Monday, December 19, 2011

A magical mystery tour

Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Price: RM91.50

As I have mentioned before, I was determined not to buy this book. First, I decided there was no way I was going to plough through a one-thousand-page tome. I am too old for that, I said. When I actually saw the book, the cheesy jacket and page design, not to mention its wrist spraining heft, it only reinforced my view. If ever there was an argument for the ebook, this is it, I told my friends.

Still, I decided to read a few pages, more to look for faults than anything else. The first paragraph got me hooked. If I was looking for bubbles coming out of throats of phoenixes, there was none. It was smooth, delicate and clean, with no aftertaste -- good translator, I said.

The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.

After a few more paragraphs, I knew this is a book I am going to read -- no bubbles from throats of phoenixes, or dust motes in the streaming sunlight, nothing for me to toss it. I will not describe 1Q84 as unputdownable, given its weight, but it is certainly engaging. Told mainly from two points of view, Aomame and Tenko, the tale revolves around a literary fraud and two extremist religious cults. Its about the dividing line between fiction and fact, myth and reality; about loss, loneliness, passion and love, and ultimately, is a boy-meets-girl story. Have you heard it all before? Yes. Is it cliched? No.

I don’t want to give the plot away except to say that, after less than fifty pages into the book, I felt as if I had been mugged. The pace is steady, never hurried, and the characters are people one will recognise no matter where we live, despite (or perhaps, because of) the surrealism that surrounds them. The plot gets quite intense in places -- there was one point where I had to drop the book and walk away, breathless, only to return after several minutes. (But that might only be me; it has happened before; maybe I get too involved in the narrative.) And there is the music. Murakami loves music and it shows.

Some of the magic realism and fantasy elements in the story could be unsettling to some, leaving the reader to wonder if they are parables, or merely affectations of the author. Is he trying to emphasise the power of the myth, of the written word that anything once written assumes its own life and continues to live on its own, that people will believe anything, or is it a commentary on religion? The intelligent reader will have plenty to think about. Others will be rewarded with a good story.

1Q84 is not without faults. The pace of the first two books is different from the third, which is more languid, but that’s not its worst fault. Apart from the cheesy design mentioned above, the first book feels under-edited and hurried. Fortunately, Murakami is a genius and that shines through. Under lesser authors, this would have been disastrous.

Read this book. Do not be intimidated by its size.

Changes to the ‘Books’ page

We will no longer be featuring new Malaysian books on this page (the old posts will remain); they will be moved to the our ‘Home’ page. The publishing industry in Malaysia is facing a mini boom; we are now receiving new titles at the bookstore about two or three times a week. As such, our ‘once a month’ update is not longer relevant, and we find ourselves dropping some books due to space constraints.

Our ‘Home‘ page displays dynamic content (sorry for the jargon), which means that it will be updated every time we add a new book to the database, possibly two or three times a week, with links directly to our online bookstore. So, anyone sending us a book should see it featured right on the front page of our website within twenty-four hours (unless we receive too many titles at one time).

The ‘old‘ book page will be used for reviews. We will start with books we are reading at Silverfish currently, and then spread out to feature good reviews from readers who’d like to share something good they’ve read. If one reads the news these days, one would be forgiven for thinking that the book is dead. Fortunately, its demise has been greatly exaggerated. In the last month, in Silverfish, we have read four books -- 1Q84 by Murakami, Cain by Saramago, Steve Jobs by Isaacson and Encounters by Kundera, and we have plenty to write about.

The other pages will be updated throughout the month as well, with the monthly Silverfish newsletter carrying a summary for those on our mailing list. It’s an experiment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Children's art

The Malaysian Art Book for Children by Rahel Joseph & Jo Kukathas (RM 64.95)

Can a washing line be considered art? Why did Ibrahim Hussein paint a portraits of his father with an astronaut? What are Yee I-Lann's kerbau staring at? Where is everyone going in Wong Hoy Cheong's Boats? Why does Syed Ahmad Jamal portray Gunung Ledang as a blue and green triangle?

The Malaysian Art Book for Children features some of Malaysia's most exciting artists and is a perfect introduction for all those encountering Malaysian contemporary art for the first time.

Written in a fun and accessible way, the book has been designed to encourage creativity and critical thinking in children, through the fascinating world of art. Ideal for use at home or in the classroom, the book also includes suggested activities that children could do on their own or with the supervision of a parent or teacher.

For children of all ages from here, there and everywhere.

Other new titles:
1) Sikhs in Southeast Asia: Negotiating an Identity eited by Shamsul AB & Arunajeet Kaur (RM 100.00)
2) Domination and Contestation: Muslim Bumiputera Politics in Sarawak by Faisal S Hazis (RM 150.00)
3) Sun Yat-Sen: Nanyang and the 1911 Revoluion edited by Lee Lai To & Lee Hock Guan (RM 100.00)
4) Dare to Dream by Tan Sri Radin Soenarno (RM 30.00)
5) PRU 13, UMNO Tumpas? by Zainal Abidin Ahmad (RM 20.00)
6) Memoir Perjuangan Politik Syed Husin Ali (RM 38.00)
7) The Pinang Peranakan Mansion by Chan Suan Choo (RM 85.00)
8) Sex, Stage & State by Ann Lee , Shahimah (Charmaine W) Idris , Sue Ingleton , Jo Kukathas & Foo May Lyn (RM 70.00)
9) Rabun (DVD) by Yasmin Ahmad (RM 20.00)