Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ripples and other stories

RipplesRipples and other stories by Shih-Li Kow (RM 30.00)

Shih-Li just keeps on getting better and better. In her first full book of short stories (which, incidentally has been nominated for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize in the First Book category), Shih Li's delicate touch and turn of phrase continues. She says she loves writing and obviously means it. She will not let any excuse get in the way of her passion. She holds a full time job working six days a week, and is a loving single mother with a ten-year-old.

"... If you were getting tired of fiction, this is the place to have your faith renewed in the beauty and the terror of the imaginary.

I recommend that you read the stories in order of appearance. Unexpected delights will emerge: characters, locations and events from earlier stories will pop up in subsequent ones, adding shade and dimension to the earlier appearances. Things connect -- not in a mystery-solving way, but because even seemingly random occurrences have a history behind them. And since these connections occur in a social environment like Malaysia, they get complicated further by our famously fraught cultural and historical matrices."

-- Amir Muhammad, Malay Mail, 31st December 2008.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sun Yat Sen in Penang by Khoo Salmah Nasution (RM 30.00)

Sun Yat Sen'You can help shoulder the responsibility of saving our country by donating your money, while our comrades in our country are sacrificing their lives'

Sun Yat Sen in the famous speech he made in Penang, 1910

The Second Guangzhou Uprising (also called the Canton March 29 Uprising), a turning point of the 1911 Chinese Revolution, was planned from a place 2,400 km away -- in Penang in present-day Malaysia.

As a young revolutionary, Dr. Sun Yat Sen traveled widely and lived amongst the Chinese Communities abroad, including Japan, North America and Southeast Asia. He mobilized the overseas Chinese with the dream of saving the Chinese nation.

In 1910, when success seemed most remote, Dr. Sun turned to his followers in Penang. The Penang Philomatic Union became the Tongmenghui party's Nanyang Headquarters, raising funds and fighters for the Second Guangzhou Uprising and acting decisively to help consolidate the Xinhai Revolution.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Anwar and Mahathir

AnwarThe Asian Renaissance by Anwar Ibrahim (Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, RM 44.60)

The renaissance of Asia entails the growth, development and flowering of Asian societies based on a certain vision of perfection; societies imbued with truth and the love of learning, justice and compassion, mutual respect and forbearance, and freedom and responsibility. It is the transformation of its cultures and societies from its capitulation to Atlantic powers to the position of self-confidence and its reflowering at the dawn of a new millennium.

MahathirThe Malay Dilemma by Mahathir bin Mohamad (Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, RM 44.40)

...first published in 1970 to much controversy. Dr Mahathir's interpretation of events caused him to be called upon to defend his statements and claims.

This is not an objective book. Nevertheless, it is published because it is what an educated modern, progressive Malay thinks and believes ... The arguments in the Malay Dilemma reveal the author's reactions to the pressing problems of the day, and show how a politically inclined Malay understands the past, explains the behaviour of his own people and the behaviour of the immigrants, and foresees the future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Poems Sacred and Profane

Sajak Sajak SallehPoems Sacred and Profane: Sajak Sajak Saleh by Salleh ben Joned

The third edition of this, arguably, most important collection of modern Malaysian poetry which was first released in 1987. It is too important a book not to be kept in print. Here are some of the reactions from readers and reviewers. Only Salleh ben Joned can traumatise a whole race!

  • "It's like meeting Hang Jebat* on his day off." -- Lat -- *Jebat -- legendary Malay rebel of 15th - 16th century Malacca famous for his amok

  • "...below the wit that withers and wounds is the love he bears his own...poems that mix grief, anger, love; the voice of the poet speaking for and at his race, with the voice of the father, the husband, the lover, the would-be mystic still very much of this world -- and revelling in it...Here is Malay as it is seldom heard, returned perhaps to its original vigour..." -- Dawn Menon, The Star

  • The poems "are unconventional and invigorating and explore with arresting sensuality subjects often confined to the philosophical and personal." -- Traveller's Literary Companion to Southeast Asia (1996)

  • "The appearance of Salleh's book ... was the most traumatic experience for the Malay literary scene." -- Prof Muhammad Hj Salleh

  • "Ini puncak sajak penuh rentak seorang penyair tulen lagi jantan bernama Salleh."-- Latiff Mohidin

Friday, October 31, 2008


Dutch History of the Dutch in Malaysia by Dennis De Witt -- RM 60.00.

Written in the perspective of a Malaysian Dutch Eurasian, this book divides the Dutch historical influences in Malaysia into four different eras. Each era is analysed and represented in relation to its respective social environment and political developments. Included are the historical contributions of individuals, such as the Dutch Admirals who attempted to capture Malacca, the Dutch Governors and their administrative ranks who governed the town and the contributions of the Malacca Burghers in shaping Malaysia's history.

Presented herein are the many vestiges from the Dutch that can still be found in Malaysia today. The author also sets the record straight on some misconceptions concerning historic monuments, identifies Dutch architectural influences, recounts an unusual tradition of reusing old burial tombs and proposes a theory for the legend of Malacca's secret tunnels.

Although Dutch-descended communities such as the Afrikaners of South Africa, the Ceylon Burghers of Sri Lanka and the Indo-Dutch Eurasians from Indonesia are known to exist, few are aware of the existence of the Malaysian Dutch descendants. Categorised in a broad sense as Eurasians, they exist as a minority within a minority in Malaysia. This book recounts their history, relates their ancestor's contributions towards Malaysian history and describes the development of this hidden and forgotten minority ethnic group.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Malaysian Indians

MalaysianIndians The Malaysian Indians: History, Problems and Future by Muzafar Desmond Tate -- RM 40.00.

The Malaysian Indians comes at an important juncture in the history of this significant minority group in Malaysia. Written several years before the Hindraf rallies of 2007, this book is a much-needed introduction to the Indians of Malaysia.

It is a balanced, scholarly yet highly readable account of the origins, economic and political contributions, and continuing divisions and problems faced by this diverse community.

The focus is on those who migrated or who were brought to work in colonial plantations and the civil service in the late 19th and early 20th century. Both the educated and poor labouring classes came to this nation seeking their fortunes, and became part and parcel of its growth, prosperity and political upheavals.

Readers are also reminded of the important, century-old, pre-colonial ties between India and Southeast Asia -- links that deeply influenced kingship, religion, culture and trade, including in the Malay world. This book also traces the key contributions of individuals and groups in the making of Malaya as well as Malaysia. It is hopes that this book will be the springboard for more research, rational discussion, and informal public debates and policies about the Malaysian Indians, including its poorest, most marginalized, sections.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Malay magic

SusukSusuk: the Evil Within by Amir Hafizi -- Marshall Cavendish -- RM 29.90.

Beauty has a price. Soraya is a young trainee nurse who is starting to feel disaffected by her life. A chance introduction to the world of glamour piques her ambition to be a star. She does nor succeed at first, but then she is told of the forbidden practice of susuk. Should she stay the way she is, or cross the line? Meanwhile, Suzana is a dive with an air of mystery. She has long used the extreme susuk keramat. Every time she violates a taboo, a human life is required. We follow the eventful lives of these two women until we get to the secret of this dreaded charm.

Susuk is the forbidden practice of inserting and embedding foreign objects under a person's skin to increase their allure. The wearer will have to respect a few taboos, failing which the consequences will be dire. More dangerous is a variant called susuk keramat.

Susuk is also available in Malay, written by Nizam Zakaria (RM 24.90)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Politics and a tsunami

March 8March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up by Kee Thuan Chye -- Marshall Cavendish -- RM 39.90.

The day of the underdogs, the real Merdeka, a political tsunami, the perfect storm -- by any name, March 8, 2008, will go down in history as a turning point in Malaysian politics.

With their votes, Malaysians dealt a blow to the Barisan Nasional government that had held almost absolute power for 50 years. Denying it the all-important two-thirds majority in Parliament and the control of five states has certainly made the political scenario more vibrant.

Although surprised that there was such power in the vote they cast, Malaysians woke up to the true meaning and practice of democracy. They now face the present reasonably free from fear, free from the spectre of May 13.

This book is about that historic day and the change that came with it -- an expression of hope for a brighter future, with many Malaysian voices speaking their thoughts frankly. There are also eyewitness accounts, interviews with key people, and articles never published before, written by fledgling and established writers.

Balik MalaysiaDi Balik Malaysia: Dari Majapahit Ke Putrajaya by Farish A Noor (RM 35.00)

Di Balik Malaysia: Dari Majapahit Ke Putrajaya mengandungi koleksi artikel pilihan oleh Farish A Noor, seorang sarjana / penganalisis politik dan sosial yang bukan sahaja kritis tetapi berterus terang.

Buku ini mengambil pendekatan dengan menyorot beberapa tokoh erkenal
dalam sejarah nasionalisme Melayu dan bagaimana pemikiran mereka dilihat masih relevan sehingga sekarang. Keistimewaan Dr Farish juga dilihat bagaimana ia mengaitkan sumber-sumber daripada naskah Melayu klasik sebagai latarbelakang justera mengesahkan proses sosialisasi penyatuan antara kaum di negara ini sebenarnya telah lama wujud.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Malaysian foibles

TFTC Tales from the Court and other stories by Matthew Thomas -- Silverfish Books, Price RM30.00.

Rukumani Devi, the court interpreter cum court clerk, cum file caller, cum amicus curiae of the court, cum confidant of the magistrate, cum Amway agent rose, a tinge of white ash smeared on her forehead and in a crisp yellow sari, looking important. She reeled out the civil and criminal action numbers with accompanying names of legal firms so fast that I missed mine.

She then called a second time around, this time angrily, "How many times must call-lah?"

Rukumani Devi conducted herself as would a maestro conducting an orchestra. Everything was at her fingertips, an upturned palm if she wanted counsel to stand and a down-turned palm for counsel to sit. The Magistrate, the lawyers and litigants paid her great heed.

As Mohamed M Keshavjee writes in his afterword: In this compendium of short stories, the author, who is a keen student of human foibles, gives us a series of vignettes from the Kuala Lumpur of the 1950s. His characters come vividly to life: from Eddodes, the creative and legendary builder of castles in the air and Boniface 'Birdie Boy' Ratnayake, the aspirant judge, to Musso the exorcist, and Mike Kumar, the confidence trickster. In this book, all these characters talk to us. The author captures the very essence of their being and their cultures as they play their little games in life, made up of illusions, craftiness, ego, hope and aspirations.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Human Rights

HRR2007Malaysia Human Rights Report 2007: Civil and Political Rights by SUARAM (RM 22.00)

SUARAM publishes its Human Rights Report on Malaysia every year without fail. This report is now widely recognised as the most objective, comprehensive and dependable source of information on the state of human rights in Malaysia.

In this 2007 report, we note that on this 50th year of Malaysia's independence, the state institutions intended to safeguard human rights failed to deliver...

The SUARAM Human Rights Report on Civil and Political Rights 2007 documents these human rights violations and the unrelenting struggles of human rights defenders to promote democracy and human rights in Malaysia.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A KL guide

The Kuala Lumpur Complete Residents' Guide (RM 75.50)

KL GuideThe foreword to The Kuala Lumpur Complete Residents' Guide says:
Whether you are only just starting to think about moving to Kuala Lumpur, or reading this on the plane, or you're an old-time expat who's lived there for years, well done for picking up the right book. It's not really meant for tourists who are looking for the best Twin Tower photo op -- it's written for you, the intrepid resident who knows the value of year-round sunshine.

The Kuala Lumpur Complete Residents' Guide has been meticulously researched and written by a team of seven city experts – some locals, some expats – who not only know the city inside out, but love it too... This talented bunch have scoured all areas to bring you the lowdown on all the things that are most important to a resident of Kuala Lumpur...

Although the book is aimed at expatriate residents, having glanced through the volume, we find that there are lots of information in there (not in the eleast of it, telephone numbers) suitable for locals as well. Let's face it, there are many parts of KL even people who have lived here for 50 years don't know about.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Debut fiction

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (Estimated Retail Price: RM 59.90) (The price is an estimate only based on books of similar nature. At the time of writing the distributor has not brought the books in yet.)

EveningSet in Malaysia, this spellbinding and already internationally acclaimed debut introduces us to the prosperous Rajasekharan family as its closely guarded secrets are slowly peeled away.

When Chellam, the family's rubber-plantation-bred servant girl, is dismissed for unnamed crimes, her banishment is the latest of a series of recent, precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha's life. A few short weeks before, Aasha's grandmother Paati passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister, Uma, departed for the Columbia University -- leaving Aasha alone to cope with her mostly absent father, her bitter mother, and her impertubable older brother.

Beginning with Aasha's granfather's ascension from Indian coolie to illustrious resident of the Big House on Kingfisher Lane, and going on to tell the story of how Appa, the family's Oxford-educated patriarch, courted Amma, the humble girl next door, Evening is the Whole Day moves gracefully backward and forward in time to answer the many questions that haunt the family: What was Chellam's unforgivable crime? Why was Uma so intent on leaving? How and why did Paati die? What did Aasha see? And underscoring all these mysteries: What ultimately became of Appa's once grand dreams for his family and his country?

Sweeping in scope, sumptuously lyrical, and masterfully constructed, Evening is the Whole Day offers an unflinching look at relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, the wealthy and the poor, a country and its citizens -- and the ways in which each sometimes fails the other. Illuminating in heartbreaking detail one Indian immigrant family's secrets and lies while exposing the complex underbelly of Malaysia itself, Preeta Samarasan's debut is a mesmerizing and vital achievement sure to earn her place alongside Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Zadie Smith.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aweks KL

AweksKLAweks Kl by various writers (Stormkitchen, RM 15.00)

A collection of new writing in Malay, done mostly by Malay women in Malaysia (because we simply didn't get enough submissions to make it an all-female book). The short stories and poems permit us the slightest of peeks into the mind of the modern Malay woman which, like the forbidden glimpse of a thigh, has been hitherto consigned to the backrooms of society as it is with children, to be only seen and not heard.

Included as a bonus are three previously unpublished stories by literary superstar Dina Zaman. Also featuring the talented Tifani Teh in her literay debut, the heavenly working class prose of Bimme S, the earthy music of Australia's Marlyn King, and the sad, bad, and dangerous lament of the Iranian, Fatemeh Zargar.

The books is available at Silverfish Books. Now!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Iban textiles

Iban TextilesIban Ritual Textile by Traude Gavin (RM 75.00)

Iban ritual textile draws on years of fieldwork and the author's documentation of the hundrds of Iban cloths. Topics include the ritual functions of Iban ikat-patterned fabric; the technical aspects of producing such cloths, as well as the dynamics of the complex of weaving (the power and efficacy of cloth patterns, dreams and charms) that can be subject to human interpretation and regulation. The main focus however is on the cloth patterns themselves and on the names assigned to them. Here the author challenges some long held misconceptions, in particular the notion of designs as a 'primitive form of language'. From this novel perspective, the role of weavers as technicians is set off against the power of patterns as an index for a weaver's relative rank. The study moves on to examine the
association of female prestige and weaving with the parallel structure of male status and headhunting. Findings further are discussed in the context of former and more recent intellectual frameworks.

Iban ritual textile is the first in-depth study of the ikat-patterned cloth based on extensive field research and should be of interest to anthropologists, art historians and scholars with an interest in the textile tradition of Southeast Asia.

Dr Traude Gavin is a freelance researcher and lecturer and lives in Great Britain.

Friday, February 29, 2008


Prince of PiratesPrince of Pirates by Carl A Trocki (RM 46.00)

No country's history is so well documented yet so poorly understood as that of a former colony. Singapore and Malaysia are particular victims of this historical paradox, and Carl Trocki's account of the history of Johor and Singapore marks a decided advance in Malaysian scholarship. A study of the Temenggongs of Johor, Prince of Pirates offers an original and highly provocative reinterpretation of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Malaysian history, revealing continuities between the pre-colonial and colonial periods that have been obscured by attention given to the European intrusion.

This new edition includes a fresh introduction by the author that positions the study within subsequent literature on Malaysian history, the Chinese migration, the opium trade and history of the British Empire in Asia. It also explains the role the book played in pioneering a number of important initiatives in Malaysian studies.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's raining books

Kasut BiruTitle:Kasut Biru Rubina
Author: Sufian Abas
Publisher: Sang Freud Press
Price: MYR15.00
(This book is in Malay)

A woman wakes up without her body. A boy tries to endure the pain of being an adult when mini animals start to come out of his anus. What do you do when angels forgot to bring a unicorn for your daughter's birthday? And are all shoes evil or just the blue ones?

Many of the characters in Kasut Biru Rubina want to live ordinary lives. But the unexpected happen. Brief, shocking, and full of lies that can only come from the twisted mind of Nigerian scammers, Sufian Abas' stories are snapshots that illuminate the strange hidden in a world we never want to live in.

NME1Title:New Malaysian Essays 1
Series Editor: Amir Muhammad
Authors: Brian Yap, Aminuddin Mahmud, Burhan Baki, Saharil
Hasrin Sanin, Amir Muhammad & Sonia Randhawa.
Publisher: Matahari Books (2008). Pages 254,
ISBN: 987-983-43596-1-4
Price: MYR30.00

New Malaysian Essays 1 is the first of a planned annual seriesconcentrating on local non-fiction writing. From polemic to ode to memoir, this series invites Malaysian readers - and writers - to notice, analyse and interpret the living, throbbing, squelching vitality around them. Multi-disciplinary, multi-tasking and bestappreciated on multi-vitamins, this first collection takes us from Brian Yap's election-era critique to Amir Muhammad's alternative lexicon by way of Burhan Baki's elegant deconstructions, Aminuddin Mahmud's seminar on branding and Saharil Hasnin Sanin's knockabout ruminations on language [in Malay] before rounding off with Sonia Randhawa's stirring call for national (and therefore personal) self-realisation.

Amir Muhammad and three of his friends will read and discuss the book at Silverfish Books on the 23rd of February 2008, at 5.30 pm. (See 'Events'.)

Both these books can be purchased online at

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sin and Politics

Book of SinsThe Book of Sins: Poetry and Prose by Bernice Chauly (Price : RM 24.00). (Sorry, the earlier price shown, as RM25, was wrong. Our apologies.)

Structured loosely around the concept of the "7 Deadly Sins", Chauly's second collection of poems examine the depth and complexity of human experience, maneuvering its way through a range of issues and events that have left profound effects on the poet. Largely confessional in nature, issues like marriage, motherhood, are scrutinised in the first section of "sins" and further explorations of the self are portrayed symbolically and metaphorically in the middle section called "contemplation". The work comes to a resolve under "virtues" where an impending death heralds a forgiveness between mother and daughter and prompts a prophetic summation of the themes at work in this collection.

Book of SinsThe Old House & Other Stories by Chuah Guat Eng (RM 28.00)

The Old House and Other Stories brings together 9 Malaysian short stories in English written between 1992 and 2002. Most of the stories have appeared in various local and foreign publications and anthologies. Three of them are being published in Malaysia for the first time. With this collection the stories are more readily accessible to students and scholars of Malaysian literature in English and to the general reading public. Professor Quayum adds a literary dimension to this accessibility with his Introduction, where he discusses the stories' major themes, among them child abuse, greed, hypocrisy, superstition and prejudice. These themes reflect the author's social concerns, which are dealt with in the stories without racial or gender bias, demonstrating her neutrality, objectivity and sense of realism. To provide some insight onto the author's philosophy of life and her relationship with religion, race and literary criticism, Professor Quayum's 2005 interview with Chuah Guat Eng is included in this volume.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963 by Ric Francis & Colin Ganley (RM 50.00)

Penang tramsWith over 100 old photographs, maps and illustrations, this book gives an overview of the various forms of public transport used in George Town from 1880s to 1963, and the role this transport played in the development of the growth of George Town and Penang.

Penang was one of the first urban centres in Southeast Asia to operate steam trams, horse trams, electric trams and trolleybuses. When the Municipal Commission established its own electric supply, it took over the tram service and started the electric trams in George Town in 1906. This gave the local population excellent public transport around George Town, with one line going up to Ayer Itam. In the late 1920s, the Municipality replaced trams with trolley-buses, experimenting for a while with re-conditioned double-deckers from London Transport!

The Municipality also operated two railways -- firstly, the Penang Hill Railway which was considered an engineering marvel when it was first built, and secondly, the electric railway which transported supplies and tin ingots for Penang's foremost smelting works.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


ChronicleChronicle of Malaysia (1957-2007): Fifty Years of Headline News (RM 120.00, DVD included)

The Chronicle of Malaysia
is the Story of Malaysia from January 1957 to 31st August 2007, a vivid, eyewitness account of major news events over the last 50 years. The book gives a grandstand view of events as they unfolded -- the raising of the Malayan flag, the Emergency, the formation of Malaysia, Confrontation, the 1969 riots, political upheavals, financial crisis, judicial landmarks, great sporting moments, cultural delights -- and quirky aspects of daily life
that just happened to make the news. It is history made alive.

Along with the year-by-year review of major news stories from Peninsula, Singapore (from 1963 to 1965) and the Borneo states, there is also a timeline of international events, including developments in other parts of the region.

The Chronicle of Malaysia begins with an Introduction by historian Cheah Boon Kheng who gives a short but authoritative history of the Malay lands from early times to Independence. This is proceeded by a brief Foreword by Tun Mohamed Hanif Omar, a former (and the longest-serving) Inspector General of Police, who puts the whole story into perspective.

The news is interspersed with inimitable cartoons by Lat that have appeared in books and newspapers over the past three decades as well as new drawings specially commissioned.

Research sources for this book included Malaysian newspapers from all the language streams. Foreign publications provided another angle. Photographs, too, came from a variety of archives and greatly enlivened the 'slice of life' that the book provides.