Tutu Dutta retells Malaysian folktales and also creates original stories based on the myths and legends of the region and beyond. Her latest book is The Blood Prince of Langkasuka (Penguin Random House SEA), inspired by the Malaysian legend of the fanged king of the Bujang Valley. The following Q&A was done over email. For more of Tutu, visit her blog Betel, Banyan, Basil & Bamboo.Read More »
This 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.
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.
Read More »
THE PRINCIPAL GIRL: FEMINIST TALES FROM ASIA
Edited by Sharifah Aisha Osman and Tutu Dutta
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 »
By Golda Mowe
Publisher: Monsoon Books
When Monsoon Books published Golda Mowe’s debut novel, Iban Dream, two years ago, I welcomed it as a long-overdue work of local fantasy fiction based on the myths and legends of our land.
Although Malaysians enjoy a rich heritage of folk and fairytales thanks to the cultural traditions and superstitions of our various ethnic groups and indigenuous peoples, Mowe is one of the very few who have used the old stories to inspire new tales.Read More »