ENCOUNTERS: MODERN FOLKTALES FROM SIBU
By Golda Mowe
Publisher: Goose Books
Golda Mowe is one of my favourite Malaysian writers. She is Iban and her stories are rooted in Iban life, customs and folklore.
Mowe recently self-published two books — Encounters: Modern Folktales from Sibu, comprising ten stories; and a novella called Fairy Con.
I have to admit that the books’ covers made me think that they were both written for children. I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t be read by kids, but, fair warning, Fairy Con does feature a grisly murder and some very light sexual innuendo, so some may be leery about introducing it to primary school-age readers. As for, Encounters, the stories in this collection also contain some details that may be deemed unsuitable for children, but I don’t think there’s anything that voracious readers of ten and older can’t handle.
In my opinion, a better title than ‘Fairy Con’ could have been chosen as I find it misleading in what it suggests.
To avoid spoilers I won’t provide a summary of the plot. The back cover blurb, by the way, succeeds in giving nothing away, while allowing the reader a rough idea of what to expect:
Matthew’s return home should be a happy one, yet something does not feel right. He claims that he is changed because he has been to the invisible world, to the land of Kumang and Keling. Yet, none of the fairies and demons living in Sibu has received news of his visit to Gelong. The shaman goddess, Ini Andan, decides to investigate.
I found one aspect of the story hard to accept, as I thought it was too convenient a plot point. However, I was happy to suspend disbelief as I wanted to know what would happen next. (I have been wondering how else the rest of the story could have been told without that detail that I find so hard to swallow, but I have not come up with anything yet.)
What I love about Fairy Con is the way our world and the spirit world are portrayed to be so closely and naturally linked; and how gods, demons and fairies are shown to co-exist with humans. Ini Andan, the shaman, is my favourite character in this book, and I long to read more about her. The sections of the story in which she features shine the brightest, and she may now be my new favourite fictional hero.
Malaysians love to hear and tell tales about encounters with supernatural beings and the difficulty in transferring these oral anecdotes to the page is that they are usually just fragments and not whole stories. In Encounters, Golda Mowe has taken these fragments, these brief encounters with mythological beings, local monsters and ghosts, and woven them into stories about ordinary people going about their everyday lives.
In Mowe’s tales, superstition and myth are just some of the many threads in life’s vast tapestry, and her matter of fact and simple accounts of personal, human experience allow her characters and the reader the space to make what they will of the uncanny events that add to the patterns of bright and dark in the big picture of life.
Order the books (RM20 each) directly from Golda Mowe by sending her a message on her Facebook page.