Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Readings from Readings 2: a review

Readings from Readings 2: New Writing from Malaysia, Singapore and BeyondReadings from Readings 2: New Writing from Malaysia, Singapore and Beyond by Bernice Chauly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Readings from Readings 2: New writing from Malaysia, Singapore and beyond, is a wonderful collection of work, comprising short pieces of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The flavour is undoubtedly Malaysian (ok, and Singaporean) with sprinklings of other voices in between. I found that I preferred the local (or at least Asian) pieces more than the odd sprinkling of “Western” names that found their way into the book. For one, Marc de Faoite’s pieces on Night Fishing in Langkawi and The Milking Pen were rather bland, non-moving pieces that might have worked well with a more introspective or literary-type collection of stories. Also, whilst I liked Crimson Starlet, it felt rather out of place in the anthology, having nothing at all to do with Malaysia, or even anything remotely Asian.

Angeline Woon’s Big Bertha and the Stones of Justice and Shahminee Selvakannu’s Lighting the Darkness highlight starkly the realities of life and the apathy of the powers-that-be in Malaysia. Fadzlishah Johanabas’ Picking up the Pieces gripped me right from the start with the power of love and longing in his words. Damyanti Ghosh’s An Orchestrated Ending was beautiful prose with an unexpected ending, whilst Alfian Sa’at’s The Cat Who Asked For Forgiveness made me chuckle.

The non-fiction pieces have power of their own: Preeta Samarasan talks about the prejudice she faces as the dark-skinned mother of a blue-eyed child in Blue, whilst Saras Manickam pours out his heart about taking care of a disabled child in Will You Let Him Drink The Wind.

The poetry pieces didn’t quite work for me, except for Sharon Bakar’s Abuses at the end. It’s a strange thing because I do write poetry sometimes. Maybe it’s to do with the style of these pieces or maybe they were meant to be read aloud, rather than in your head.

Overall, Readings from Readings 2: New Writing from Malaysia, Singapore and Beyond was an enjoyable read. I would have finished it in one sitting, except that I had several work deadlines to rush, so I broke it up into a few manageable pieces instead. Which is what anthologies are useful for, aren’t they?

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I read a few of the reviews over at Amazon. Some were good, some were bad and some made me wonder if they even read the same book.
Oh well.
A side note though in relation to some of those: if you're particularly politically correct, you probably won't like most of the pieces in this book. Why? Because it's unashamedly racist in some way or another. And that's a fact of life in Malaysia. Most of the time we accept it, we laugh over it, and we laugh at each other about it. It's typical stereotyping and most of us know that and move on. We find ways to live with each other because we share too many things to argue about the things we disagree about. Half of what we believe to be our "inherited cultures" (be it Chinese, Indian or Malay) we have found to be so different from what is actually practiced in our so-called ancestral lands due to the shared experiences and culture we ourselves have built in this melting-pot that we call home. To edit out the inherent racism in these pieces would be to censor the voice of Malaysians. And that is something we are fighting very hard against.

Sometimes though, someone with some kind of political agenda decides to make a big row over something that half the populace can't be bothered about. And it takes on a life of its own while everyone else goes about scratching their heads. But that's another story for another day.


  1. Thanks for your feedback Anna, you have an interesting take on 'literary-type' writing.

    You can read other, perhaps slightly more moving pieces, (though no promises) here:

    P.S. Thanks for spelling my name correctly - a rare occurrence indeed.

    1. Hi Marc
      Yes, your name was indeed hard to spell! I had to check it a few times :)
      Will drop by your blog soon.

  2. Thanks for the nice mention of 'Crimson Starlet', Anna. I guess I'm one of the "Beyond" people in the "New Writing from Malaysia, Singapore and Beyond" book subtitle. ;-) New to Malaysia, I wrote this piece as an exercise in one of Sharon Bakar's writing classes and was asked to read it at Readings (and then submitted it). It has all been a fantastic introduction to the writing and writers in Malaysia/Singapore and, I'm happy to report, I'm actually working on some things that *do* have something with Malaysia...and enjoying it. Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for dropping by Cynthia!
      Looking forward to reading more from you :)

  3. Doesn't mention what I thought was the best story in the book: "Rani taxis away" by Shanmugalingam - Peter Hassan Brown

    1. Hmm... That was pretty good, but wasn't quite a favourite of mine.