Happy Malaysia Day!
Sept 16, 1963 marks the day that Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined Malaya to form Malaysia. Of course, Singapore was kicked out shortly thereafter...
At any rate, I thought it would be a good day to introduce a novel written by a Sarawakan writer, Golda Mowe.
Iban Dream by Golda Mowe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Iban Dream is the story of a young Iban boy left to fend for himself after the shaman of his longhouse ordered for him to be cast out because of an evil spirit. Adopted by Tok Anjak, respected leader of the Orang Utan, as a child and claimed by Sengalang Burong, the warpath god, in his adulthood, Bujang Maias must reconcile his peaceful upbringing by the apes with the violence required of him as a warrior and headhunter.
In this fanciful tale, Mowe offers a glimpse into the ancient beliefs of the headhunting Ibans. Legends come to life as Bujang discovers his heritage and his half-forgotten adat (customs) through his conversations with the gods, the spirits, the animals, and the augur of the longhouse that he eventually comes to lead.
Mowe's writing is style is simple, capturing the innocence of Bujang and the rural naïveté of the Ibans as they come into contact with the deceptions and depravity of life outside their jungle for the first time. There is a distinctive sound to the way she writes, as if she is one of the story tellers of old, narrating according to the oral tradition.
I started reading Iban Dream not knowing what to expect. The blurb describes it as "fantasy fiction" drawing on the real beliefs, taboos and terminology of the Ibans in Borneo. The book itself reads like a mix between folktales and mythology. I'm not sure how to wrap my head around that. Because I grew up on a diet of white epic fantasy, with my preference trending towards medieval sword and sorcery, Iban Dream, with its animistic, tribalistic framework was a little jarring - not really what I was (I suppose, subconsciously) expecting.
And I suppose that's the thing. I was looking forward to something more, but did not really get it, hence the low-ish rating of 3 stars. I would have loved to say it was a 4 star book, but it didn't really capture me. Maybe it was the writing style, that folk-lorish thing she did, which while suitable for the book isn't quite my cup of tea. And I know my cup of tea very well.
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Golda Mowe was born and raised in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Fate led her to four undergraduate years in Japan, but contrary to everyone's expectations she ended up spending more time in the History and Social Studies section of the library than in Economics and Commerce. On graduating, she returned to Sarawak but after ten years of lugging files and writing memos her heart began to yearn for childhood evenings spent in the longhouse, sitting in a pool of lamplight, listening to her great-aunt tell tales of jungle animals or her father recount his hunting adventures. In this way she was led back to writing and is now living in Sibu, a town by the Rejang River, where she expends large portions of her time researching ideas for books and short stories, some of which she puts up in http://www.gmowe.ws/
You can pick up Iban Dream here: Kindle | Paperback