Wednesday 25 December 2019

#bookreview: On Far Malayan Shores | Tara Haigh

On Far Malayan ShoresOn Far Malayan Shores by Tara Haigh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's perhaps fitting that I read most of this on my flight home from London to Penang--it certainly increased my longing for home!

When Ella Kaltenbach's father dies, he reveals a long-kept secret--her adoption is not as straightforward as it appears, neither is the annual stipend he receives an inheritance from his late brother. Driven to discover the secret of her birth and her real family, Ella sets off on a long voyage to Malaya with her suitor, Rudolf, armed with only three facts: that the payments are being made from Penang; she was picked up from the port of Singapore in 1877; and the name Richard F.

I started reading this with a huge dose of skepticism. I mean, a German lady writing about the Malaya? HMMMM. Anyway, it had a bit of a slow start for me, probably because I don't often read in this genre; On Far Malayan Shores seemed to plod along at a slower pace compared to majority of the fantasy books I've been reading, especially in the beginning. The build-up is beautifully crafted though, and even though I hit the 75% mark going COME ON I CAN GUESS WHO HER PARENTS ARE, REVEAL IT ALREADY (and I was right), there's enough tension and intrigue for it to still be exciting.

On authenticity, I'm not from the early 1900s so I cannot comment on how historically accurate it is, but there's definitely a feel of old Malaysia, from eating with your hands, to having roti canai (though it was translated flatbread) and curry for breakfast, also the obligatory Chinese temple, Indian temple, and Malay mosque near each other.

The only puzzling part was the odd references that made it sound like Johor was part of Malacca? Since we're talking about British Straits Settlements, Johor should already be a separate state as there was a Johor Sultanate after the end of the Malaccan empire. Ok wait. When I search up instances of Malacca and Johore (as it's spelt) in the book, Haigh references Johore as a town/city in Malacca... which ultimately makes no sense.

"Most of the plantations are located in Malacca, on the Malay Peninsula. Mainly in the south, in a region called Johore, which is also under British control..."
("region" may be an accurate term, but...)
" the south of Malacca, most likely between Singapore and Johore..."
(err, which would mean the sea? lol)
"Ella was told that the journey to Johore was perfectly safe, since they only had to travel northwards across Singapore...before making a short ferry crossing to the south coast of Malacca."
I get the feeling that she means "Johore Bahru", as in the capital of Johor, but either way, the Johor-as-part-of-Malacca bit is wrong.

I feel like docking another star now for bad research lol. (See: Johor Sultanate)

Culturally though, nothing feels terribly off. Verdict, I guess, is to read it for the feels and oo Malaysia vibes but not for the geographical content.

Addendum: Tara notes on Goodreads that "I read a few British travel accounts from the 19th century. They referred to Malaysia (the entire peninsula including the sultanate of Johor) as Malacca. This is what I found on old maps of Farther India as well." Which is weird, and shows the flippancy the British have for their own colonial holdings.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Amazon Publishing UK via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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