Thursday, January 26, 2006

Stumped by Salina

Kak Teh wrote a very nice piece about our national laureate, Dato A. Saman Said, the other day: do go take a look.

I see him around town, quite often - riding the LRT or browsing in Kinokuniya. With his distinctive white beard you can't miss him, and he looks every inch the eccentric writer.

Years ago, when I was learning Malay I hoped to become a fluent enough reader to tackle some of the classics written in the language, and everyone told me that Salina was the one Malay novel I must read.

Up to that point I'd been doing fine with my Malay and felt that I was ready to graduate from kid's books and newspaper articles to the fiction I longed to read in the original language.

But I managed just half a page of Salina.

You see, I got to a sentence that read: Mentari terbit, and I just couldn't imagine what a government minister was doing rising in a field. Nothing that came after that seemed to make sense.

I asked my friends at school and they just laughed at me. A minister, of course is menteri. Mentari is a literary way of saying matahari, meaning sun.

It struck me then that the serviceable, everyday Malay I'd learned wasn't up to the task of coping with the literature.

I'll read Salina in an English translation, I said, put the two editions side by side and study the Malay that way.

But I never found one in the bookshops.

And more or less my Malay got stuck at that point. Frustration point. In a sense it was a good lesson for me, because I understood what many of my students were feeling about English.

But I feel still sad about my inability to read literature in Malay and I'd love to do something even now. Especially so that I could read all those old books of poetry in the backroom of Raman's shop.

And of course, Salina.


Anonymous said...

Salina is my all time favourite Malay novel, Sharon.

starlight said...

How funny that you should post an entry on Salina. I was just telling Marisa yesterday that I plan to read it sometime soon. With this coincidence, I now MUST read it!!

Kak Teh said...

Sharon I must admit that I read Salina only quite recently but if you dont read anything else of Samad Said's Salina I think is a must. I have also met the French scholar who translated Salina.
That mentari terbit is so hilarious...reminds me of my son singing and translating Siti Nurhaliza. Kita pernah bicara di satu ketika. he translated it as we have talked on the mat..(satu - tikar!)

Anonymous said...

Talking about lost in translation, how's this -
In English - "I put to you that you're lying to the Court."
In Malay - "Saya taruh you baring di Mahkamah."

Anonymous said...

While Salina is a great novel, I don't think you should attempt to tackle least not for now and certainly not when your foundation in Malay is shaky (as I surmise from what you have said about your command of the Malay language). Go for something simpler but rich in its literary value, like Shahnon Ahmad for example.


Anonymous said...

I feel your disappointment too...

I have only read a few cerpen, sajak and novella in my entire life...and that was many years ago. As for Chinese literature, I am in a far worse state, having only read one classic and two peoms ever. The worse part is that after years of abandonment, I can hardly read at all, unless I use the dictionary after every 10 words on the page.

So, sad. If only one could be gifted multilingually and read the classic literature of three to four languages (apparently, there are people who do), wouldn't that be just great? Sigh...

bibliobibuli said...

glad the book is so much loved ... would love to find it in english though

menj - your advice is very good ... i have read shanon ahmad's "no hartvest but a thorn" in english and really loved it ... but have tackled nothing in malay ... think i should read the willayah kutu ... or at least the stories that are written in more standard malay ... should get myself back into practice ... dreamer idiot - maybe you should join me!

kak teh - your son's translation is very good!

Anisah said...

Hah, Sharon, i was about to offer to translate Salina for you, a contextual translation, rather than a word-for-word one. I see Kak Teh's son has done it. :)