man!

bibliobibuli said...

plenty of authors reprint their work and good for them

i am pissed off, as i say, by how much good stuff is allowed to go out of print

who has read adibah amin's tranlation of a saman said's book called in english " no harvest bu a thorn"? if you want it, you have to order it second hand on the internet and not a penny goes to author or translator

and besides there are many writers who have produced only one book in their writing career (harper lee, j.d. salinger) and no-one does their nut at them!

and who's to say this will be the only one? and don't forget that rehman has written a great deal in the form of newspaper columns

besides, even if you don't like a book, you should recognise that it is part of the literature and then move on from it by writing your own masterpiece (i mean that as a generalised YOU) ... all writers climb up on the collective bookpile of the people who have written before them

Sufian said...

No Harvest but A Thorn is by Shahnon Ahmad, Sharon :) but God, what a pompus title. So different from the Drama Melayuesque Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan...

ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН said...

Guys! Guys! Pipe down! He's had his days in the sun and he just wants to relive it again. Give that old man a chance will ya!

Malaysian Journey's a great book and that's his magnum opus. Great books are meant to be read forever, by past , present and the future generation. And Sharon's right!

I knew him well enough to know that he's coming up with a compilation of his short stories in the near future. So for good literature's sake, practise some patience!

bibliobibuli said...

sufian - who'd buy a book called "traps along the way?" - i love adibah's title

ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН - thanks. and i would really love to read rehman's fiction.

Sufian said...

Ranjau can also mean obstacles, hardship, y'know Uncool Stuff Along the Way, which would have KILLED as a title :)

Maybe not.

bibliobibuli said...

oh ye gods i attributed the wrong author for the book! = shahnon ahamd!!! idiot i am

not sure i'd have gone out of my way to buy a book entited "uncool stuff along the way", sufian

Ruhayat X said...

Rehman must be one helluva guy to evoke such passionate responses.

Personally, if he never comes out with another book it wouldn't matter to me; I never finished Malaysian Journey. His writing style is just not to my taste.

But as a Malaysian literary landmark, yes I think the boy done good with Malaysian Journey. That it's been reprinted numerous times means it's still in demand. Good for him. Having published a book, I know how difficult it is to achieve that kind of demand, especially when you're on our own.

Ruhayat X said...

Then again, I have read his interview with Kurt Vonnegut, and I have to say that I liked it. He should come out with a book of his journalistic writings, like Amis' Moronic Inferno, maybe.

bibliobibuli said...

i'd like that too

still remember a piece he wrote about leatherback turtles and the cock-up by environmentalists who hadn't worked out how temeperature affects the sex of hatchlings so there were too many of one sex and not enough of another ... helping the creatures nicely on their road to extinction

intellectually tall said...

I've put 2 and 2 together now. I think someone's being defensive! I think the man that I saw you with at the philharmonic was R. So he's your former ehemm isnt he. Wow you two sure made a sensational-looking pair but not too sensational emotionally, I gather.

What I witnessed that night was quite a memorable sight. He was spitting(i saw his saliva flying) tirade atcha infront of the other patrons and you looked like you were about to cry. I dont think you enjoyed that evening of beautiful Mozart music at all, what with R's repetoire still ringing in your ears! Poor baby! All adorned from top to toe with her designer gown and dripping diamonds but were harangued by a cursing curmudgeon(your words, not mine, read it on some blog) all night long.

intellectually tall said...

ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН:Your name in cyrillic did not fool me , baby ;)

roberto said...

Uh. Man, you're beginning to sound ike a stalker. Heck, you're giving even me the creeps. Uh. Baby.

Meanwhile... wholly shite! 46 comments. Must be a record.

Sufian said...

Sharon,

I've got Shahnon's Rope of Ash (trans: Rentong) if you want to borrow.

bibliobibuli said...

sufian - so much to read at the moment, sufian, but many thanks. would anyway like to buy

bibliobibuli said...

intellectually tall - dunno who you are (ain't anonymity great! can chuck bricks at anyone) but i do wonder quite what your agenda is, since your shrieks of outrage are far louder than those of the lady in question who has clearly moved on ...

people do mess up. but don't they also have a right also to get on with their lives?

ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН said...

Intellectually sTALLed:This is evidently the case of "One Man's FEAT is Another Man's Poison"

Clearly you do not possess the mental acuity to distinguish between the defense of one's work and the defense of one's quirk.
I pronouncedly upheld the former and NOT the latter, BABY (your word, not mine, read it on this blog)

Sharon: спасибо!!

intellectually tall said...

Touche! ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН aka Anna Akhmatova aka Tengku Shahrizan! Touche!

Chet said...

How mean and how totally unkind, mr intellectually tall.

emceekaykay said...

Brilliant play of words Tengku Shahrizan aka Anna Akhmatova.(why this nick?) You should become a writer yourself. Good reply to mr intellect tall's mean comment too.

I don't much care for rr's work which i find too self-indulgent and borderline narcissistic but he's free to do whatever he likes. The more books the merrier.

This is an excellent literary blog,Bibs!Keep up with the good work.

bibliobibuli said...

Touche! ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН aka Anna Akhmatova aka Tengku Shahrizan! Touche!

you think we hadn't already worked that out????????

emceekaykay - glad you like the blog. and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion about books. anna's nickname comes from a famous russian poet ... and yes, she has a great way with words

ТЕНГКУ ШАХРИЗАН said...

Sharon: You go girl!!Hallelujah!Long time coming! The so-called medical doctor who most probably graduated from some Outer Kryzygstan University needed to taste his own medicine, and it shure aint shweet!!

Emceekaykay: Thanks much for the compliment.

Intel Tall: Back atcha BABY!!!!

tunku halim said...

Intel Tall - You have been sent to the Gulag