Whether it’s our famous Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh on the big screen, Malaysian singer-songwriter, Yuna going international, or Datuk Lee Chong Wei smashing his way through the Olympics, Malaysia is filled with talents, from across the different fields, that we’re incredibly proud of. However, there’s one field that often gets overlooked — literature.
Going beyond the books that we were all forced to read in high school for our language subjects, there are many other Malaysian authors who have produced amazing stories that encapsulate the culture and beauty of Malaysia.
Here are 6 Malaysian authors you should add into your long list of books to read:
Hanna Alkaf graduated with a degree in journalism and has spent the majority of her life in Malaysia. Working as a writer for various companies, Hanna’s first Young Adult novel, The Weight of Our Sky, debuted in 2019 which has gone on to receive several accolades.
Since then, she has gone to write another book, is part of an anthology, and is currently writing her next murder mystery Young Adult novel.
Book suggestion: The Weight of Our Sky
Why: Told through the voice of a teenager which takes us back to the racial riots of 1969 while incorporating a mental illness that was barely recognised at that time.
If this doesn’t end up tugging your heartstrings, I don’t know what will.
PS. You can read the graphic novel online here.
Born in Taipei to Malaysian parents, Tash Aw returned to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 2 and grew up here.
Later, he relocated to England to study Law and, after graduating and working a few jobs, he eventually took up a creative writing programme which led him to his debut novel.
Many of his books have also won him many awards – The Harmony Silk Factory won the Whitbread First Novel Award and a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
Book suggestion: The Harmony Silk Factory
Why: If you like reading stories that have a sense of realism in it, Aw takes you back to the early days of Malaya and gives you a glimpse of the different lives living during those times, leaving you in awe (sorry, I just had to).
Born and bred, Rani Manicka was born in Terengganu and now spends her time between the United Kingdom and Malaysia.
She owes her title of being an internationally best-selling author to her first novel, The Rice Mother.
Published in 2002, the novel won her the South East Asia and South Pacific Region 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, making her the first Malaysian woman to receive this (you go girl!)
Book suggestion: The Rice Mother
Why: This novel showcases one’s roots, heritage, and sacrifices that need to be made by infusing Rani’s own Sri Lankan family history and how a young Ceylon girl was treated when moving to Malaysia along with the repercussions on her children.
Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian Chinese with a witty sense of humour (just read her ‘About’ section on her website!)
She worked in various corporate jobs after graduating from Harvard University and writes during her free time at home. Even though Choo has only written two books since 2013, each book has gotten much recognition from various organisations.
Book suggestion: The Ghost Bride
Why: If you’re interested in folklore, superstitious beliefs prevalent especially in the olden days, and unusual romance, this will leave you on the edge of your seat at the end of every page!
PS. You may be wondering if ‘The Ghost Bride’ featured on Netflix, is the same as the one written by Choo. Well, you’re absolutely right!
Born in Johor Bahru and graduated from the University of Malaya, Adibah has not only written books, but she is also a teacher, translator, actress, and a columnist where she goes by the pen name, Sri Delima.
Not only has she written novels in English and Malay, but she has also gone to write workbooks for those looking to improve their grammar.
Book suggestion: The End of the Rainbow
Why: With the setting of racial prejudice, social injustice, and segregation in the 1950s, unity, friendship, and women’s rights are prevalent in this book. The light-hearted tone in this book makes the serious issues seem like an easier pill to swallow.
Born in Penang, Tan Twan Eng grew up in Kuala Lumpur. He went on to study Law and worked as an advocate and solicitor before becoming a full-time writer.
He became the first Malaysian to receive the Man Asian Literary Prizer for his book ‘The Garden of Evening Mist’.
Book suggestion: The Garden of Evening Mist (of course!)
Why: If you’re into historical fiction, this book tells a realistic and raw story set within a number of historical events and timelines — both present and past.
PS. Once you’re done reading the book, remember to also watch the movie that was adapted from it.
We just had to include the iconic Malaysian cartoonist, LAT into the list. While his work may be a little different from the rest of the authors in this list, it’s no less important in showcasing Malaysia at its very best.
Publishing more than 20 volumes of cartoons since he was 13 years old, Lat won the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2002.
His cartoons depict the real kampung life that makes any Malaysian proud of their culture and will transport you back to your grandparents’ kampung or yearn for it (if you never had the chance to grow up in one.)
Growing up in Johor Bahru, Cheeming writes and illustrates his childhood stories that many of us can relate to.
The way Boey maintains the Manglish-style conversations, together with the cute stick-figure illustrations, will make you resonate with the author’s stories and will definitely transport you back to when you were a child growing up in Malaysia
As Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Lat said, “Some moments bring a smile to our faces. Others draw a tear from our eyes or tug at our hearts. But the most exciting bit about it all, is what happens in the next chapter. That is, literally, the art of time.”
This Malaysia Day, it’s time to bring out those emotions and #SupportLokal by reading these books by our Malaysian authors to get to know our Malaysia better.
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