Saturday, July 11, 2009

Malaysian & Singaporean Fiction

Never Been Better (2009)
By O Thiam Chin
In this new collection of stories, O Thiam Chin has created a series of unforgettable, deeply-affecting portraits of individuals whose intersections of loves and losses mark the dawn of awareness and longing in their lives. Never Been Better illustrates his literary versatility in the assortment of characters who occupy a world of ambivalence and false optimism, yet still persist in trudging on with strength and resilience. From free-spirited teenage runaways and a lonely child who collects dead animals to hidden family secrets and migrant workers who live squalid lives far away from home, these eclectic stories are heartbreaking, haunting, and rendered with a touch of grace, compassion and poignancy.

Inspector Singh Investigates:
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (2009)
By Shamini Flint
Shamini Flint has written the first in a celebrated new crime series, with each instalment set in a different Asian city. The first stop is Kuala Lumpur. In A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, Inspector Singh is in a foul mood. He’s been sent from his home in Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to solve a murder that has him stumped. Chelsea Liew—the famous Singaporean model—is on death row for the murder of her ex-husband. She swears she didn’t do it, he thinks she didn’t do it, but no matter how hard he tries to get to the bottom of things, he still arrives back at the same place—that Chelsea’s husband was shot at point-blank range, and that she had the best motivation to pull the trigger: he was taking her kids away from her. Inspector Singh must now pull out all the stops to crack a crime that could potentially free a beautiful and innocent woman and reunite a mother with her children. There’s just one problem—the Malaysian police refuse to play ball. The next stops are Bali (A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul) and Singapore (A Singapore School of Villainy).

Map of the Invisible World (2009)
By Tash Aw
Sixteen-year-old Adam and his older brother, Johan, were abandoned by their mother as children; then Adam watched as Johan was taken away by a wealthy couple; and now Karl, the artist who raised Adam, has been arrested by soldiers during Sukarno’s drive to purge 1960s Indonesia of its colonial past. All Adam has to guide him in his quest to find Karl are some old photographs and letters—one of which sends him to the dangerous capital, Jakarta, and to Margaret, an American whose own past is bound up with that of Karl’s. Soon, both have embarked on journeys of discovery that seem destined to turn tragic. Woven into this story is the voice of Johan, who is living a seemingly privileged life in Malaysia, but who is careening out of control as he cannot forget his long-ago betrayal of his helpless, trusting brother.

Handpicked (2009)
By Siew Siang Tay
Laila is desperate to escape life in the longhouse in her village in Sarawak. Desperate enough to travel alone to Australia to marry Jim‚ a fruit-picker living in Renmark‚ South Australia. Jim hasn’t had much luck with women—they’re always giving him a hard time. He pins his hopes on Laila changing all that. Marital bliss‚ a new life. But when Laila and Jim finally meet‚ they each discover the reality of the other‚ and things don’t go as planned. Handpicked is a subtle and sensitive exploration of the world of the mail-order bride. It is also a compelling observation of words and actions‚ expectations and consequences‚ truth and happiness.

Urban Odysseys (2009)
Edited by Janet Tay and Eric Forbes
In this rich embroidery of stories set against the landscape of the Malaysian capital, the city of Kuala Lumpur is as much a character as any of the denizens, drifters and dreamers portrayed in the stories. These are portraits of the capital seen through the prism of stories written by an array of new literary voices. Each writer’s experience of or passage through the city is unique; at some point in their lives, they have grown up in, stopped over in, moved into, or, lost and found themselves in the labyrinthine chaos of the city. Here nineteen writers present a sweeping literary portrait of the city as seen through their eyes, and in ways unexpected and mesmerising take on the challenge of capturing the exuberant madness and cultural diversity of the city and its enduring spirit, its constantly changing public spectacle, gossip, amusements, hard-luck stories and tragedies.

Lovers and Strangers Revisited (2008)
By Robert Raymer
In this collection of 17 stories, Robert Raymer portrays the traditional in modernity, the unexpected in relationships both familiar and strange, and the recurring theme of race even as contemporary Malaysia finds ways to understand its multicultural milieu. In the title story, a selfish writer gets more than he bargained for when former lovers haunt him in more ways than one. In another story, a man’s loneliness turns into obsession when he shares a taxi ride with a Malay woman. A Clark Gable lookalike is a barrister wannabe with a shocking secret and gossipy neighbours reveal more about themselves than the man who commits suicide. Elsewhere, expats cross the border to Had Yai to experience a good bargain in the Thai flesh trade before going home to their wives in America. In this republished edition of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Raymer’s snapshots of scenes from various walks of life provide an insider-outsider view on love, family and culture, and urges a second look at ourselves in the mirror of self-awareness.

Juriah’s Song (2008)
By Tunku Halim
What choices would you make if you could live your life all over again? A young rock star is pursued by a female spectre. He flees to a seaside village where he had once tried to kill himself. Back then an old man had rescued him and taught him the guitar. But now what dark secrets will a repulsive shaman reveal? And does the lovely Juriah mean to haunt him to death? Juriah’s Song is a horror love story that will grip you till the very end.

Ripples and Other Stories (2008)
By Shih-Li Kow
Shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize, the best pieces in this 25-story collection display Shih-Li Kow as an intelligent and subtle short-story writer, with a firm grip on her craft. She is an excellent prose stylist, and there’s a musicality in her writing which makes it seems effortless. Ripples confirms her as one of the best writers of the form in the country, and one feels that the book can stand proudly beside its competitors on the shortlist. Sharon Bakar

Little Hut of Leaping Fishes (2008)
By Chiew-Siah Tei
Mingzhi was born to be a mandarin. As the first grandson of the formidable Master Chai, his life is mapped from the moment of his birth. But times are changing in China, and as Mingzhi grows, he begins to question his privileged status and the secrets and shadows that lurk in the corners of the Chai mansion. Eager to flee from the corruption, treachery and rivalries of his family, he soon realises his only path to freedom is through learning. A gripping tale of rebellion and discovery, this first novel, longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, traces one man’s journey to seek a life of his own in the slipstream of historic change. Tei is working on her second novel.

Evening Is the Whole Day (2008)
By Preeta Samarasan
A multi-layered story of a Malaysian Indian family who live in a big house on Kingfisher Lane in Ipoh, Perak. Appearances can be deceptive. There is much going on behind the curtains and well-tended lawns of this house. There are secrets aplenty, adultery and incest. There is a child who communicates with ghosts, a brother who uses humour to make sense of the world, and a mother who is always too hard on herself. An earlier version of this tragi-comic first novel won the Avery and Jule Hopwood First Novel Award. Samarasan recently won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Short Story Award. It was also longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Lions in Winter
By Wena Poon (2007)
In this collection of 11 insightful stories, Wena Poon examines the quiet lives of displaced Singaporeans living abroad and those in Singapore who are often torn between two worlds in their search for an imaginary homeland. Her portraits of various lives share a common, constant yearning to belong in a place made foreign by time or space. Occasionally humorous but always with compassion, she captures the rich inner lives of individuals who form part of the kaleidoscopic yet wistful modern history of Asian migration. Lions in Winter was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize.

The Gift of Rain (2007)
By Tan Twan Eng
Penang, 1939: Half-English, half-Chinese, 16-year-old Philip Hutton is a loner: torn between his two cultures, he finds solace in a friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a price. When the Japanese invade Malaya, threatening to destroy Philip’s family and everything he loves, he realises that his trusted sensei—to whom he owes absolute loyalty—has been harbouring a devastating secret. Philip must risk everything in an attempt to save those he has placed in mortal danger and discover who and what he really is. This first novel was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Tan is working on his second novel.

The Harmony Silk Factory (2005)
By Tash Aw
Tash Aw’s début novel that won the Whitbread First Novel Prize and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize juxtaposes three accounts of the life of an enigmatic man at a pivotal and haunting moment in Malaysian history. The tale of Johnny Lim is told by his grown son, Jasper; his wife, Snow, the most beautiful woman in the Kinta Valley; and his best and only friend Peter Wormwood, an Englishman adrift. The Harmony Silk Factory reveals the difficulty of knowing the true selves of others, and how our assumptions about them also determine who we are. Aw’s second novel, Map of the Invisible World, was published in April 2009.

Breaking the Tongue (2004)
By Vyvyane Loh
A début novel depicting the fall of Singapore to the Japanese during World War II, told through the eyes of Claude Lim, a young Chinese man who has been brought up to revere the British colonisers and to abhor his own Asian heritage. When British defences crumble, so too does Claude’s world, forcing him towards new definitions of his culture and himself.

Touching Earth (2004)
By Rani Manicka
The Balinese Twins, beautiful and exotic, exchange an island paradise for the shabby squalour of London, and innocence for corruption. The Sicilian, Ricky Delgado, strikes a devil’s bargain with a blood goddess. The courtesan, Elizabeth, makes her living from men’s desires. The artist, Anis, takes to painting as an outlet for his rage. His artist’s eye knows his subjects before they know themselves, and he paints them all, a gallery of broken people. Can they escape the deadly web of decadence and sin?

The Rice Mother (2002)
By Rani Manicka
At the age of 14, Lakshimi leaves her native Ceylon and travels to far-off Malaya to marry a man many years her senior. Giving birth to a child every year until she is 19, she becomes a formidable matriarch despite her tender years. By sheer willpower she survives the nightmare of the Japanese invasion—but her family bears deep scars and in turn inflicts those wounds on the next generation. Told through the lyrical voices of Lakshimi and her family, this first novel, winner of a Commonwealth Writers Prize, is a story of laughter and loss, love and betrayal, exploitation and degradation; one where religion and superstition walk hand in hand, and where ghosts and gods are equally commonplace.


Blogger Chet said...

Where's Tash Aw's new book in your list?

Saturday, July 11, 2009 7:30:00 AM  
Blogger Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks for the mention!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 10:37:00 PM  

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