Friday, January 2, 2009

Non-academic titles about Malaysia...

I have found the following books to be good introductions to various aspects about Malaysia. I am separating the academic books (to be posted later) from this list of non-academic, general interest books.

A Nocturne and Other Malayan Stories and Sketches, Frank Swettenham (1993, Oxford in Asia Paperbacks). First published in the 1870s, this account was written by one of the United Kingdom's Residential Advisors, who were sent to give advice to the Malay Sultans of the Straits Settlement: Singapore, Malacca, and Penang. Swettenham wrote very insightful essays about Malay society, with his best being the essay entitled The Real Malay. The views presented are as valid today as they were in the 1870s when Swettenham was writing.

The Long Day Wanes: The Malayan Triology, Anthony Burgess (1956, 1958, 1959). This novel contains three stories: Time for a Tiger, The Enemy in the Blanket, and Beds in the East. Burgess spent some time in Malaya during the war, and he created stories that basically show British expats behaving badly, a popular theme for British Literature considering the amount of history that is available from the colonial days.

The Soul of Malaya, Henri Fauconnier (2003). Published first in the 1930s, this novel is the story of a French rubber plantation manager in Malaya (original title Malaisie). Very surreal in feel, it reminded me of the tales of the South Pacific about -what else?- French planters living in the dreamy, languid South Pacific.

A Company of Planters, John Dodd (2007). I haven't read this one yet, but it is, again, a true story of British planters in Malaya during the 1950s.

The Consul's File, Paul Theroux (1978). This is a novel about a diplomat from the USA living in the backwater town of Ayer Hitam in southern Malaysia. Theroux did live in Singapore for about three years and, thus, had some exposure to Malay culture. The consummate storyteller, Theroux's little book, more than any other, wetted my appetite to visit Malaysia.

I Am Muslim, Dina Zaman (2007). This is a collection of essays written by Ms. Zaman, a Muslim woman, who is trying to reconcile her Islamic beliefs with the reality of a modernising Malaysian society. I would consider her's a fairly representative viewpoint of middle-class, young professional Malays who are beginning to push at the edges of Malay society and asking some tough questions of their elders and government. Ms. Zaman covers some sensitive subjects that I have not seen addressed elsewhere. Highly recommended.

Ceritalah: Malaysia In Transition, Karim Raslan (1996). The only book of his which I have read, Mr. Raslan, like Dina Zaman, is a young Malay intellectual who portrays the tension in Malaysian and Malay society quite well. I have seen Mr. Raslan on CNN interviews and he presents himself very well, and navigates the delicate balance of criticism and respect with aplomb.

A Malaysian Journey, Rehman Rashid (1993). Another collection of essays from a former Malaysian journalist. Similar to Mr. Raslan's set of essays.

Understanding Multicultural Malaysia, Asma Abdullah and Paul B. Pedersen (2003). This is the best introduction that I have seen to the three main cultures present in Malaysia: Malay, Chinese and Tamil (Indian). The major distinctive of this book is that the lead author, Ms. Asma, is a Malay academic who provides an insight not always possible with western authors. Highly recommended.

Culture Shock: Malaysia!, Heidi Munan (1991). Part of the Culture Shock! series, this is an surficial introduction to the customs and etiquette. This is an okay read for tourists and expats who don't really want to go beyond the surface differences in culture. For a deeper understanding of Malaysian (and Malay) culture, one would need to read some.....

.....academic texts. And some of those will be listed and reviewed (very briefly) next.

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