(Caveat: this list is our own, and not meant to constitute a be-all of Malaysian writing. The Chinese dialects and Indian languages, for example, have been completely ignored – we lack the necessary expertise. Also, we’re not including writers like Tash Aw, just because.)
Sajak-sajak Saleh: Poems Sacred and Profane
The cartoonist Lat famously remarked that meeting quirky poet, Salleh Ben Joned, was “like meeting Hang Jebat on his day off”. Ever a black sheep, Salleh never gained a place among Malay-language literary circles, possibly because he was staunchly bilingual. This collection of poetry, now in its third edition, is serious, funny, and scatological – sometimes all three at once!
I Am Muslim
This collection of essays was drawn from column veteran Dina Zaman’s old space in Malaysiakini. As the title suggests, it is about Malaysian Muslims – specifically, it dwells in the left-of-centre, middle-class, Muslim women’s sphere of experience. That alone makes it a worthy read. Dina Zaman is a riveting storyteller: watch out for “Doubling Gods”, an account of her visiting a master bomoh.
If the classical Malay is too heavy-going for you, try C C Brown or John Leyden’s translations. Both are adequate – although academics will quibble over the details – and allow you entry into an epic tale of supernatural swashbuckling, that begins with Alexander the Great and ends with the arrival those insidious, fair-skinned Feringgi: the Portuguese.
Where Monsoons Meet: A People’s History of
This comic-book history of
The volume of 16 short stories for young adults is merely the latest in the long bibliography of the prolific, self-aggrandising Uthaya Sankar SB. He writes fiction exclusively in Bahasa – and, being ethnically Indian, that’s weird for some people. In the 1990s, for example, Uthaya’s insistence that the Malay language be known as an inclusive “Bahasa Malaysia” led to tussles with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP). He’s an excellent tale-weaver; Amir Muhammad ranks him “among the finest writers in this country”. (You'll find that quote, along with many others, on the guy’s website).
Tangerin & Nikotin
This diminutive pocketbook of poetry comes to us courtesy of Sang Freud Press, a small publishing house that – along with several others – is pioneering a new, urban Malay-language idiom: uninhibited (whether in terms of subject matter or linguistic convention), syncretic (it borrows from English liberally), surreal and mischievous. Mimi Morticia’s debut is all these things (Also try Sufian Abas’s Kasut Biru Rubina).
Amir Muhammad is one of the most interesting figures in Malaysian literature: a filmmaker, columnist, artist, publisher – it goes on. His latest fiction endeavour is the fruit of Amir’s exploration of the British Council Malaysia’s City of