Monday, June 16, 2008

Malaysia's New Place in the Literary Sun ...

... Gets a Sunflower!

The reviews for Preeta's Evening is the Whole Day have started to appear. Salil Tripathi writes a very nice piece in The Independent called - ahem - Malaysia's new place in the literary sun. It begins with a lovely loud cheer for the changes occurring in our local literary landscape :
Samarasan represents the quiet emergence of new Malaysian writing in books such as Rani Manicka's The Rice Mother and Touching Earth, Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory, and Tan Twan Eng's Booker-longlisted The Gift of Rain last year. These writers have significantly broadened our understanding of the region earlier seen largely through the gin-soaked, misty eyes of Somerset Maugham, the Tiger-beer induced nostalgia of Anthony Burgess*, or the laconic fiction of Paul Theroux.
He discusses the socio-political background of the novel :

Malaysia permeates Samarasan's novel without didacticism about the country's identity politics. It shows the symbiotic and separate relationship between Malays, Chinese and Indians. Jo Kukathas, the gifted satirist, once joked that in Malaysia "the Chinese do the work, the Malays take the credit, the Indians get the blame". Buried within the quip is a stark divide, explaining the consequences of the May 1969 riots which formed the basis of Lloyd Fernando's 1993 novel, Green is the Colour. ... Those riots led to Malaysia's preferential policies, which benefited Malays over Chinese and Indians, so forcing many non-Malays to seek educational and employment opportunities abroad.
and calls the story multi-layered, but feels that the plot gets rather complicated.

Francesca Segal in The Observer yesterday found the novel :
Vibrant, descriptive, and peppered with colourful Indian-Malaysian dialogue, this is an epic that's informative without being worthy, and engrossing but not frivolous.
Indian reviewers seem perplexed by the novel - you can almost hear them thinking How come this novelist of Indian heritage, clearly influenced by Indian authors, isn't writing the kind of Indian novel we expect? Check out Amardeep's review and the interesting debate in the comments at Sepia Mutiny.

You can find other reviews on Preeta's website.

I'm feeling more than a little frustrated at the moment because I'm longing, nay dying, to talk about what I think of the book, but since I have reviewed it for next month's Off the Edge, am not going to go there yet. Except to say that I told Preeta that I think she wrote the novel especially for me! I was so hungry for this kind of fiction about my adopted country.

I will, though, be posting up extracts from an
interview with Preeta here soon.

The novel is in the bookshops now (I saw trade paperback copies in MPH the other day for RM59.90) and there are bound to be discounts and rebates to factor in here and there to bring the price down further.

Postscript :

Shirley from MPH reminds me to say that Preeta will be here to do bookshop appearances in October ... and hurray, she will be at Seksan's again too!

Postscript :

Another nice message from Shirley :
Good news! MPH Bookstores will be giving out cut-out coupon 25% for Preeta's book in StarMag in June Reads Monthly, coming out on 29 June, valid till 13 July.
*I think this statement shows a misunderstanding of The Malayan Trilogy though ...


Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon
The trade paperback edition is selling at RM59.90 and it's already a steal as most TPBs retail at least RM65 and above. And if I may do a plug ... Preeta will be making her way to M'sia late Oct for a round of store appearances.
Shirley Ng, MPH

bibliobibuli said...

i am sure i saw it cheaper than that in bv2??? i remember thinking that my book club members wouldn't complain that it was only a slight shave over their usual RM50 celing.

yes, preeta will be here and i will put up the banners!

it's great that you are so supportive

Web Sutera said...


History is still history, no doubt it's hurt. But no more May 69, please..

salil said...

Thanks Sharon for mentioning my review. Two points: I'm a he, not a she; and I lived in Singapore for eight years (and know Malaysia a bit) but I am not a Singaporean. As we say in India, "Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani," or, my heart belongs to India :-)

Salil Tripathi

bibliobibuli said...

web sutera - there's no way we want that ... but we have to brave enough now to look back at the event (though ... erm ... why am i saying "we"? too much durian?)

salil - so very sorry for the disinformation. my sources said singaporean! will amend immediately and change back your sex painlessly. your piece did show a sensitivity to

now tell me, since you're here, have you actually read "the malayan trilogy"? if not, please do and then report back to me about where and how burgess is nostalgic.

salil said...

Hi Sharon, No problem.... Just that when I lived in Singapore, most Singaporeans strenuously reminded me why I wasn't like them :-)

Yes, I read read the trilogy though quite a while ago; liked Time for a Tiger the most. I am not at home in London, but in Scandinavia at a conference, so can't give you precise references, but the mood Burgess invokes, of pre-Emergerncy Malaya, to me, seemed quaintly nostalgic, of a natural order of things in Malaya, of colonial folk not entirely certain of the "fire within," etc. Having said that, I quite liked the first two, but not the third, particularly not the long description of the affair, if I recall it correctly. But don't want to say more, as I don't have the book in front of me. (I have the trilogy in one volume).

bibliobibuli said...

sorry my last comment got a bit cut off mid sentence, salil. i was going to say that it was nice to see you refer to lloyd fernando's book as that is a very apt comparison.

sure, yes, we'll pick up the burgess debate another day. i also need to reread and rechew. we're doing a lot of talking about burgess here at the moment ...

Amir said...

Now we await reviews of Preeta's CD!

animah said...

Preeta sings too? Congratulations Preeta. I have your Tamil book and will pass it to Sharon. Hope to see you when you are next down.

Chet said...

Haha, good one, Amir. Now the traffic to this other Preeta site would be going up, thanks to you.

Congrats, Preeta. And love your reply to Pessimist's comment on the Sepia Mutiny. Must go and get a copy of your book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks folks, and Sharon, especially, for this post!

Amir you are too funny. I'll have you know that if you do an Amazon search for "Preeta" I now pop up above the blonde Preeta from Hawaii! Very exciting I tell you!

-- Preeta

s.nizam said...

Congrats! Will be on the lookout for the book.

Tunku Halim said...

Thanks for the post Sharon. Will be looking out for the novel even if far flung Hobart. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Salil is interesting. Most Indians in the US were constantly reming me why they weren't Asians :)

The whole Indian diaspora thing would be fun to read about.

PS. Discounted 25% already ? don't they think it's worth the cover price ? that's just insulting.

bibliobibuli said...

discount not insulting - it's just a promotion and with a special coupon. actually it is a great way to honour a local writer and make sure the book is as widely read as it deserves.

i think kiran desai does a lovely job with indians in america in "the inheritance of loss"

there's a comedy on bbc entertainment which lampoons indians in the UK called "goodness gracious me". i never found it funny when i saw it years ago but now understand the humour a bit better.

Anonymous said...

Yes isn't it, I find that Indians in western countries always seem to be in a hurry to abandon their original cultures. There are Chinatowns in the US, but you'd never be able to find an identifiably Indian area (or maybe it's just that I haven't looked hard enough.)

The problem with literature is that there isn't a commonly-agreed-upon measure of value. It's all open to opinion whether a book is over- or under-valued.

Kiran Desai should be worth a read. I'll have to borrow it from you if we ever get a chance to meet :)

Anonymous said...

Oh yes I very much welcome the discount and am grateful to MPH :-) . It's not an insult at all -- it's intended to make the book more affordable for Malaysian buyers. If they charged the cover price, Anonymous, about a dozen people would buy it (most of them my relatives :-) ).

Anonymous at 11:33 -- I think it's a massive oversimplification to say that Indians in Western countries are in a hurry to abandon their original cultures! (Also, just to clarify, that's not AT ALL what Sharon's original post is suggesting, so I'm not sure what you meant by "Yes isn't it..."). Having lived in the US for 14 years, I'd say the *opposite* is true, if anything -- middle-class Indians in the US are far more likely to cling to their culture than middle-class Indians in India. By this I mean that Indians in the US send their children for Indian dance/language/religion classes and summer camps, spend their weekends at the local Hindu temple, tend to be mostly friends with other Indian families, and yes, absolutely, live in Indian enclaves if possible.

Next time you're in the US, go to Jackson Heights in Queens. Or Edison, New Jersey, or Journal Square, Jersey City. Or Imperial Valley, CA, or or or -- I could go on and on. The country is full of Little Indias from coast to coast, even in the Midwest and the South, whereas Chinatowns tend to be concentrated on the 2 coasts (especially the Pacific).

And there are Indian areas in the UK too (Southall in London, Bradford in Yorkshire), and in Paris (Faubourg St. Denis).

So yes, you haven't looked hard enough (or at all?).

As for Indians "denying" that they're Asian in the US: I think you've misunderstood what they usually mean. They say they're not Asian not to deny their ancestry, but because for decades the US government's official classification system hasn't quite known where to put them, so that just as "Asian" in the UK means South Asian and not East Asian, "Asian" in the US has come to mean East Asian and not South Asian. Of course both groups are technically from the continent of Asia -- but the narrow definition of "Asian" in the US and the UK is neither community's fault.

-- Preeta