Red Letter Day: I Read Pecah, A Malay Novel
Saturday, 2nd July, 2011 § 2 Comments
I pretty much do not read Malay fiction. Non-fiction in Malay, no problem. Fiction? Nope. So when FIXI, a new line of urban pulp fiction in Malay, debuted early this year, I ignored it. But when I visited the FIXI booth at the 2011 Selangor book fest last week, publisher Amir Muhammad cast his mad juju spells on me and before I knew it I was bringing home a Malay novel.
Pecah begins thrilling enough with a bank heist at Shah Alam. Abaya clad men made away with bags of cash and the contents of one safe deposit box. One of them gets shot in the thigh by the bank manager. Now the bank heist goes pear shaped. Robbers dump wounded friend at a hospital, promises to come back for him later. Problem is, now their getaway car wont get away. They are stuck in the hospital grounds with a broken down car full with bags of money and a deposit box. Police are hot on their trails. They don’t know who the robbers are but they do know one of them was shot so they head for the hospital as well. So now the robbers are stuck in the hospital grounds with a car full of money and a deposit box and there are cops at the exit stopping everyone coming in and out. The dung has really hit the fan now. Meanwhile, an old man with a sordid past loses consciousness at a rest home and is brought to the same hospital. Initially, these two stories seem unconnected but the loose threads are cunningly woven together by author Khairulnizam Bakeri and the dénouement, albeit a bit rushed I felt, is satisfying. There is a bit of coincidence involved (without spoiling anything, the head robber and the old man’s nurse share a connection? Convenient) but it’s a small one and easily accepted. Besides, if you think coincidences in fiction are too much to suspend your disbelief with then you haven’t read any Dickens.
Of all the FIXI books, I picked this one because it interested me the most. A bank heist gone wrong, secret pasts, cops hunting the robbers and the robbers evading them. Most importantly Pecah has none of the boring romantic episodes that I stereotypically think Malay novels are known for and one reason why I never picked one up until now. There are a couple of scenes that would not seem out of place in a western novel but in a Malay novel may seem daring. But then again what do I know? I’ve never read a Malay novel before this. I’m referring to one chapter where a cuckolded husband finds his adulterous wife in flagrante delicto and another chapter depicting a drunken rape but both are essential to the plot (read: not there to titillate or even shock) and it’s not like pages and pages were given to those scenes. You have to be someone extremely prudish or hypocritical to even be offended by those two short episodes.
Pecah as Malay novels go is not clichéd. What it is though is thrilling, unpredictable. It also has some words that I am not familiar with but that may just be me. It has entire conversations in transliterated Cantonese (with Malay translation) which I thought was cute. It made me read a Malay novel from start to finish.
My appreciation for Pecah is not a guarantee that I’ll be picking up any more Malay fiction from FIXI or other publishers but I won’t pooh-pooh them away either. Especially if it’s from Khairulnizam Bakeri. Pecah managed to ‘pecah’ my personal record for not reading any Malay novels. That itself is a great achievement.