A look at South-east Asia through three anthologies
MAY 6 ― I used to be a big fan of South-east Asian fiction. Admittedly, most of that fiction was Singaporean (traitor, traitor, I hear you yell!) but that was only because Singapore produced English fiction by the truckloads compared to Malaysia.
They had Gopal Baratham, Catherine Lim, Shirley Lim and others but we had the inimitable KS Maniam. Haunting The Tiger, pardon the pun, still haunts my reading from time to time.
In the case of South-east Asian fiction, the only anthology I have is a book on prize-winning South-east Asian fiction circa 1994. That collection was mostly Filipino stories which, in all honesty, I could not relate to as well.
I was fortunate enough to attend the London Book Fair this year where I met Amir Muhammad and a coterie of Malaysian literary activists. I was star struck, of course, when I met Faisal Tehrani whose literary imagination rivals Salman Rushdie’s (without the need for cheap blasphemy, of course).
Amir was there to promote Fixi Novo’s latest collections ― Heat, Flesh and Trash. I really adore the artwork which featured the durian prominently.
The collections bring together stories from South-east Asian urban life which has certainly changed from the last time I was home. I suppose it is technology and the Internet which brought those changes. We are now a “trending” society. Trends can literally take root in a few minutes all over the world.
In the anthology Heat, I especially enjoyed Zed Adam Idris’s story “Method.” In this story, Zed displays the thought streams of a hedonist and his method. Method to what exactly?
Ostensibly it is for guitar playing but I reckon it is also the outlook on life itself. Of course, when one lives on the edge as Zed’s protagonist, one is also liable to some risk. An overdose here and there. Zed does temper the rawness with a slight comedic feel to the story.
After the internal Heat of the durian, we open it to find golden flesh, aromatic (malodorous to some!) Flesh. In this anthology, I was attracted to Tina Sim’s story, “Her Lot.”
This story was placed in a section that if one were reading from cover to cover, one may end up skimming through. “Her Lot” is the story of an unnamed protagonist whose story is told by one who met her after her fall from grace.
It is a Singaporean tale which reminds me of our own Catherine Lim (who was born in Ipoh, don’t forget!). About an arranged marriage based on traditional values but which did not work out.
The protagonist’s fall from grace was juxtaposed with the injection of a racial other, which I found interesting. Perhaps this symbolises how traditions get “discoloured”, if you’ll pardon another pun.
Finally, we come to the process of cleaning up after the durian has been consumed and that is to take out the Trash. But Trash is definitely not trashier than the the first two anthologies.
In fact, I found it more pensive in parts. One story which caught my attention was “Flowers For KK” by M. Shanmughalingam. Another story told from a woman’s perspective, this time it is Indira who narrates what is basically a character study of her husband, King Kana or KK.
KK comes across as one who is not deliberately cruel but cold, clinical. He marries Indira’s sister apparently due to her own infertility. I was especially moved by Indira’s observations of KK’s language and how it twists and turns in accordance with his political posturing.
All in all, I highly recommend this durian anthology. Heat, Flesh and Trash will certainly tickle your existential bones.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.