Modern Malaysian Literature

Featured Books

* The Garden of Evening Mists
* The Gift of Rain
* The Harmony Silk Factory
* Sweet Offerings
* The Rice Mother

The Garden of Evening Mists

 

The Garden of Evening Mists

by Tan Twan Eng
Weinstein Books, 2012

Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon comes.” Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

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The Gift of Rain

 The Gift of Rain

by Tan Twan Eng
Weinstein Books, 2009

The recipient of extraordinary acclaim from critics and the bookselling community, Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel casts a powerful spell and has garnered comparisons to celebrated wartime storytellers Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Set during the tumult of World War II, on the lush Malayan island of Penang, The Gift of Rain tells a riveting and poignant tale about a young man caught in the tangle of wartime loyalties and deceits.

In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton-the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families-feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He at last discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. When the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei-to whom he owes absolute loyalty-is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and must now work in secret to save as many lives as possible, even as his own family is brought to its knees.

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The Harmony Silk Factory 

The Harmony Silk Factory

by Tash Aw
HarperPerennial, 2006

The Harmony Silk Factory is the textiles store run by Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in rural Malay in the first half of the twentieth century. It is the most impressive and truly amazing structure in the region, and to the inhabitants of the Kinta Valley Johnny Lim is a hero—a Communist who fought the Japanese when they invaded, ready to sacrifice his life for the welfare of his people. But to his son, Jasper, Johnny is a crook and a collaborator who betrayed the very people he pretended to serve, and the Harmony Silk Factory is merely a front for his father’s illegal businesses. Centering on Johnny from three perspectives—those of his grown son; his wife, Snow, the most beautiful woman in the Kinta Valley (through her diary entries); and his best and only friend, an Englishman adrift named Peter Wormwood—the novel reveals the difficulty of knowing another human being, and how our assumptions about others also determine who we are.

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Sweet Offerings

Sweet Offerings

by Chan Ling Yap
Pen Press, 2010

Set in the late 1930s and 1960s, this is the tale of Mei Yin, a young Chinese girl from an impoverished family. Her destiny is shaped when she is sent to Kuala Lumpar to become the ward and companion of the tyrannical and bitter Su Hei who is looking for a suitable wife for her son Ming Kong…and ultimately a grandson and heir to the family dynasty. “Sweet Offerings” is not just a fictional story of the events that ripped one family apart, but a taste of Malaysia’s historical political and cultural changes during its transition from colonial rule to independence and beyond.

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The Rice Mother

 

Rice Mother

by Rani Manicka
Penguin, 2004

At the age of fourteen, Lakshmi leaves behind her childhood among the mango trees of Ceylon for married life across the ocean in Malaysia, and soon finds herself struggling to raise a family in a country that is, by turns, unyielding and amazing, brutal and beautiful. Giving birth to a child every year until she is nineteen, Lakshmi becomes a formidable matriarch, determined to secure a better life for her daughters and sons. From the Japanese occupation during World War II to the torture of watching some of her children succumb to life’s most terrible temptations, she rises to face every new challenge with almost mythic strength. Dreamy and lyrical, told in the alternating voices of the men and women of this amazing family, The Rice Mother gorgeously evokes a world where small pleasures offset unimaginable horrors, where ghosts and gods walk hand in hand. It marks the triumphant debut of a writer whose wisdom and soaring prose will touch readers, especially women, the world over.

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