Saturday, November 30, 2013

Stories of Singapore

Isa Kamari offersReviews of three books by Isa Kamari by Harry Aveling of La Trobe and Monash Universities for the Asiatic:  IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature

Isa Kamari, 1819, rendered in English from Malay by R. Krishnan. Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2013.
ISBN 978-983-3221-42-4.

Isa Kamari, Rawa, rendered in English from Malay by R. Krishnan. Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2013.
ISBN 978-983-3221-43-1.

Isa Kamari, A Song of the Wind, rendered in English from Malay by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan. Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2013
ISBN 978-983-3221-44-8.


Isa Kamari is a major Singapore Malay author. Born in 1960 in Kampung Tawakal, his family moved to a Housing Development Board apartment in Ang Mo Kio while he was still in his teens. After studying at the elite Raffles Institution, he went on to take the degree of Bachelor of Architecture (with Honours) from the National University of Singapore in 1988 and now holds a senior position with the Land Transport Authority. Isa has also earned a Master of Philosophy degree in Malay Letters from the National University of Malaysia, 2007. He is a prolific writer and has so far published two volumes of short stories, eight novels, six volumes of poetry, one collection of stage plays, and several albums of contemporary spiritual music. Isa’s literary work has been widely honoured: he received the SEA Write Award in 2006, the Singapore government’s Cultural Medallion in 2007 and the Singapore Malay literary award Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang in 2009. He is married to Dr Sukmawati Sirat, a graduate of the University of Southern Carolina, and the couple have two daughters. In 2001 he completed the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Isa’s novels are increasingly being translated from Malay for wider audiences. Satu Bumi (One Earth, 1998) was published in Mandarin in 1999 as Yi Pien Re Tu and in English in 2008, under the title of One Earth (translated by Sukmawati Sirat). Two other novels appeared in English translations in 2009: Intercession (Tawassul, 2002, translated by Sukmawati Sirat and edited by Alvin Pang); and Nadra (Atas Nama Cinta, In the Name of Love, 2006, translated by Sukmawati Sirat and edited by Aaron Lee Soon Yong). In 2013, four translations have been released: The Tower (Menara, 2002, translated by Alfian Sa’at); A Song of the Wind (Memeluk Gerhana, Embracing the Eclipse, 2007, “rendered in English from Malay” by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan); Rawa (Rawa: tragedi Pulau Batu Puteh, Rawa: The Tragedy of White Rock Island, 2009, “rendered in English from the original Malay” by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan); and 1819 (Duka Tuan Bertakhta, You Rule in Sorrow, 2011, “rendered in English from Malay by Sukmawati Sirat and R. Krishnan”).

1819, Rawa and A Song of the Wind have been published by the same publisher, Silverfish Books, Kuala Lumpur, and packaged as belonging to the genre of “historical fiction” so that they appear to form a natural chronological progression of books “about Singapore”. 1819 deals with the foundation of Singapore by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles; Rawa describes the changing lives of three generations of the one orang seletar (sea gypsy) family, from the1950s to the 1980s; and A Song of the Wind, presents a lively account of a young man’s coming of age in a rapidly developing newly independent nation, from the 1960s to the 1990s. The books were, as we have just noted, originally written in the reverse order to this. Nevertheless, for present purposes we shall continue to follow this order as it will be a natural one for English readers who come to the works for the first time.

The approach to history varies with each volume. In 1819, the great events of international colonial expansion take centre stage. The major characters are the colonialists, the Malay Sultan of Singapore and the Temenggung (chieftain), and two communal leaders, Habib Nuh, a Muslim holy man, and Wak Cantuk, a traditional healer and teacher of the martial arts. The transfer of sovereignty over the island is presented as the result of deviousness and treachery on the part of the British, and stupidity and an addiction to opium on the part of the Malay aristocracy. The community leaders are figures of respect but do not have the necessary skills to help their followers navigate the new political circumstances. Lesser, but extremely lively, characters are the young people: Nuraman,  Wak Cantuk’s leading silat student, Marmah, Wak Cantuk’s adopted daughter, and the three “boys” Ramli, Sudin and Ajis. Much of the latter two-thirds of the work is given over to their involvements with Habib Nuh and Wak Cantuk, and the various stories of their own adolescent experiences, their relationships and their love for Marmah. These characters of ordinary Singapore Malays are a strong feature of Isa’s writing in general and become increasingly prominent as the Singapore story develops in the other two works.

Rawa is “the name of the land” where the sea gypsies live, between the north coast of Singapore and the mainland of the peninsula, and of the main character himself. The story describes how Rawa and his family (his daughter, Kuntum, her husband, Lamit, and their son, Hassan) are steadily caught up in the relentless modernisation of the Republic, including their settlement in the confines of an HDB apartment block. Besides the opportunity to live their life in a huge multi-tenanted but anonymous building, modern Singapore offers them the conveniences of “a car, a big television and fridge, air-conditioning in every room, and expensive furniture”. It offers the parents steady, although somewhat insecure, work, and it offers the grand-son a good education and the chance to follow a highly regarded profession of naval architect. Yet they no longer have the freedom that the original inhabitants had. With this relentless rationality of human existence, comes a loss of the links with the environment, and indeed with the simplicity and purity of human nature itself. They are also increasingly assimilated into the opaque ethnic category of “Malay”. And the Malay community’s position in Singapore, Isa suggests, is one of severe disadvantage. “The Malays now are not what they used to be,” Rawa muses, watching the television in his daughter’s flat. The newscast confirms his worst fears: “Divorce is highest among Malays. The number of Malay addicts in rehab centres is not decreasing. There is a rise in gangsterism, and births out of wedlock. And there is no shortage of ‘forums’ to address these issues” (p. 93). Both 1819 and Rawa, in their different ways, are stories of the difficult transitions of the Malay community in a wider society that is indifferent to their special needs. In 1819, the community is betrayed by its leaders; in Rawa, the community has no clear leaders, only an old man who represents increasingly anachronistic values in the midst of vast and amorphous changes. The task for Malays is to learn to be proud citizens of a complex multi-racial society and to keep “in touch with their essence, the spirit” (p. 94).

A Song of the Wind fits easily into the well-established category of a young man’s growth to maturity in the turbulent setting of a newly independent Singapore, through the experiences of childish playfulness in a narrow domestic setting, formal education, first loves and National Service, as brilliantly developed by Goh Poh Seng in If We Dream Too Long (1972) and Robert Yeo’s The Adventures of Holden Heng (1986). Isa’s novel can be divided into these same themes: childhood in Kampung Tawakal and Ang Mo Kio, education at Whitley Primary School and Raffles Institution, and National Service in the Police Force. The novel touches on many of the themes of the Malay culture of disadvantage dealt with in Rawa and other works by Isa: poverty, economic discrimination, lack of education, drugs, teenage pregnancy and hooliganism. Unlike the works by Goh and Yeo, A Song of the Wind also explores the role of religion, specifically Islam, in the development of the main character. Told in the first person, the second half of the novel describes Ilham’s involvement with a heavily politically committed form of his faith at a time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and a fear in Singapore of secret organisations whose intentions might be to overthrow the government. Ilham is arrested for his na├»ve involvement with a group that models itself on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and studies not only the scriptures and the hadith (traditions relating to the life of the Prophet Muhammad) but also the controversial works of Syed Qutb, Hasan Al-Bana, Maududi, M. Natsir and Maryam Jameela. Still only 21 at the end of the novel, Ilham is slowly leaving behind him the darkness of the “eclipse” into which his experiences have taken him (as clearly indicated by the title of the original Malay novel). He writes:

I was surprised how quickly I had matured. Not many youths were ‘fortunate’ enough to have had my experience.

My teenage years were ending ominously, everything was happening too quickly, spiralling out of control, and I was emerging into adulthood, crippled and alienated. (p. 234)

Despite this gloom, Ilham has the promises of a positive future that includes marriage, entry into the university, and a worthwhile career to come. His faith has been deepened and shaped in the direction of an Islam that is, as Isa writes elsewhere, “a tolerant faith that is based on goodwill, consensus and humanitarian love” (Intercession, p. 162).

“Hope and harmony” are the keystones for Isa’s vision of a racially integrated Singapore (“Some Personal Reflections on Political Culture in Contemporary Singapore Malay Novels”, p. 67). These three novels struggle with disharmony and tension within the Malay community and beyond, and their historical and sociological origins. They are deeply important works and a sure sign of the growing recognition that will be paid to his significant literary analyses of “the Singapore dilemma” and the choices for a peaceful way forward.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Pioneering Malaysian Photography 1923-1971 (Limited Edition)
RM 180.00

HRH Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah : Pioneering Malaysian Photography 1923-1971

This monograph is my attempt at defining my grandfather's life as a photographer, about what he had done in his own unique ways and what he had achieved in the process. It also recounts and analyse his contributions towards the development ans progress of Modern Malaysian Photography for more than 50 years (from 1923) and his unwavering support for his fellow photographers. He contributed significantly too, to Modern Singapore Photography, particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s through his support of their photographs and salons at local and international levels.

-- Preface, Raja Mohd Zainol Ihsan Shah --

Raja Mohd Zainol Ihsan Shah lived with his grandfather, HRH Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, Sultan of Trengganu from the time he was born on 12 May 1960 until he was 19 years of age. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Business Management and was a Doctoral candidate in International Business until he decided to return home permanently in 1985. He is a keen observer of the Arts, being especially attracted to a range of genres ranging from Modernist Photography of the 1930-50's to Malaysian and European Modern Art (Lyrical Abstracts and Pop Art). He has dedicated himself to the care and study of his grandfather's photography archives - that includes original negatives, vintage prints, cameras and photographic laboratory equipment. As a boy, and well into his teens, he has shared many moments with his grandfather and witnessed him take and print many photographs.

Since 1997, he has organised several exhibitions of the photographs and published catalogues of them, namely, HRH Sultan Ismail Postcard Album, Malaya Through His Eyes, and August 1957.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Down memory lane with Isa by Errol de Cruz
Malay Mail -- WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2013

I just heard that Errol has passed away today. It was such a shock because  had exchanged emails yesterday to meet up on Monday. He was such a dear friend. Below is the last review he did for Silverfish books on Isa Kamari's three Singapore Stories on July 31. We love you Errol.

MULTI-AWARD winning Singaporean author Isa Kamari must be extremely glad that three of his novellas are finding a brand new audience.

Thanks to Silver fish Books, based in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, the trio — Duka Tuan Bertakhta, Rawa and Memeluk Gerhana — have been translated into 1819, Rawa and A Song Of The Wind, respectively.

“The three originals were written for Malay readers and he asked for them to be adapted and translated into English for an international readership,” said Silver sh Books director Raman Krishnan who translated two of them himself and one (A Song Of The Wind) with Isa’s wife, Sukmawati Sirat.

The essence of all three are how the island nation’s premier, Lee Kwan Yew, ruled with an iron st and the displacement of Malays from Singapore. In A Song Of The Wind, Ilham is a 21-year-old whose family moves from Kampung Tekad to Kampung Tawakal and eventually a Housing Development Board (HDB) at in Ang Mo Kio.

It is the typical story of how a boy matures into a man, huffing and scu ffing with friends, falling in and out of love. Ilham, on his journey, unfortunately and unwittingly falls in with the wrong crowd and collides dramatically with the realtime history of an emerging independant Singapore.

The sad part is that the lad is blissfully unaware of the political changes and his ‘uneducated’ character is exploited by ruthless people with their own agenda. Author Isa is an engaging storyteller, who spins his tales eloquently and simply, painting vivid pictures with his words, and he proves that you do not have to be a Ludlum, Archer or Brown to keep your reader captivated.

All three novellas speak of the past. In Rawa, the title character relives his past and this includes living in and rowing his pau (rowboat) along the Seletar River and gradually nds he has to move his family to Johor because Singapore will not issue identity cards to the Orang Seletar.

Rawa’s story spans three decades and narrates how he falls in love with a village girl, raises a son, Lamit, is entrusted and loses an emerald ring given to him by the Sultan of Johore.

Rawa is a mystical story of how the character goes in search of his lost ring, crashes his boat and goes missing for two months, during which his wife Temah leaves to look for him and disappears.

The essence of this piece is that life comes full circle when a (not so) mysterious man reappears after Rawa dies and returns the ring to his grandson, Hassan.

1819 is the first of the three, chronologically, and in this, Isa writes about Singapore again, only this time it’s about Sir Stamford Ra es and his relationship with the Muslim saint, Habib Nur, who came there from Penang in the same year.

All said, Isa’s trio of novellas are sad. They tell of loss, the loss suffered by the Malays (orang asli, especially) as they bear the burden of progress and development and how they were ‘sacri ficed’ by Singapore. What do people in the higher echelons of espionage and national security call it all? Collateral damage?

Isa Kamari is a prominent figure in Singapore’s Malay literary scene. He has gained critical acclaim for many of his works, which range from novels and short stories to poetry and essays. He is also a musician and has crafted scripts for television and theatre.

In 1997, his short story Pertemuan won the Hadiah Sastera, Anugerah Persuratan, a Malay literature award given by the Malay Language Council of Singapore.

He received the award for the second time in 2001 for his essay, Milik Siapa Bumi Yang Satu Ini. He has received numerous awards for his other works, including his first novel, Satu Bumi. Released in 1998, Satu Bumi was translated and published in Mandarin and English in 1999 and 2007. It was also selected for the launch of the nationwide reading initiative Read Singapore! in 2005. Another novel, Kiswah, was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004.

Isa was presented with the distinguished Southeast Asian Writers Award (also known as the S.E.A. Write Award) in 2006 and has received two of the most prestigious cultural awards in Singapore, the Cultural Medallion in 2007 and the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang in 2009.

He sits on various government committees, including the steering committee for the Singapore Arts Festival (organised by the National Arts Council), the implementation committee for the National Art Gallery project (under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts) and the select committee for the promotion of the Malay language (under the Ministry of Education).

He frequently presents papers in international conferences and seminars on literature and the arts and conducts creative workshops for children, regularly.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Song of the Wind -- sample e-book downloads

If you have downloaded the sample e-books for 1819 and Rawa, you may want to download these as well.

Isa Kamari is the first author from Singapore that Silverfish is publishing, having insisted on only Malaysian authors earlier. Why are we doing it?  Well we want to expand our horizons to ASEAN, and Singapore appeared to be a natural first stop. Song of the Wind (the Malay title is Memeluk Gerhana, which is quite different) was the first title I read by Isa Kamari. I was impressed not just because our experiences were quite similar. (I am from Johor.)

We have an agreement to publish three of his books -- 1819, RAWA, and A Song of the Wind. We have received all three titles from our printers, and have already uploaded them onto our on-line store. They are currently available at Silverfish Books in Bangsar Baru and at all major bookshops in the city (and we hope country). They have already gone out to Singapore, too. This is also the first time we are publishing books translated from Malay.

We think he's a world-class writer. Read the sample e-books and let's see what you think.

“I recall the day our family moved to Kampung Tawakal in 1967. We were living in a room with my aunt in Kampung Tekad, an adjacent village, before that. We had become a family of six by then – Father, Mother, two younger sisters and a brother – and we needed more room. At seven, I was the oldest child. Father worked as a typewriter mechanic at the British camp on Alexandra Road and mother was a housewife.”

A SONG of the WIND – which spans from 1960s till 1990s, tells the story of a twenty-one-year-old Singapore Malay remembering his childhood and his teenage years in Kampong Tawakal, before his family moved into a Housing Development Board (HDB) flat in Ang Mo Kio. It is the story about him falling in and out of love, studying at the Raffles Institution, confronting the stirrings of manhood, discovered the meaning of friendship, and treading a precarious religious path. His journey, too, collides somewhat dramatically with the real-time history of an emerging independent Singapore nation.

“My brothers in Islam. Ustaz Saniff has explained the importance of working together as a group. Ustaz has explained the meaning of and reasons for verses in Surah As-Saf, the Battle Array. We will only be strong if we move together. Ustaz Saniff has explained that we have to honour our pledges, and that we have to fight to uphold Islam on this earth as God's vicegerent. A person who does not honour his or her promise is a hypocrite. We are not hypocrites. So to practise what we have promised, tonight we will take an
oath; a declaration of loyalty that we will remain true to our struggle,” Zulkifli declared.
    An oath? A declaration? What’s the meaning of all this? I trembled all over, but I dared not ask any questions.”

Sample e-book downloads
Mobi (for Kindle) 
Epub (for Apple and many others)
PDF (for PCs and Macs)

Monday, July 22, 2013

1819 by Isa Kamari -- (Free e-book downloads)

1819 by Isa Kamari -- (Free e-book downloads)
(Rendered in English from the original Malay by Silverfish Books)

According to the history books, when I was in school a long time ago (and I believe it's pretty much the same still), Thomas Stamford Raffles reported to his bosses in the East India Company that Singapore was an island populated only by the Orang Laut (an indigenous people) who were mainly pirates. However, Isa Kamari's extensive research for this novel suggests otherwise. The author finds that Singapore at the time was settled by small Malay communities from the surrounding area, including different Orang Laut tribes (yes, he considers them Malays) and that they were certainly not pirates. He also learnt of settlements of Chinese, Indians and Arabs on the island, seafarers who had decided to make this their home. He also found that, while not a thriving port like Melaka, Singapore did receive traders from around the world.

But, Isa Kamari's Raffles is not merely a one-dimensional devious colonial monster and political animal (which he undoubtedly was). His is a believable portrait of ruthless cunning, but one with strong social principles, and wracked by tragedy.

“January 19, 1819. A British vessel, the Indiana, set sail from Penang down the coast of the Malay Peninsula, skippered by Captain James Pearl, with a distinguished passenger on board. He was Lieutenant Governor Sir Stamford Raffles. With the midyear south-west monsoons over, and with no fifteen-foot-high waves or incessant rain to deal with, the Indiana continued smoothly on the calm waters of the Straits of Melaka on an important mission for the British East India Company.
On January 27, in mid-journey just after Melaka, the Indiana was joined by eight other ships including the Investigator, skippered by Captain John Crawfurd, and the Enterprise, with the former Commandant and Resident of Melaka, William Farquhar, on board.”

1819. That was the year Stamford Raffles landed at South Point and founded Singapore. It was also the year that the famous Muslim saint Habib Nuh came to Singapore from Penang.  The story unfolds the tense and colourful relationship between the two significant figures in Singapore history between the early and late 1800s. Other characters that shaped the social, economic and political developments of the Malays in Singapore then were Sultan Hussein, Temenggung Abdul Rahman, Wak Cantuk, Munshi Abdullah, William Farquhar and John Crawfurd.

“(Wak Cantuk) was still extremely concerned about the British presence on the island. Wak Cantuk had only twenty students in his silat class, and that would not be sufficient to overthrow the occupiers. He needed at least a hundred.”

Subject:Fiction, Price: RM33.00

To buy: http://www.silverfishbooks.com/buybooks/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&cPath=15&products_id=1860

Free e-book downloads:
Mobi (for Kindle) 
Epub (for Apple and many others)
PDF (for PCs and Macs)

For e-book downloads of Rawa (another one of Isa Kamari's's titles rendered in English) please follow this link: http://silverfishnewbooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/rawa-e-book-downloads.html

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rawa e-book downloads

RAWA by Isa Kamari - free ebook downloads

When Isa Kamari asked if we would publish a translation of his Malay novel we were a little hesitant. First, we have not published a translated work before and, second, we have never published a Singaporean (since our mission has always been Malaysian, Malaysian, Malaysian. We decided to read the manuscript anyway (in Malay). We were stunned. It was world class and, Singaporean or not, we decided to undertake the project. But Isa Kamari had to be happy with our work, too. We sent him sample chapters of the first book, and received a very positive, response. The author offered two more of his novels for us to work on, and we agreed. We applied for funding from the NAC of Singapore, and they liked the project too. The books will be launched officially at the Singapore Writers' Festival in November (more of that later).

Isa Kamari's Malay prose is beautiful, and our work was about rendering the three novels in English, without loosing their flavour, beauty and authenticity. Having grown up in a small town in Johor, our translator connected with the subjects immediately, which made the work, though long and tedious, thoroughly enjoyable.

We are giving away free e-book downloads (in Kindle, Apple and PDF formats) for you to read and decide for yourselves. We think he's world class, and such talent deserves support.

"Rawa is the name of the island and its waters. Rawa is the wind. It is also the name he has lived with for seventy years. He is Rawa, in name and essence.He's now returning to the land, to the waters. He is coming back to the winds after more than thirty years."

RAWA is the story of the Orang Seletar (an indigenous people of Singapore and Johor who lived in boats) that spans three generations from 1950s to 1980s. It is a story of how the Orang Seletar became refugees from their own land in the relentless pursuit of modernisation in Singapore in the sixties, and of how they were assimilated into the Malay community. It is also the story of the socio-political changes in the Singaporean Malay world during that period.

“Again, Rawa can’t help, but smile. Everything has been thought of. Rawa concedes that it is a triumph of the rational, albeit an artificial attempt at improving the bond between man and man, and man and nature. Hassan’s is a lucky generation. Still, he worries about nature being trampled upon and destroyed, and of man being suspicious of man in the relentless pursuit of all things material, with no regard at all for the essence.”

Subject:Fiction, Price: RM33.00

To buy: Silverfish online bookstore

Free sample e-book downloads:
Mobi (for Kindle) 
Epub (for Apple and many others)
PDF (for PCs and Macs)


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A world class writer from Singapore

Isa Kamari is the first author from Singapore that Silverfish is publishing. We have an agreement to publish three of his books -- 1819, RAWA, and A Song of the Wind. To date we have only received the second and third titles from the printers, but we have already uploaded them on our online store. They are currently available at Silverfish Books in Bangsar Baru only. They will be going out to the other stores (in KL and Singapore) soon. This is also the first time we are publishing books translated from Malay.

Why are we doing it? First, we read his Malay version and thought he's a world-class writer. Second, we want to expand our horizons to ASEAN. Third, Singapore NAC is supporting the project. (In that order.)

A Song of the Wind
by
Isa Kamari

"I recall the day our family moved to Kampung Tawakal in 1967. We were living in a room with my aunt in Kampung Tekad, an adjacent village, before that. We had become a family of six by then - Father, Mother, two younger sisters and a brother - and we needed more room. At seven, I was the oldest child, Father worked as a typewriter mechanic at the British camp on Alexandra Road and mother was a housewife."

A SONG of the WIND - which spans from 1960s till 1990s, tells the story of a twenty-one-year-old Singapore Malay remembering his childhood and his teenage years in Kampung Tawakal, before his family moved into a Housing Development Board (HDB) flat in Ang Mo Kio. It is the story about him falling in and out of love, studying at the Raffles Institution, confronting the stirrings of manhood, discovered the meaning of friendship, and treading a precarious religious path. His journey, too, collides somewhat dramatically with the real-time history of an emerging independent Singapore nation.

Rawa
by
Isa Kamari

"Rawa is the name of the island and its waters. Rawa is the wind. It is also the name he has lived with for seventy years. He is Rawa, in name and essence.

He's now returning to the land, to the waters. He is coming back to the winds after more than thirty years."

RAWA is the story of the Orang Seletar (an indigenous people of Singapore who lived in boats) that spans three generations from 1950s to 1980s. It is a story of how the Orang Seletar became refugees from their own land in the relentless pursuit of modernisation in Singapore in the sixties, and of how they were assimilated into the Malay community. It is also the story of the socio-political changes in the Singaporean Malay world during that period.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Terence Gomez: It ain't over till the fat lady sings

That was the gist of Dr Terence Gomez's talk at Silverfish Books last Saturday: Malaysia's 13th General Elections: Policies, Institutions and Social Change. The turnout was not huge, but good, and, best of all, intelligent. (This is the first in a series of (hopefully) monthly public talks we have planned to cover literature, performing arts, history, philosophy, politics and so on, at Silverfish Books.) It was not a talk for those (on either side of the divide) who'd prefer to keep their prejudices intact, unencumbered by facts or logic. For those of you who'd have liked to be present, Dr Terence Gomez started by handing out two printed spreadsheets (five pages) showing Differences in BN support in Electoral Trends in (i) Malay Majority constituencies, and (ii) Non-Malay Majority constituencies, from 1990 to 2008. (We still have some copies left at Silverfish Books.) Briefly, the main ten points (there were many more) were:

  1. There is no material difference in the public policies as announced in the manifestos of BN or PR.
  2. Generally, percentage Malay support for the BN has been on the decline since 1990 (including the Mahathir era) except in 2004 (Abdullah Badawi's first GE).
  3. Chinese support for the BN rose in 1995 (Mahathir era), and dropped in 1999, up in 2004 and down 2008.
  4. Historically, DAP have done better on it's own than as part of a coalition.
  5. Historically, PAS have done better (outside Kelantan) in a coalition than on it's own.
  6. Historically, PAS have never done well in Johor.
  7. PR state governments have been seen to show better governance, accountability, and transparency (in the last 5 years).
  8. BN is seen not to have not been successful in tackling corruption.
  9. While the urban population has many sources of information, the rural folks get theirs only from BN controlled media.
  10. Most of the students in local universities come from lower income groups, while the middle class and above send their children overseas where teaching is perceived to be better.
But several other factors have come into play in this elections, and it is left to be seen how much impact they'll have. All will be known on May 5, 2013! The New Economic Policy of Malaysia (Affirmative Action, Ethnic Inequalities and Social Justice) by Terence Gomez and Johan Saravanamuthu addresses some of these other issues.


For more than 40 years the New Economic Policy and its successor programmes have shaped Malaysia’s socio-economic development and the allocation of political power. The original policy sought to eradicate poverty and achieve economic parity among the country’s various ethnic communities. However, it was based on an apparent paradox — the use of ethnic preference to promote national unity. The policy’s core tenet was affirmative action on behalf of the Bumiputra community.

Drawing on a wealth of statistical and documentary evidence, this major new book provides a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the NEP. The contributors show that there have been some positive outcomes, among them a considerable reduction of poverty, greater inter-ethnic equity parity and the emergence of a resourceful Bumiputra middle class. But these partial success have to be weighed against persistent complaints associated with increasing intra-ethnic Bumiputra income disparities; the emergence of a small, politically powerful and disproportionately wealthy Bumiputra elite; a serious brain drain; and weak human capital.



Dr Terence Gomez, however, refuses to predict the outcome.

Monday, February 04, 2013

George Orwell’s 1984 revisited


Kee Thuan Chye published his play, 1984, Here and Now, in 1987 at the height of Mahathirism. What title would he give it if he were to update the play now, after a quarter of a century? 1984, Still Here, Now?

I decided to revisit the George Orwell's 1984 seeing it sitting in my iPod (a free download) for a while. I was simply looking for something to read, and not because the 13GE is around the corner. I was barely twenty pages into the book (on my tiny iPod screen) when I had to laughed out loud. It was so like home!

1984 is still here, now!

Everyone has heard of Big Brother, so I’m not going into that, but I found interesting, the structure of Ingsoc: people were either members of the Party, or proles (those who lived on the outside, who were regarded a little more than animals). ‘The proles are not human being,’ he (Syme) said carelessly ... nobody cares what proles say ... What was required in a Party member was an outlook similar to that of the ancient Hebrew who knew without knowing much else, that all nations, other than his own, worshiped “false gods”. Listen, listen, listen! Their gods are not even gods!

Then, there was more.

For those who have forgotten, 1984 is written from the point-of-view of Winston Smith who worked in the Ministry of Truth, his job being to falsify history and create new ones on a daily basis -- we should be familiar how this works.

Today he (Big Brother) should commemorate Comrade Ogilvey. It was true that there was no such person, but a few lines of text and a couple of faked photographs would soon bring him into existence ... It struck him (Winston) as curious that you could create dead men but not living ones.

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.

It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and noser-out of orthodoxy.

Parsons was Winston’s fellow-employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralysing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms -- one of those unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more than even the Thought Police, the stability of the Party depended.

Winston thinks he can trust O’Brien, in whom he thinks he sees a tiny glint of reasonableness and understanding, but that only leads him to Room 101:  Always, Winston, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.

Listen, listen, listen. And the name of the arch-enemy of the people w-aaa-s ... Goldstein! A Jew!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A Short Intellectual Puzzle


The Alienist, by Machado de Assis
Paperback: 86 pages
Publisher: Melville House (August 28, 2012)
Language: English
(Tel Silverfish Books about availability)

After the departure the druggist and the alienist mounted their horses and rode homeward. Crispim Soares stared at the road, between the ears of his roan. Simao Bacamarte swept the horizon with his eyes, surveyed the distant mountains, and let his horse find the way home. Perfect symbols of the common man and of the genius! One fixes his gaze upon the present with all its tears and privations; the other looks beyond to the glorious dawns of a future he himself will shape (The Alienist, 17).

The Alienist is a concisely narrated Don Quixote, where Machado de Assis explores the fate of science as the quixotic ideal. One of the greatest masters of Brazilian literature, de Assis was known for his experimentation with the narrative technique in The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (or The Epitaph of a Small Winner), and for having influenced Jose Saramago, Carlos Fuentes and Woody Allen.

This drily humored allegory numbers at a concise 86 pages. In short, a scientist – the alienist – sets out to explore the boundaries of madness in a Brazilian town. What ensues traces strange parallels to Michel Foucault’s nonfictional narrative of madness (in Madness and Civilization, 1971). De Assis inverts the definition of insanity more than once, while criticizing 19th Century Brazilian society with tongue-in-cheek insolence.  The provincial quality of the town – the rumors, daily squabbles, the characters of avarice, greed, pusillanimity and foolish innocence – carries a faint whiff of Marquez’s The Chronicles of a Death Foretold while being the precise opposite of the novel’s lyrical convolution. De Assis’ matter-of-fact wit and satire are delightful evening company for anyone seeking brief respite from their daily toil, and leave much food for thought.

Review by:

Ms Rain Che Bian
Public Diplomacy Officer
The Embassy of the United States of America