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Malaysian literature is often wrongly reduced to merely the many variations of ‘Suamiku  ___‘ type novels that permeate even our primetime drama slots. However, that is akin to seeing the Harlequins and Twilights of Western literature and assuming that this is all that Malaysia has to offer.

In the interest of bringing more of these compelling Malaysian literary point-of-views to light, we’ve curated a list of some local authors that we feel are underrated in their homeland. Many of these authors have even been accredited internationally with accolades and awards, but unfortunately have yet to permeate the mainstream consciousness locally.

We tried to diversify the types of genres presented so that readers will at least have an interesting recommendation to look at no matter how their book tastes go. And finally, to ensure that even our international readers can get a taste of Malaysia’s offerings, we’ve decided to stick to English books.

This is not to discount the wonderful work that has been produced in Malaysia over the years in everyone’s respective native tongues, but is simply an expression of accessibility. If there is enough demand, we would like to make similar lists for different languages in the future.

1. Lydia Teh—The Quintessential Malaysian Experience

Image Credit: Goodreads

Born and bred in Klang, Lydia Teh writes quirky and funny takes on the Malaysian experience in something between a loving parody and an homage.

Lydia’s book Life’s Like That is a glimpse into her own experiences in Malaysia, as a mother, once-career woman and family person, but written in a way that is clearly smack dab in the middle of the Malaysian suburbia. It puts some of the experiences in a new light, and makes readers see our Malaysianisms sometimes for how quirky it can actually be.

Some of her observations can be a tad scathing, so check it out if you enjoy that type of writing.

Find her books on Goodreads here.

2. Rani Manicka—Historical Fiction

Image Credit: Susan Abraham on WordPress

Reviewers on Goodreads have described Rani Manicka’s debut novel, The Rice Mother, as the Malaysian equivalent of A Thousand Splendid Suns, and it’s not difficult to see why. Rani’s books are dramatic tearjerkers that point out the real injustices suffered by women during the time periods she writes about.

Many of her more compelling titles chronicle life back in the days when Malaysia was called Malaya, and wars were underway, from the British takeovers to the Japanese invasions.

The Rice Mother is a compelling intergenerational chronicle of a 14-year-old from Ceylon who was traded to Malaya to wed a man there, and her determination to survive. This Terengganu-born author even won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2003.

Find out more about her books on Goodreads.

3. Felicia Yap—Murder Mystery

Image Credit: Newsweek

One of the newer faces among the novelists here in this list, Felicia Yap’s novel hasn’t even debuted yet, but was already branded as one of the most anticipated novels for 2017.

This Malaysian-born’s first novel is titled Yesterday, about a woman and a wife in a world where most people can only remember events up to one day prior. When a murder unfolds in relation to her husband, Claire Evans is determined to get to the bottom of what happened.

Felicia started out as a Molecular Biologist before a stint as a Cambridge historian and has her journalistic work published under the Economist and Singapore’s Business Times.

And now she can add novelist to list of occupations.

After Yesterday, Felicia already has other novels planned, one tentatively titled Today, and another possibly titled Forever.

Find out more about her books on Goodreads.

4. Farish Noor—Malaysian Horrible Histories

Image Credit: Goodreads

We’ve all been given a glimpse of what Malaysia was like in the past from our own History classes in school, but just as the children’s series Horrible Histories has proven, there is a darker underbelly that our teachers never told us about.

A man with a passion for history, Farish Noor aims to fix that with his book, What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You: Annexe Lectures (Volume 1).

The book is said to dispel the slanted point of views in our own history and more importantly, make it compelling enough for even those who hated History back in school.

Find out more about his books on Goodreads.

5. Khoo Kheng Hor—Crime Novels

Image Credit: Star2

An interesting bit of trivia with this man is how much he loves Sun Tzu’s Art Of War. He makes it his mission to ‘suntzunise’ his readers, including those of the 26 business and management books that he has written over the years.

On top of his business books Kheng Hor partakes in a fair bit of fiction, including his first novel Taikor which had been nominated for the 2006 International IMPCAC Dublin Literary Award by the National Library of Malaysia.

Marrying both history and ‘gangster’ drama, the story chronicles a Malaysian boy’s life in the post-noir eras of 1932 and 1982, where he grows into becoming the ‘Taikor’ or ‘big brother’ in Penang’s chaotic underworld.

His other novels include Mamasan (about nightclubs), Nanyang and Sifu, Kheng Hor’s depictions are gritty, dark and offer an unrelenting view of Malaysia’s sometimes brutal history.

Find out more about his books on Goodreads.

6. Zen Cho—Fantasy

Image Credit: Star Online

This London-based Malaysian’s story was set in an era of Regency England, that is ostensibly magical, but uses it as a metaphor for the class warfare and oppresion that certain members of old-timey England would commit upon others in what readers have described as surprisingly funny, with snappy jokes that could go over your head if you’re not paying attention.

About her book Zen Cho has stated that, “I wanted to explore the centrality of the British territories to the British Empire, to Britain itself.”

“What I’m interested in is this sort of colonial history,” she added. “I kind of think of it as uncovering what is already there.”

And her main characters definitely express this, between a black sorcerer who was kidnapped into slavery as a child, and half-Indian Prunella.

Find out more about her books on Goodreads.

7. Shamini Flint—Investigative Fiction

Image Credit: Tristan Bankcs

Selling over 1 million books is no small fish to fry, and this was the honour that Malaysian-born Shamini Flint has managed to achieve with her investigative achievement, Inspector Singh Investigates.

On top of writing, Shamini owns her own publishing company called Sunbear Publishing.

She started out writing children’s books, realising that Southeast Asian children needed books that reflected their lifestyles, but soon forayed into adult novels that capitalise on her background as an ex-lawyer to write her crime books.

Unlike Kheng Hor’s books however, hers are written from the perspective of the right side of the law, though they are no less gritty.

We’re sure there are many other lesser known Malaysian authors who deserve to be highlighted. Let us know who in the comments.

Feature Image Credit: Modified from Book Baristas on Tumblr.

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)