Sunday, June 19, 2011

Who Will Win the Poppies?

The Star has a feature today about the only local book awards - the Star-Popular Readers’ Choice Awards. Here are the nominations in the English fiction category, which interests me most. :
1. Rojak: Bite-Sized Stories: Not, it’s not about food. Instead, these short-short stories (most don’t run over two pages) make astute observations about life in 1Malaysia, all wrapped in lashings of humour. Comedy, mysticism and sarcasm abound in the stories, such as the one about a holier-than-thou man who prays virtuously even while he has vitriolic thoughts about the sins of others. Moral values? No, there is no preaching in this book, just life lessons subtly expressed.

Amir Muhammad is a writer, publisher and occasional moviemaker who has been writing – and been published – since he was 14. Aside from Rojak, other books he released in 2010 are 120 Malay Movies and the text for the photography book KL Panorama.

2. Madness Aboard!: Here’s a look behind the scenes at the fascinating happenings inside an airplane. The author shares hilarious, sometimes bizarre experiences from her years as a flight attendant: There are tales of lecherous old coots, sightings of the “galley ghost”, all sorts of troublemakers, and a passenger on a fart fest, among other things!

Yvonne Lee is the bestselling author of The Sky Is Crazy: Tales From A Trolley Dolly, which has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. She also wrote Vanity Drive: The Vagaries Of One Woman’s Vanity. Both books made it into the top 10 titles in The Star-Popular Readers’ Choice Awards in 2008 and 2009.

3. The Rice Mother: This big, sprawling saga has gained devoted fans over the years, and when it was published in 2002, was often a first introduction to Malaya for Westerners. Magical realism, folklore and symbolism are all woven together as each memorable character tells his and her story – or even each other’s – over the years and across generations, through war and occupation.

Rani Manicka was born and educated in Malaysia and is currently living in Britain. She drew on her own Sri Lankan-Tamil family history as inspiration for this, her first novel. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2003 for the South-East Asia and South Pacific region and has been translated into 22 languages.

4. Kebaya Tales: The rich culture and history of the Straits Chinese are mined for this collection of stories that tell of opulent pasts, arranged marriages, and the disruption cause among genteel lives by the Japanese Occupation. Elements of the supernatural are present, too, and of course, there is a fascination with food and tradition that is so typical of the Peranakan.

Lee Su Kim is the author of eight non-fiction books, including two bestsellers, Malaysian Flavours: Insights Into Things Malaysian (2004) and Manglish: Malaysian English At Its Wackiest (1998). Lee is herself of Peranakan parentage. She is a founder member and the first woman president of the Peranakan Baba Nyonya Association of Kuala Lumpur & Selangor.

5. Orang Asli Animal Tales: You learn the most interesting things in this book, like how the once-cruel tapir got its white band and became the timid animal that it is today. And why the flying lemur always hides his tail and flies only by night. And while learning all that, we are also given a peek into the rich scientific and cultural heritage of the orang asli, which is much overlooked in this country.

Lim Boo Liat is a pioneering zoologist in the country who began his career in the Institute for Medical Research in 1947. He started as a laboratory assistant, and in 1969, was awarded a Medical Research Council Fellowship (London) to pursue an MSc at the University of Aberdeen in Britain. After obtaining his PhD at Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1977, he was seconded to the World Health Organisation, where he remained until his retirement in 1987.

6. The Embrace Of Harlots: This sizzling tale is set in Hong Kong at a time when British colonial rule was winding down in preparation for the 1997 hand-over to China. Through the lives of the three main characters – Suen, Po-Chee and Amber – the author examines everything from the struggle for individuality and the effects of foreign occupation to the clash of cultures and the meaning of success, among others.

David T.K. Wong was born in Hong Kong and has degrees in political science and journalism from Stanford University in America and a post-graduate diploma in public administration from the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague. His short stories have appeared in magazines in several countries and have earned him a number of awards.

7. A Bit Of Earth: Set during Malaya’s colonial years, this richly textured novel tells the story of three families inextricably tied to the land: the Wongs, sons of the Chinese earth; the Wees, subjects of the colonial masters; and the Mahmuds, scions of the Malay world. Each family struggles on its bit of earth in a country in flux, and when they meet, hopes clash and tragedy looms.

Christine Lim Suchen was the inaugural recipient of the Singapore Literature Prize for her third novel, Fistful Of Colours (1992). This novel, her fourth, was shortlisted for the same prize in 2004. Apart from co-authoring a play and writing children’s books for schools, Lim has also published short stories in international journals and anthologies and written a non-fiction work, Stories Of The Chinese Overseas (2005).

8. Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul: Inspector Singh, the Singaporean cop who reminds everyone of a favourite uncle, is on secondment to Bali. A bomb has exploded and Singh has been sent to help with anti-terrorism efforts. But there’s a slight problem: he knows squat about hunting terrorists. He’s much better suited to solving murder! So when a body is discovered in the wreckage, killed by a bullet before the bomb went off, it’s Singh’s time to shine.

Shamini Flint is a Cambridge graduate and was a lawyer with British firm Linklaters for 10 years. She travelled extensively in Asia during that period before giving up her practice to concentrate on writing; she now lives in Singapore. Apart from the Inspector Singh series, she has also written several children’s books.

9. Sweet Offerings: You can read this as a fictional story of events that ripped one family apart, and that in itself is affecting. But dig a little deeper into this novel that ranges in time from the 1930s to the 1960s and you’ll also get a taste of Malaysia’s historical, political and cultural changes during its transition from colonial rule to independence and beyond.

Yap Chan Ling was born in Kuala Lumpur. She was educated in Malaysia and subsequently in Britain where she obtained a PhD in Economics. She lectured at Universiti Malaya before joining the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, where she worked for 19 years; she now lives in Britain. Sweet Offerings is her first novel.

10. Under The Sun: From murders to mysterious disappearances, from distorted childhood memories to unfulfilled desires, from flights of fantasy to brutal ruptures of reality, Under The Sun delivers more of this author’s keen and honest observations on human flaws and foibles and the revelatory moments of life.

O Thiam Chin was born in 1977 and lives in Singapore. He is the author of three collections of short stories, Free-Falling Man (2006); Never Been Better (2009), which was longlisted for the 2010 Frank O’ Connor Short Story Award; and Under The Sun (2010). He was an honorary fellow of the Iowa International Writing Program in 2010. Having just completed his fourth story collection, he is currently working on his first novel, which is his reaction to the devastation of the Asian Tsunami in 2004. – Malini Dias

The Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards 2011 are a precursor to BookFest@Malaysia 2011, which will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from Aug 27 to Sept 4.

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