Overview: Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo by Dee Char

I enjoyed reading this tale set in Borneo, specifically the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The focus is on an indigenous (the Kadazan-Dusun) community and the story is told from the perspective of a young Dusun girl called Bibi. It is 1851 and changes are coming to Borneo, with strangers threatening to disrupt the old ways of life.

Like me, you may be surprised to discover who ‘Mr Low’ refers to! I certainly didn’t expect it, but I enjoyed the way the author works this character into the tale.

I also like how the story provides a window into Kadazan-Dusun cultural and spiritual practices and beliefs. As the author is part Kadazan-Dusun, it is fitting that she has chosen to preserve these details by weaving them into an engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Book Review: Iban Woman

ibanwomanThis review first appeared in Goodreads on 24th November, 2020.

As is always the case with books by Golda Mowe, I like how Iban culture and customs, beliefs and superstitions are described in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner, without exotification.

The details Mowe provides of weaving, hunting, building and other aspects of Iban life, including ritual practices, are riveting to me. Some readers would probably prefer more action than description, but that’s personal preference. I was rather relieved that the battle scenes were brief. When Ratai harvests her first head, I felt pity for the victim because Ratai observes he’s a young boy. I feel this was an interesting way to remind the reader that Ratai is aware of herself and hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of the moment. However, although she feels compassion, her priorities (the well being of her people as well as her pride as a warrior) don’t allow her to give in to it.

Another thing I found interesting was the slave whose life was spared during the battle and his eventual fate. This plot strand raises questions that I must present to the author. So very interesting.

On the whole, I love the way the story unfolded and the intense exploration of Ratai’s struggles to balance her femininity, what was expected of her as an Iban woman and her natural inclinations and talents.

The inter-weaving of Iban folk beliefs and dreams of gods and goddesses with life, and the way the supernatural aspects of the story manifest themselves in the characters’ real-life is quite beautiful, and presented so naturally that there is no question of not accepting the part played by the divine in the affairs of humans.

This is definitely my favourite of the Iban Trilogy. However, as much as I love the happy ending, I wish to know more about Ratai’s life and hope Mowe will write another book in this series.

Book Review: Fairy Con and Encounters: Modern Folktales from Sibu

55720251._SX318_ENCOUNTERS: MODERN FOLKTALES FROM SIBU

FAIRY CON

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.

55686386._SX318_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.

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The Big Pym-Re-Read:A Glass of Blessings

April was balmy and delicious, and cruel in the way the poet did mean, mingling memory and desire. The memory was of other springs, the desire unformulated, unrecognized almost, pushed away because there seemed to be no place for it in the life I had chosen for myself.

One day Rowena and I met to have a cosy women’s shopping lunch together. She had come up to town to buy new clothes for the children, but when I met her in our favourite restaurant she admitted that she had spent the whole morning buying things for herself and nothing for the children at all.

‘And this afternoon we’re having our hair done,’ I reminded her, for we were going together to my hairdresser who was to create elegant new hairstyles for us.

‘Oh this weather,’ Rowena sighed, pulling off her pale yellow gloves. ‘It makes one so unsettled. One ought to be in Venice with a lover!’

‘Of course,’ I agreed. ‘Whom would you choose?’

There was a pause, then we both burst out simultaneously, ‘Rocky Napier!’
and dissolved into helpless giggles.

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The Big Pym-Re-Read: Jane and Prudence

jane and prudence(This is definitely going to be less rambling than the post I wrote for Excellent Women! I shall try to keep it short.)

Jane and Prudence are friends who met at university when Jane was Prudence’s tutor.

The book opens with Jane and Prudence at a college reunion. Jane is forty-one, Prudence twenty-nine. The former is married to her university sweetheart, Nicholas Cleveland, now a Church of England vicar. Prudence is personal assistant to an academic, Arthur Grampian, and is in love with him.Read More »

Book Review: The Principal Girl

Principal Girl cover (18Feb2019)

THE PRINCIPAL GIRL: FEMINIST TALES FROM ASIA

Edited by Sharifah Aisha Osman and Tutu Dutta

Publisher: Gerakbudaya

Having curated and edited two collections of Malaysian short stories, I am aware that it’s not an easy task to produce a book in which the stories are of a consistent quality. Unfortunately, we do not (as yet) have a large enough pool of experienced and talented writers to produce enough well-written stories (especially in English) to fill an anthology. Still, this shouldn’t deter anyone from planning to collect and publish short stories by local writers. However, it should be stressed that such endeavours take time and patience to complete, and may leave those in the editing/publishing roles with their sanity in shreds. Nevertheless, I learnt a lot from editing the anthologies Malaysian Tales: Retold & Remixed and Remang and both experiences were ultimately rewarding and enriching. I hope this was also the case for Sharifah Aisha Osman and Tuty Dutta, the editors of The Principal Girl.Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Excellent Women, Part 2

This post contains spoilers!

Archdeacon Horcleve
Gerard Manley Hopkins fits the bill for many of Pym’s vicars!

What is a Pym novel with no mention of the clergy?

Julian Mallory is the vicar of Mildred’s parish. He is about forty, ‘tall, thin and angular’; High Church (much to the dismay of some of his parishioners), and prefers to be referred to as ‘Father’.

Father Mallory lives with his unmarried sister, Winifred who is a close friend of Mildred’s. As he is single, it is assumed that he believes in the celibacy of the clergy. However, when the Mallorys rent out the upper floor of the vicarage to a widow called Allegra Gray, Julian Mallory eventually becomes engaged to her.

Mrs Gray tells Mildred about the engagement. She and Julian Mallory think that Mildred will be upset by the news because, of course, being unmarried and close to the Mallorys, it is assumed that she would want the vicar for herself. <<eyeroll>>Read More »

Book Review: The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

weight

The Weight of Our Sky

By Hana Alkaf

[Salaam Reads, 274 pages]

Owing to its subject matter — the May 13th race riots — and publishing circumstances, The Weight of the Sky was probably the most highly anticipated book to be written by a Malaysian author in the last few years. Hanna Alkaf is a Malaysian who lives and writes in Malaysia, and her publisher is an imprint of American publishing house Simon & Schuster. Malaysians get very excited when our authors are recognised (i.e. given contracts) by Western publishers, but I think this recognition couldn’t have happened to a better writer.Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Some Tame Gazelle

Some tame gazelleWhile Less Than Angels is about a community of anthropologists, Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym’s first published novel, features her other favourite profession, the clergy.

The main characters, however, are spinsters, another Pym speciality, in this case, a pair of sisters called Harriet and Belinda Bede.

Harriet, the older sister, is plump, attractive, garrulous, and rather more flamboyant than the quiet, mousy, self-effacing and reflective Belinda.

Harriet has a fondness for young curates, a completely respectable regard, mind you, taking the innocent form of mothering these men of the cloth, inviting them for tea and dinner, and presenting them with gifts of knitted socks and sweaters, fruit, and homemade jams.

Meanwhile, Belinda loves their neighbour and the vicar of their parish, Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve. Belinda has been friends with the Archdeacon since they were at university together, and has remained steadfast for thirty years. Alas, he is married to the formidable Agatha, whom Belinda views with a combination of awe and fear.

Archdeacon HorcleveIn the first chapter of the novel we are introduced to Harriet’s latest young curate, Edgar Donne (I picture him looking like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins [right]. Bizarrely, I also picture the Archedeacon looking like Hopskins!), who has come to the Bede’s for supper, and, as the book progresses, we meet the other characters, part of the Bede’s circle, including Henry and Agatha Horcleve; Count Ricardo Bianco, an Italian nobleman settled in their village, who is in love with Harriet and proposes to her regularly and in vain; Edith Liversidge, a ‘decayed gentlewoman’, and her poor relation, the dreary harp-playing Connie Aspinall who will not stop speaking of her days as companion to a lady in Belgrave Square.Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Less Than Angels

Pym68

I haven’t really blogged about Barbara Pym’s novels and, now that I have physical copies for all of them, I thought I would do a big re-read and then write a post about each book.

I chose Less Than Angels at random, but after this I will read the novels in order of publication:

  • Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
  • Excellent Women (1952)
  • Jane and Prudence (1953)
  • Less than Angels (1955)
  • No Fond Return of Love (1961)
  • Quartet in Autumn (1977)
  • The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
  • A Few Green Leaves (1980)
  • An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
  • Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published posthumously, 1985)
  • An Academic Question (written 1970–72; published posthumously, 1986)
  • Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1987)

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