Sunday, June 24, 2007

Discounted Reads!

Elsewhere in this Sunday's Starmag's Readsmonthly supplement, the "Celebrity Guest Reviewer"(!) is Gift of Rain author Tan Twan Eng who looks at another historical novel. He doesn't much enjoy Anchee Min's The Last Empress. "Rushed and disjointed", "oversimplified" and "weak and diluted" are some of the adjectives he slings in its direction.

Twan, who is now back in South Africa, also goes along to the Cape Town Book Fair, now in its second year. The event is a collaboration between Germany's Frankfurt Book Fair and the Publisher's Association of South Africa. It sounds an enormous affair with a deliciously varied range of events.

The cover story is an interview by Hah Foong Lian with a Malaysian author who has slipped beneath this blogger's literary radar ... yes, I know that Khoo Kang-Hor was nominated for the IMPAC by the National Library staff (who always choose to support a local writer rather than vote for the international novel they consider best overall) but apart from that I don't remember Khoo's first novel Taikor (which means "big brother") really being promoted at the time. I heard about it by word of mouth from friends and saw it only in the ghettoised shelves of books by local writers in the bookshops.

Maybe I should have picked it up. Maybe now I will. Hizamnuddin Awang reviews the book and judges it: of the very rare, well-written works of fiction by a local author.
(Though this sweeping generalisation begs the question, how rare actually is "very rare"??)

But Khoo's latest novel sounds more interesting. Writes Hah:
Mamasan is set in 1970s and 1980s Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, in the colourful world of cabarets and nightclubs. Khoo created a host of vividly drawn characters, such as dance hostesses, mamasans (madams), bouncers and the customers who patronise these nightclubs. He steers adroitly clear of stereotyping and addresses hypocrisy and how an external veneer and charm can hide flaws.
Nightwing reviews the book favourably on the next page.

Khoo Keng-Hor lives in Cameron Highlands was a journalist before joining the corporate world and has produced 26 non-fiction books based on Sun Tzu's The Art of War. He is currently working on another historical novel. (The author's website is here.)

Bridget Rozario writes about Malaysian-born Russell Daniel Ng who's written and illustrated his first book. (Keep going, kid!)

And then there are appetite whetting reviews of books I want to read including William Boyd's Restless, Emma Darwin's The Mathematics of Love and John Updike's Terrorist. And there are lots of discount coupons from various bookshops for the books featured in the supplement.

All good stuff.


Chet said...

I have a copy of Taikor. To be honest, I wasn't overly impressed with it, but then I didn't finish it. The pace and drama reminded me of Cantosoaperas a la Shanghai Beach. But that's just me, I could be wrong, and maybe if I'd persevered to the end of the book, I might've changed my mind about the pace and drama.

bibliobibuli said...

i have heard others say they didn't much like it ... but i guess i should make my own mind up!

Anonymous said...


the exotic past is getting really tiring.


sympozium said...

The constant bitching for a novel of contemporary times is really getting tiring. Write the book, anonymous!

Anonymous said...

that's the lousiest argument in the world, Sympozium. am i not supposed to bitch about it just becos i don't write novels?

i think my point is pretty clear. but why do YOU think the call for a novel of contemporary Malaysia, which is scarce, is overly done?

why are you against people calling for something that would add a much needed dimension to the local writing scene, and would make a good and varied selection available to reflect a much more diverse range of local subjects, therefore reflect our authors capabilities of tackling more than just one subject or one facet of a subject, of being able to do more than just exoticise?

is that a bad thing? if so, why?

explain, rather than just take potshots at people with opinions that are different from yours.


bibliobibuli said...

*sigh* authors write what they need to write, just as filmmakers make the film they need to make

they don't take a poll and say what does everyone else want?

haven't we been here before ... several times?

but i'd like some contemporary local fiction too (also said before!)

Anonymous said...

perhaps it's the publishers who are more keen to publish these exotic stories of the past?

i think this is a very interesting thing to examine.


bibliobibuli said...

hope you do examine it, then! might make a good article

Chet said...

Or a good movie.

Suggested titles:

The Mystery of the Misplaced Contemporary Malaysian Novel

Where in the World is the Contemporary Malaysian Novel?

Anonymous said...

good idea. next time you interview a local author, pls put forth this question to her/him.


Anonymous said...

Tehre are tons of contemporary Malaysian novels. The only thing is that they're not in Englsh.

Russell Ng lives in New Zealand. I think most 12-year-olds in English-educated countries can write like that. Is it that big a deal that he can do that ?

Why the constant need to lionize Malaysians living overseas ?

The other thing is that now he'll have a lot of expectations placed on him. How healthy is it for a nine-year old kid to be married to a PC ?

I mean, it's not like it's a contemporary Malaysian (or even NZ) novel. If he did that, then that would be impressive, at his age. But um, it's a children's alphabet book. I could read and write at seven years of age.

Pelukismelukis said...

Wah liao, go easy on the kid lar, anon (or maybe lay off 'dem sour grapes once in a while). An accomplishment is still an accomplishment. It's pretty obvious that not everyone his age has ever had their stuff published, even if it's just an alphabet book. This is why it is such a huge gosh dang-deal; HE took the trouble to do it, those who complain about this and that for much of the time - don't. Just my humble opinion.

Lydia Teh said...

I think every writer will have his own set of fans. One man's meat is another man's poison. Something deemed well written by the average Joe may be nonsense to someone else with a more literary bent and vice versa. To each his own.

Anonymous said...

hate to say it, but i agree with Anon June 24 11.50pm.


Pelukismelukis said...

Woops, how could I have missed that final quote in the article:

“Everybody has their own gifts. It’s just that it’s up to them whether or not they want to use it. Some people are pretty lazy and they don’t do anything at all. So, you can’t say that they don’t have talent, it’s just that they don’t put it to use,”

Having read that, ermm, how to say this huh, erghh, the kid did put it in words quite similar to my earlier comment; yet much to my chagrin, it makes him seem so... well, should I say this... forward and a tad supercilious.
I take it back, the kid doesn't need defending. His galling insouciance will serve him quite well in times to come.

Give me Jayne Fisher and 'The Garden Gang' any day baybeh.

After killing time, the snail then eats his words and goes back to work :-P