There has been a surge in the English Writings from many of the commonwealth countries of late. India has a thriving publishing Industry for those who write in English. Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are producing more writers who express their art form in the colonial language. Tan Twan Eng's Gift of Rain was my first introduction to the Malaysian Literature ( though he lives in South Africa these days). I was planning to buy his new book, while at a book store in Kuala Lumpur. It was the store manager who suggested I try out this writer. I had no knowledge of her , and that can be a major handicap to appreciate the context of many of the stories.
In a detailed introduction to this writer Prof Mohammad A Quayum, says despite the multi-cultural , multi ethnic and multi religious ambience in the Malay social living, "she is not a polemic writer : she refuses to write maliciously about race and religion". However, people from all religious background appear in her stories. When you look at the stories, these are all common people, living the regular middle class life. These are not those who live in periphery or outside the normal facts of life. Their issues in life are what is experienced in day to day life. Their concerns, issues, hopes and ambitions are nothing different from the rest of the world. What is interesting in this collection is in her ability, to pick moments of interest out of these ordinary lives.
As is expected in any anthology, this too have some good stories and a few very ordinary ones. The day Andy Warhol Died , The Old House, Two Pretty men were very good stories. The old house especially demand a lot more attention. Finding a piece of jewelry in an old house, the nameless protagonist find the disturbing remembrances of her childhood memories. The once hidden nightmares of the ill treatment she experienced at the hands of her step mother, has found a way out of her subconscious mind. Without sensationalizing she told a beautiful story. The day Andy Warhol dies , experiments the possibility of relating two non-connected incidents through the imagination of young kids. Sexuality or the gender relation subject are appearing in many a stories. Be it the subtle homo sexuality hints in two pretty men, Karuna's mermaid, or the infidelity issues which appear in 'Tamarind tree', almost wrong and seventh uncle, are treated with such a great care.
The narration is fairly straight forward and no great experimentation with the structural forms or linguistical ( as we see in many post-colonial writing) freedom of using local dialects. The typical middle class prejudice, greed and moral issues are the major themes of her writing. While the book may not be extra ordinary, it gives us a glimpses to the post colonial life of the Malaysian middle class. In the interview given in the last part of the book, she says : 'When I reflect on the stories I have written, I suppose the dominant theme has resolved around the issues arising from the interrelationship between truth,lies and silences'-------------------------------------------
The Old House & Other Stories ( 2008 )
Chuah Guat Eng