Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Long Literary Journey to Merdeka

You know the 31st of August is coming soon when you get woken by the sweet sound of MIG fighters screaming over the rooftops on a Sunday morning, as they practice for the fly-past for the Merdeka celebrations. I'm just near Subang airport where the planes are based, and am just waiting for the day when one lands in my cornflakes.

On a happier note, the NST is giving away a free facsimile copy of an edition from fifty-years ago with the paper each day in the run up to the celebrations. It's an amazing way to step back into the past, to find out what was in the news (anti-Communist operations, Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templer flying in for the celebrations and longing for a bath, an A-bomb test in South Australia) , what was on at the cinema (Stewart Granger and Rhonda Fleming in Gun Glory, Eleanor Parker and Bill Travers in The Seventh Sin based on Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil); what goods were being advertised (Brands Essence of Chicken - does nothing change?), what was on TV (oops, there was no TV in Malaya in 1957*. Sorry Tash!).

But of course, what caught my eye was the book page. Two Novelists write on Borneo, Malaya, says one headline, and the reviewer discusses Hugh Hickling's Festival of Hungry Ghosts (which involves the killing of a district officers somewhere in Borneo) and Katherine Sim's Malacca Boy ("the story of a Malacca boy, part Indian, a child of the kamponground whose life she wraps and understanding of the Malay scene").

Both books I'm now curious to read. Hickling's book is available at Abebooks, Sim's I can't trace anywhere.

Malaya and Borneo seen through British eyes ... literature written by the British, for the British.

Remember Burgess' optimism? That one day other races besides the Brits:
... may well themselves contribute to English literature.
You've come a long literary way in fifty years, Malaysia!

*TV broadcasts began here in 1963.


Quinn said...

I found a book called Malacca Boy at that was published in 1957. The author is listed as H. M. Tomlinson.

Searches of the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Columbia University and NYU catalogs revealed a Katherine/Katharine Sim but no works called Malacca Boy. There was one on Malay verse and another about a Siamese cat. I will check with the LOC cataloging database tomorrow.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks, quinn. for sure it wasn't written by thomlinson whose books are listed here.

katherine sim did write other books and yes, the ones you mention are listed.

i'll check out alibris

bibliobibuli said...

quinn - all the other details (publisher, year) indicate it's the same book. i wrote to the shop (in hay-on-wye) to confirm.

Quinn said...

Not sure if my last message was received. I found a copy at the Brooklyn Public Library! There are also copies at Oxford, Cambridge, the British Library and the School of Oriental & African Studies.

Alibris must have made a cataloging error.

bibliobibuli said...

wow! thanks so much for looking!

Quinn said...

No problem - always glad to be able to practice my librarianship skills. It's such a shame that I simply don't have access to older books about Malaysia published in the UK unless I'm near a research library and have borrowing privileges.

*sigh* I asked my mother to get me a copy of Tan Twan Eng's A Gift of Rain since I can't get it anywhere here. It's weird that I have to have my mother in Malaysia send me books in the US.

Anonymous said...

It's weird that Americans never have to Malaysianize their names when they get here, but Malaysians mostly have to Americanize their names when they get there :P

- Boone

Quinn said...

I don't know about that - there's the basic last name switch to the beginning, which is sometimes confusing to catalogers. But I was named after Anthony Quinn and unlike most Malaysian Chinese, I do not have a Chinese name, which is confusing to Malaysians. Most can't pronounce 'Quinn' correctly, which is actually Irish, though Anthony Quinn was not Irish.

caving liz said...

>and am just waiting for the day when one lands in my cornflakes.

And I'm waiting for one to take off the roof of my condo. They come roaring between 2 sets of condos, head over town and then do some rolls.

animah said...

Hugh Hickling lectured at my uni. I didn't take his course. But I loved having long chats with him. Mostly him chatting and me just nodding. Wish I'd paid more attention now. You know, I only knew him as a law professor, didn't know that he wrote fiction until some years ago when I found Crimson Sun over Borneo. He had already passed away by then.
I always felt he was more Malaysian or Malayan then many of us.

Chet said...

I checked at and found that the Hickling book was published by local publisher Pelanduk in 1997, so it should be available locally, instead of us having to go and order it from overseas.

Maybe Silverfishbooks carries it?

BTW, the copy available through alibris is the same copy as the one you found on abebooks, Sharon.

bibliobibuli said...

caving liz - i was in a school in brickfields this morning and the jets were defintely lower than the tops of the skyscrapers, dodging round them, doing sudden turns and swoops. thrilling but dangerous!

ironically the student i was visiting was doing a poem about transport from the textbook. "planes fly high above the clouds" as the roar of engines not far above the roof drown out her words

quinn - i'm sure "the gift of rain" we be published there soon - it'll have to be!!

i love looking for old books online too. the person with the best collection that i know of here is larry parr

animah - he also translated fiction from malay to english

chet - thanks. actually eric might be able to tell us.

cavingliz said...

Sharon - I'm in the Brickfields area so I see them heading there after they've skimmed my condo. A friend says the law is jets must fly at least 500 feet above the building height....... these Msian jets are flying several feet below!! I'll be amazed if there's no accident between now and Merdeka.

bibliobibuli said...

these planes are definitely well below building level. whose brilliant idea is it to risk the lives of citizens for a quick merdeka thrill???

Poppadumdum said...

I've seen Hugh Hickling's books around KL - some are shelved in the non-fiction section of MPH's stores. And give Junk Book Shop at try as well.

animah said...

Funny I've not seen these planes. Perhaps I'm too high up.
All those on the streets of Brickfields - wear your helmets at all times.

bibliobibuli said...

animah - and neither will you since they fly from subang to merdeka square, do a loop or two and fly back

Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon,

Do you know when the NST started putting out these facsimiles? My mum has been saving them for me but she isn't sure when the first one was so I was wondering if you knew....

P.S. Thanks for your sweet e-mail :-) .

bibliobibuli said...

just yesterday, preeta (although a souvenir copy of the aug 31st issue was also issued to celebrate merdeka last year)

and aiyoh, i missed today's. can anyone save their copy for me? tomorrow i will make more effort.

Chet said...

You mean they are different everyday?

I saw a copy at my sister's but not sure for which day. No wonder I couldn't find the books page mentioned in your blog entry here.

I did see a familiar red TV-box logo on the top right hand corner of the front page. Glad to see them do someething meaningful like this.

Anonymous said...

Ah, thanks, Sharon. Hope you managed to track down today's -- if not you'd be welcome to make a photostat copy of the one my mum saved for me.


Tunku Halim said...

Sharon, I've had the Hugh Hickling novels for quite a while (we shared the same publisher Pelanduk) but alas they have disappeared! I'll see if I can get a "freebie" for you when I next visit them to collect my royalties!

bibliobibuli said...

yes chet - a whole week of reprints

halim, preeta - many thanks

esos said...

just remembered --bought a book by katherine sim about her life in malaya --painting, malay wedding, sailing around pulau perhentian (wonder where it is ) -- it cost me about 20cts malaysian--at the st mary's church bazzar in kuala lumpur which i think is no more.

esos said...

just an addendum to above. the title was 'malayan landscapes' by katherine sim. Has anyone read a book titled ' charlie.s.see. sees the world' by charlie.s.see. --a sort of a travelogue by a malayan of the times ? could someone let me know where Mr. Johnny Ong is now --he was the author of ' Sugar and Salt' --(he also happened to be my english and geography master at school) ?