Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Malaysia deserves better.

Was hoping to report on A. Samad Said's Hujan Pagi today, but I've gone and left my copy at BooksActually's design room. And of course, I was gonna rush back and retrieve it, but then I thought, why bother?

At first I was blaming my difficulties with the book on the translation by the Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia, and yes, honestly, the state of the English is awful (they call letters of the alphabet "alphabets"!). But then I realised the reason why I couldn't tell what the hell was going on was that nobody can tell what the hell's going on.

The story's half set in the 1980s (young multiracial Malaysians who can quote Marshall McLuhan!) and half in a minor character's hallucination of the 1930s (Hitler attacks! Fight British colonialism). Which of course could be as awesome as Cloud Atlas, but there's no damn movement in the piece - it's all these dunderheaded men and women talking to themselves about philosophy and archaeology and Puteri Gunung Ledang and Hang Tuah. And the women characters are ridiculous: beautiful and talented yet girlishly obsessed with finding boyfriends; hugging stuffed toys and smacking their beautiful flanks. Yeah, I don't get it either.

I was only about halfway through the book when I lost it, and I do intend to finish the tome at some point, because it is oddly informative Googling all the references it pointlessly makes to Malay history. I'll let you know if it's any better.

Still, I've decided that for this blog, Malaysia deserves better. If I'm gonna read something weird and badly translated and senseless, it's damn well going to be an ur-Text, something of unimpeachable canonicity.

That's why I'm going straight for the source material - I'm gonna read the Hikayat Hang Tuah. It's 600 pages, from the same lousy translation institute and only available from the furthest-flung of public libraries, like Bedok, Tampines and Woodlands. But goddammit, it'll be an essential supplement to my meagre knowledge of Southeast Asian lore.

(I did in fact finish Ballad of the Lost Map, a poetry collection by Samad. Soulful and more digestible than Hujan Pagi, but frankly, not great. I want something that ends my first circuit of the globe with a verifiable BANG.)

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