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Celebrating Malaysia 53rd Independence Day

31st August 2010 is the Malaysia 53rd Independence Day.

When Mel U of Reading Life first mention the idea of writing about the Malaysian Literary scene to commemorate the Malaysian Independence Day, my mind draws an immediate blank. Even though when I was younger I read literature in Malay language, none of it has left a deep impression except the graphic novels of Datuk Lat (mentioned below). After some research, and a lot of asking around, I’m now finally able to showcase a few published authors and books from Malaysia, hence the birth of this blog post!! but before I introduced some books and authors from Malaysia, a brief note about Hari Merdeka:   

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra announced the independence of Malaya from the British on August 31, 1957 at Stadium Merdeka

Hari Merdeka (Independence Day as it is known in the Malay language), is a national day of Malaysia commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule, celebrated on August 31. In a wider context, it is to celebrate the formation of Malaysia.   

The effort for independence was spearheaded by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, who led a delegation of ministers and political leaders of Malaya in negotiations with the British in London for Merdeka, or independence along with the first president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) Tun Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock and fifth President of Malaysian Indian Congress Tun V.T. Sambanthan. Once it became increasingly clear that the Communist threat posed during the Malayan Emergency was petering out, agreement was reached on February 8, 1956, for Malaya to gain independence from the British Empire. It was decided that the official proclamation of independence would only be made the next year, on August 31, 1957, at Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), in Kuala Lumpur.   

The formation of the Federation of Malaysia was then announced on September 16, 1963 as Malaysia Day. The nationwide Independence Day celebration is still held on August 31, the original independence date of Malaya, while Malaysia Day is a public holiday only in East Malaysia.   

In 2007, 50 years into independence, the economy of Malaysia was the 3rd largest economy in South East Asia and 29th largest economy in the world by purchasing power parity with gross domestic product for 2007 estimated to be $357.9 billion with a growth rate of 5% to 7% since 2007. At one time, it was the largest producer of tin, rubber and palm oil in the world. The country has moved on to Manufacturing in the late 80’s and into service economy in the 21st century.  

In recent years, Malaysian novelists that published internationally are:  

The Gift of Rain 

The book talks about Philip Hutton who is half English and half Chinese, born between two worlds and belonging to none, befriended a Japanese Hayato-Endo diplomat who taught him the art of akido and in return he introduced Endo to the beauty of Penang Island. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. The enigmatic Endo is bound by disciplines of his own when Japan invaded Malaya. Philip realised that his trusted sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – has been harbouring a devastating secret. 

Tan Twan Eng is a Malaysian author born in Penang in 1972. His first novel The Gift of Rain was published in 2007 and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize that year; it is set in Penang in the years before and during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II and has received critical acclaim around the world. It is also a bookclub favourite. He worked as an intellectual property lawyer before going full time into writing. He is working on his second book. He has a first-dan ranking in aikido.  

The Harmony Silk Factory 

In the story, prized for his ingenuity and natural powers of persuasion, Lim becomes the protégé of elderly textile magnate Tiger Tan, whose business activities provide a front for the squads of communist guerrillas camped in the mountains to resist the Japanese occupation. Lim rapidly succeeds Tan as terrorist-in-chief, marries the daughter of the richest man in the valley, and sells out his comrades to the head of the Japanese secret police, a scholarly psychopath named Mamoru Kunichika. 

The novel was longlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and won the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards First Novel Award as well as the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific region). It also made it to the long-list of the world’s prestigious 2007 International Impac Dublin Award and the Guardian First Book Prize. It has thus far been translated into twenty languages. 

See more Tash Aw’s biography and recently reviewed The Map of the Invisible World

Evening is The Whole Day 

When the family’s servant girl, Chellam, is dismissed from the Big House, it is only the latest in a series of losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha’s life. Her grandmother has died under mysterious circumstances and her older sister has disappeared for a new life abroad. Her parents, meanwhile, seem to be hiding something – from themselves and from each other. As the story of the Rajesekharan family unfolds, we learn what has happened to their hopes and dreams. What brought them to the Big House in troubled, post-colonial Malaysia? What was Chellam’s unforgiveable crime? What is Appa – the respectable family patriarch – hiding from his wife and children? And why did his eldest daughter leave the country under strained circumstances? 

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia, moved to the United States as a teenager and now lives in France. This is her first novel. The book is Longlisted for Orange Prize 2009. 

The Rice Mother 

The Rice Mother details the stuggles of a Matriarch determined to advance her children, and the scars her ambition leaves on the family. The story begins with the Matriarch, Lakshmi. Lakshmi’s mother arranges a marriage with what she believes to be a wealthy man. Lakshmi, a child bride, is soon ripped away from mother and home to live with an older man she neither knows nor loves. Far from home she soon discovers her husband is not remoteley wealthy, he is very much in debt and denial. She finds satisfaction in making the most of what she does have, and in the children that begin to come.
 By the age of nineteen Lakshmi is a mother of five. Very proud of her children yet very demanding her family is torn by feelings of awe bordering on reverance for their imposing mother, yet hate for her tenaciousness in planning their futures for them. World War Two begins, the Japenese invade, and childhood is ripped away forever. ”  

Rani Manicka is a novelist, born and educated in Malaysia and living in England. Infused with her own Sri Lankan Tamil family history, The Rice Mother is her first novel. It recently won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2003 for South East Asia and South Pacific region. It has been translated into 17 languages. Her second novel is Touching Earth published in 2005. Rani is also an economics graduate at the University of Georgia. Her third book called The Japanese Lover is published in May 2010. 

Datuk Lat – Cartoonist 

Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid a.k.a. Lat (born 5 March 1951) is a Malaysian cartoonist, notable for his auotbiographical work and editorial cartoons that appears in the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times. Lat’s cartoons reflect his everyday life and political view about Malaysian multicultural life and the world. Lat is very bold in his satire of government policy, the ever changing relationships between different ethnic groups etc and his cartoon always make me laugh.   

His first book, Kampung Boy (Village boy), an autobiography, was published in 1979 and I remembered my father bought a copy and have me presented it to the man himself to be autographed. The autography session was held at one of the New Strait Times publishing office in what was then called Complex Asiajaya in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Kampung Boy has since been translated into French, English, German, and Japanese. (Published by First Second Books in 2006, Kampung Boy was the first of Lat’s books to be published in the United States. His second American release, Town Boy — originally published in 1980 — came out in October 2007.)  

Both Kampung Boy and Town Boy are autobiographical and a very nostalgic illustration of every day life of Malay village, which is near extinction as a result of the country’s aggressive economic development since Independence. A few of those traditional self-device children’s play toys and past times are also a big part of my father’s childhood (such as a sharp dive from the tree into the river and playing glass bead and marbles games). The graphics represent Lat’s (and elderly Malaysians’) fond memories of the relaxed pace of traditional kampung life, and it is that Malaysian cultural distinction uniquely portrayed by Lat’s cartoons that make him one of the most loved and highly regarded Malaysian cartoonist.  


A salivating scene of the Indian banana leaf meal


Although hinging on a well worn theme of Japanese occupation during the WWII as setting, these home grown Malaysian authors are gradually making a mark and bringing forth stories from Malaysia to the world. They have significantly broadened the understanding of the region to the world, which earlier seen largely through the gin-soaked, misty eyes of Somerset Maugham, the Tiger-beer induced nostalgia of Anthony Burgess, or the laconic fiction of Paul Theroux.  

In the spirit of Independence day, I hope to see more of Malaysian authors who could produce a novel which is uniquely Malaysian, not a voice from the colonial past, but a voice of the present state and the evolving future of Malaysia. 


A key word search through my local library catalogue produces some of these books on British Malaya history. 


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


12 thoughts on “Celebrating Malaysia 53rd Independence Day

  1. Great post! So informative! Ugh, can you imagine having five kids by age nineteen?!!! And I love this line: “the gin-soaked, misty eyes of Somerset Maugham, the Tiger-beer induced nostalgia of Anthony Burgess, or the laconic fiction of Paul Theroux.”

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | August 28, 2010, 11:49 pm
  2. Wonderful post, JoV! I have read some wonderful reviews of ‘The Gift of Rain’ and one of my friends who is into graphic novels raves about ‘Kampung Boy’. I will have to read that soon. I have heard of Tash Aw too – his first book seems to have been really critically acclaimed and swept quite a number of awards.

    It was also wonderful to know about Malaysian history through your post. Thanks for writing this post. I will try to explore some of the books that you have written about.

    Posted by Vishy | August 29, 2010, 6:31 am
  3. Yeah. great post and I’m sure it took a lot of research or some PI skills to find those books for review. 🙂

    Posted by Marvin | August 29, 2010, 3:14 pm
  4. I’ve been wanting to read Kampung Boy! Didn’t know the author is famous in Malaysia (I guess it makes sense). Been meaning to read Tash Aw and Gift of Rain too (I may start to sound like a broken record now). I heard negative review on Rice Mother. The only one I hadn’t heard of is Evening is the Whole Day. Thanks for all the info!

    Posted by mee | September 7, 2010, 12:08 am
    • @Mee, So glad to have you back!!! How’s your holiday?! Lat is our home grown cartoonist, I read his cartoon ever since I was a little kid (so you can imagine how long he has been around!).

      Posted by JoV | September 7, 2010, 7:20 am


  1. Pingback: Gina Choe» Blog Archive » Week In Translation – 8.29.2010 - August 30, 2010

  2. Pingback: The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw – 54th Malaysian Independence Day read « Bibliojunkie - August 28, 2011

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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