When I was posted, a year after my arrival, to Kuala Kangsar to teach English, I found myself on my own mission to understand Burgess and the Malaya he painted. The royal town did not disappoint: it had more than its share of eccentric characters, the Ubudiah mosque was still ‘as bulbous as a clutch of onions’, the Istana did indeed look as if it had been designed by a Los Angeles architect -- just as Burgess had described them -- and I became a fully paid-up, bar-propping member of the Iblis (sorry, the Idris) Club.My article about the neglect of Burgess, Malay College, and the restricted books issue is up on the Kakiseni website. Eliciting controversy, I hope with all my heart. Please do go read.
But by the 1980s, MCKK had completely forgotten the author. There wasn’t a copy of a single one of his books in the library, no commemorative plaque on the wall, and an embarrassed silence in the staffroom when I asked if anyone had read him. Not even the longest serving English teacher -- who had been on the staff at the same time as Burgess -- was prepared to discuss him.
Burgess was incredibly prolific, producing over thirty novels, including the visionary and dystopian A Clockwork Orange , and Earthly Powers, which was nominated for the 1980 Booker prize and recently voted third best British novel of the last 25 years. He also produced hundreds of reviews, academic studies, television and film scripts, opera librettos -- and, being an amateur composer, even several symphonies. Be that as it may, Kuala Kangsar just wasn’t interested. Never mind that the author was arguably one of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century.
The jawi inscription at the top, is the dedication at the front of The Malayan Trilogy: To All Malaysians. And I thought I'd throw in a picture of me as cikgu at Malay College with my boys in 1988. I'm sure you can find me!
I still have every hope that we can celebrate the anniversary of the trilogy and do something good for readers and for the boys of Malay College ... once the book is declared 'unrestricted' (as commonm sense dictates it should be) and the MCOBA (Malay College Old Boys Association) make a decision about what it is they want to do.
Thanks, Zedeck for being the kind of bullying, pain in the arse kind of editor that gets a much better piece of work out of me. (But I told Zedeck I'd put him in my suitcase and take him back to the UK with me if I get deported!)
I was asked to write an article on banned and restricted books for MPH's Quill, but it was deemed "too sensitive" for publication when I sent it in, (although there was nothing in it that isn't in the public domain already, with just a soupçon of opinion added). Which I understand, particularly when there is going to be a pic of the PM on the cover. Still ... it feels funny to have an article on banned books ... in a sense banned!
Zedeck's editorial this month focuses on the happy ressurgence of things literary in KL.