Wednesday, 3rd October, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m almost finished with this book. It’s not bad. It’s no great shakes but it’s not bad. CERPEN (literally, ‘short story’) is an anthology of Nadia Khan’s early writings most of which first appeared in print in several local magazines. Mixed in with the stories are a couple of never-seen-print-before short-film scripts she wrote hoping some producer will throw money her way for the rights. Girl has dreams. Good for her.
I’m no literary critic and if you’ve been following my blog you would heartily agree so I cannot go in depth into a review as to why such and such a book is lovely. If I like it, I like it. And I like CERPEN. It’s…cute. They aren’t cute stories but that’s how I felt. Even after I’ve read ‘Puaka Pak Jaha’ which was far from cute. Oh, and while reading this book I discovered she is the daughter of Hatta Azad Khan who wrote “Syy!”, arguably Malaysia’s best sitcom of the 1980s. So that would explain her writing genes.
Now I feel like picking up Kelabu, the author’s FIXI debut. I already know the twist in the story (damn you, Internet!) but not the whole story.
Friday, 31st August, 2012 § Leave a Comment
To celebrate Malaysia’s 55th year of independence, I spent the day watching these on DVD:
Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist) and it’s sort of sequel Apa Khabar Orang Kampung (The Village Radio Show). The former focused on Chin Peng, the last leader of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and the latter features interviews with the remnants of the mostly Malay-Muslim members of the CPM now living in exile in a small peaceful village in Southern Thailand.
Last Communist is sort of a biographical travelogue of Chin Peng. Amir Muhammad also interviews the current residents of the towns where Chin Peng used to live and operate in when he was the leader of the CPM, some of whom served as guerrillas fighting the British . One interesting interview was with a Mr. Salehuddin, who was literally seduced by a beautiful CPM recruiter.
I must say I enjoyed Apa Khabar Orang Kampung more as I, and I daresay most Malaysians, know next to nothing about the lives of the Malay members of the CPM. I was fascinated with one old survivor who talks about the time how he operated on his paralysed legs himself while in the jungle. It was damnable, he said but it worked. His legs healed!
Despite being unabashedly communist in ideology, they are devout Muslims. There is a mosque in the village and religious classes for their children. They insist they are not traitors but only joined the Party because they wanted the then Malaya to be free from foreign rule be it the Japanese, British or anyone else.
If you don’t like history then both documentaries will bore you. There are hardly any war stories or lurid details of how living in the jungle was like. All they have are experiences of the people who we never read about in the history books and to me that is interesting enough. Lelaki Komunis Terakhir and Apa Khabar Orang Kampung have both been banned by the Malaysian government from general release for being a threat to national security. How interviews of people who served ‘the other side’ over 40 years ago could be a threat to the nation’s security mystifies me but the DVDs are still available so if you ask Amir Muhammad nicely he might sell them to you.
And that’s what I did this Merdeka Day.
Wednesday, 4th July, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The first Malay fiction that I read from cover to cover (see my review here) receives a hardcover limited edition treatment and as I’ve stated in a previous post (see here), I loves me some hardcover. And a limited edition run? Bonus! Maybe someday when I’m dead, Amir Muhammad is in self imposed exile and the author, Khairulnizam Bakeri, has gone Hollywood this book might be considered a hard to find classic and worth RM10 more than its cover price! YAY!
My copy is number 130/200. Would have preferred a lower, single digit number but I didn’t have first dibs. This book is only available online at Fixi’s website or at book events like the Selangor Book Fair currently being held at Shah Alam. The hardcover limited edition is in conjunction with the book’s film version set for release in early 2013.
Monday, 7th May, 2012 Comments Off
When I discovered that Amir Muhammad was going to republish the novelisation of P. Ramlee’s ‘lost’ film, I squealed like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert. I have absolutely no idea what Sitora Harimau Jadian (Sitora the Weretiger) was about. Oh, the title made it obvious enough what it was about but I didn’t know how the story played out. You see, no one today has come out and say, “Hey, I remember watching that!” and you can’t watch it on DVD or YouTube because no one can get their hands on a copy of the film. Perhaps it was due to neglect or maybe the studio ordered every copy destroyed (it was said that when the studio bosses sat for a screening, they stood up and walked out after only watching a few minutes of it) but Sitora is the proverbial Holy Grail of Malay cinema (yes, I realise the irony of pairing ‘Holy Grail’ and ‘Malay’ in a sentence. Shut up).
Therefore it is understandable why Sitora‘s novelisation, which itself had fallen into obscurity, was able to elicit such excitement from me. If the film itself is gone for good then reading about it would be the next best thing. And indeed it was. Without the reportedly cheap visual effects to prejudice one’s feelings about it, the prose version of Sitora proved to be a not-so-bad stab by P. Ramlee at the horror genre. And as stated by the blog, Mamuvies, the lack of audiovisuals would also help the reader appreciate the social commentary of Sitora and it’s not a P. Ramlee movie if it didn’t have any social commentaries, right? Also that particular style of language that was common in the films of the era and which I personally find amusing because I’m weird appears in the book verbatim. That’s not a complain. On the contrary, after reading the other FIXI novels it is refreshing to be reading flowery-theatrical-who-speaks-like-that-in-real-life Malay once again.
I bought this book online from FIXI’s website but it should be available at book-stores soon if it’s not there already.
The story of how Amir Muhammad came across an old copy of Sitora Harimau Jadian which prompted him to make it available for a new generation of readers is interesting in itself (which can be read in his blog here).
Tuesday, 17th April, 2012 § 3 Comments
It’s happened again. I’ve been plagiarised. This is the third time (that I know of). Someone thought my review was good enough to copy and once again it was Amir Muhammad who informed me about it. The last time he had to do that, someone copied and pasted one of my reviews onto Wikipedia (see here). The first plagiarism incident was not a review but a post I wrote about the Islamic New Year. Some Spanish imbecile took it as his own (see here) but I subsequently complained to Blogger and they deleted it.
This time it was my review of Zombijaya. One Shahrin Yusof took a couple of paragraphs from that review and pasted it on his own review of the book in Goodreads (see here, scroll down a bit and look for the name Shahrin Yusof, it’s the tenth review while mine is the fourth). So I did what every pissed off reviewer would do: I flagged the review, informed Goodreads administrators about it and sent an email via Goodreads private message function.
Here’s what I wrote…
Amir Muhammad, publisher of FIXI books, has informed me that your review of Zombijaya is a word for word copy of my own review. You did not give credit to me and passed off that review as your own.
I have flagged your review and informed the Goodreads administrators about it.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’m flattered that you thought my review was good enough to be copied. But you are still a dumbass because only a dumbass would have trouble writing a review of a zombie apocalypse novel on their own.
He must have been online because he replied ‘toot suite’:
Shahrin said to you:
I’m really sorry about that. I lost my laptop a week ago, & most of my personal data in the laptop. The last time I login into goodreads was last month. I don’t know who post the comment but I will delete those comment that you said I’m plagiarising. Must be somebody had misuse my account without my knowledge. Very sorry for this.
Lost his laptop. Someone else must have plagiarised my review using his account. Kid must think I was born yesterday.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I embarrassed a thief (YAY!) and felt satisfied that someone yet again thought my half assed writing was good enough to be copied. Either I’m better than I thought I was or they’re just lazy morons. I’m guessing the latter.
By the way, the review is still on the book’s homepage at the time of writing this but it is no longer on Shahrin Yusof’s Goodreads page (see here). I’m not sure how that works but I think it must be one of those cached things. (Edit 18 April 2012: The stolen review now no longer appears in either the book’s page nor in the thief’s page at Goodreads)
What is so hard about writing a review about a zombie apocalypse? I mean, really!
Monday, 9th April, 2012 § 3 Comments
Mikael is looking for a cheap place to live. He finds one but the landlord is weird to say the least. He will only communicate through phone text and never face to face. Mikael can have the run of the place except for one room which is always locked from the inside. Suspicious and afraid, Mikael nevertheless agrees to move in because he’s desperate to leave his current apartment after his roommate was defenestrated.
Sounds like a supernatural story but Bisik is really one of those thrillers where things are not what they seem (it’s original title was in fact Distorsi or ‘Distortion’). Maybe I’m jaded but I guessed the big twist after just a quarter of the way through the book . Hint and Spoiler Alert, skip to the next paragraph if you prefer to stay in the dark…..if you’re familiar with Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club or the movie Secret Window with Johnny Depp then you too can easily figure out what’s going on in this novel. End of Hint and Spoiler Alert.
Easily figuring out the denouement with most of the book still unread made me skim the pages right to the end which is unfair to author Syaihan Shafiq. After the disappointing Invasi (see here) I was really hoping Fixi’s second novel for the month of April would redeem my faith in Malay pulp fiction. Syaihan can write, I give him that. His Mikael isn’t a confirmed jerk turned amazing Malay hero at the drop of a hat like Invasi‘s Ahmad Bayani. Life hardly gave Mikael any breaks as a child and now that he is a grown up, life continues to deal him from the bottom of the deck. So when he wakes up in his new apartment one day and realises his girlfriend is not sleeping but is actually dead, Mikael panics and is forced to ask his mysterious landlord for help. And wouldn’t you know it, his landlord is a wiz at getting rid of dead girlfriends. And then the shit truly hits the fan.
Bisik reminds me of Ngeri (reviewed here), another predictable thriller from Fixi but the kids out there might like it especially if they also liked Ngeri.
Sunday, 8th April, 2012 § 5 Comments
Reading Invasi, I can’t help but compare it to another book in Fixi’s stable, Zombijaya. Both feature a sudden horrific destruction of Klang Valley by an otherworldly threat and both feature a motley crew of young urbanites who have to turn from party animals to gung ho warriors in order to survive. The difference is, Zombijaya isn’t bad while Invasi is.
Invasi features Ahmad Bayani, a young civil engineer who lives life to the fullest. An orphan who was abandoned by his mother when he was four, he eschews close relationships and cares for no one except himself. The only person he dares to call a friend is Anwar, a co-worker and fellow party animal, and their relationship is so close I daresay what they have is nothing short of a bromance. It comes in handy when much of Kuala Lumpur is instantly destroyed one night while the two guys were just about to paint the town red. Shocked and awed by the attack, Ahmad Bayani and Anwar seek escape from the vaguely described aliens (I imagined them something akin to the creature from the ‘Predator’ movies) and of course in this kind of stories, the two soon come across other survivors and soon form an alliance in order to survive and maybe take down a few of the aliens.
And here’s where my suspension of disbelief refused to be suspended anymore and instead stood up and asked, “Hang on a minute!” Ahmad Bayani who we are told is someone who looks out only for Number 1 almost immediately becomes a Good Samaritan when he and Anwar comes across a young girl escaping from a lone alien. His ready embrace of the hero status was also hard to take. There were no hints in the earlier chapters to indicate any redeeming qualities that Ahmad Bayani may have buried within him and yet when Malaysia is invaded, by bad ass scary looking extra terrestrials no less, Ahmad drops his selfishness and immediately becomes ‘The Last Malay Hero’. These sudden about turns in character was too jarring for me to just ignore it.
There were other out-of-left-field developments that suggested to me that author Raja Faisal did not fully sketch out his characters thoroughly before writing, preferring instead to focus on the alien ass-kicking. For example, Ahmad, Anwar and the survivors they come across were all handy with firearms and were able to kill the aliens with almost no difficulty. I could see this happening in gun obsessed America but not in a country where owning a firearm without a permit is punishable by death. A couple of the survivors turn out to be (spoiler alert!) members of the intelligence community so that probably explains their adeptness with weapons but that does not explain the rest of them. Were Ahmad and Anwar paintball champions? Or does Malaysia have a large community of gun aficionados that I’m not aware of? In the meantime one survivor, Ika, just happens to be good with first aid which is convenient in a war zone with no medical personnel around. Another survivor, Jo, is an explosives technician and has driven heavy machinery in America when she worked in a coal mine. Again quite convenient, when you need someone to plant bombs and navigate a 4-wheel drive on roads littered with debris and abandoned vehicles. I know it is unfair to compare this book with another (in this case Zombijaya) but in the ‘zombie book’ the survivors behaved more realistically; afraid and unsure most of the time and where being a hero usually means an early death.
Still, Invasi populates a sparsely populated Malaysian science-fiction genre and who knows, maybe Raja Faisal’s debut could spur other local writers to write better Malaysian flavoured science fiction. But right now, of the six FIXI books I’ve read Invasi is the worst.
Monday, 8th August, 2011 § 11 Comments
This post was inspired by a thread in the Goodreads-Malaysia forum where someone asked whether there are any Malaysia-based online booksellers out there. Of course there are. Thanks mainly to fellow Goodreader Najibah for most of the links:
MPH – Malaysia’s one and only bookshop retail chain also has an online version but I’ve never shopped online with them because their brick & mortar shops are practically in every shopping mall here.
Kinokuniya Malaysia - The only reason to visit Suria KLCC, honestly. I’ve never shopped with them online but I’ve heard the service is good.
DAWAMA - Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka’s retail arm. However, I heard they are going through a crisis financially and employees have been given leave without pay while the higher ups search for a solution. Enforced leave without pay is never a good thing.
Kedai-Buku.com - Focuses on Malay-language books, both fiction and non-fiction.
BookCafe – Despite its name it focuses on Malay books and Islamic books published by PTS.
Ujana Ilmu - Malay books. Founded by local author Nisah Haron. Have shopped from them a couple of times. Very good service.
ITNM E-Shopping - Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia, as it name suggests, translates books written in other languages to Malay and vice versa. They were the guys who translated Interlok into English. I’ve shopped from them once. Good service.
Acmamall – They don’t just sell books but they have those as well. They sell books in English. The link will bring you to the sci-fi/fantasy section but there are other categories.
Pekan Buku - This is Universiti Malaya’s online bookshop.
Read Resources Sdn Bhd - a book distributor. Focuses on academic textbooks.
Silverfish Books - Books by Malaysians or about Malaysia or published in Malaysia but written in English (and a few in Malay).
Gerakbudaya – Similar to Silverfish, they offer books by Malaysian and about Malaysia in English and Malay. They also offer books on Malaysian politics that lean towards more to the Opposition.
FIXI – Amir Muhammad’s line of Malay pulp fiction.
Matahari Books – Amir Muhammad’s publishing house specialising in non-fiction and film-related books. Not really an online bookseller but can be contacted via email for any questions and stuff.
Islamic Book Trust - Malaysian publisher of “quality Islamic books in English”.
I think that about covers it. If I’ve missed any, do say so in the comments section.
Wednesday, 27th July, 2011 § 2 Comments
Well, I think they look great. Eye catching for sure. Makes a change from the usual cover art we usually see on Malay novels. FIXI is a new imprint focusing on urban and pulp fiction in Malay. They are also looking for new writers. If you have a story you want to tell and you can write in Malay, contact them here. They would even consider publishing stories written in nothing but dialects (Kelantanese, Sabahan, Kedah) because they’re kooky like that. They’ve so far published five titles (in standard Malay):
This one has the funniest name for its protagonist, Mohammad Narcissus. Seriously? The few people I know who’ve read felt the story was let down by all the typos. Synopsis here.
Khalil Gibran (yes, I know) wants revenge. Synopsis here.
She’s 40 and single. Likes her men young but her mom wants her to marry an imam. Then along comes a Datuk. There’s always a Datuk involved, isn’t there? Synopsis
The only FIXI book I’ve read so far. I liked it. A heist gone wrong, an old man with a past, seemingly unconnected but it all ties up in the end. Not perfect but enjoyable enough.
FIXI hasn’t rocked the Malay publishing world yet (such as it is) but I think it’s great that finally there is a publisher out there that allows, nay, encourages the use of slang, dialects and even broken Malay in the submissions they receive. Might piss off the purists but it got people like me to actually read a Malay novel. So 1-0 to FIXI.
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.