I’ve always been engrossed in the works of people who manage to despict the olden times of my lineage. The hardest moments in my life are not even close to the ones they tell in those early 20th century stories. Which is why I get so blown away by their story telling abilities and have always kow-towed to amazing writers like Catherine Lim, Amy Tan and Adeline Yen Mah.
Flipping through this month’s MPH’s The Quill, I stumbled upon an interview on Tash Aw. My first reaction: He’s a Malaysian?!
Maybe it’s because of his name which does not sound Malaysian at all. Besides, it’s not often that I come across Malaysian-written best sellers.
It so happens that Xiong Khee has The Harmony Silk Factory sitting amidst her rows and rows of Anatomy and Physiology text book so I opened the first page and for the next two hours I was lost in his magic. The way he weaves his sentences together
and his great ability in description paints the most vivid pictures in my head is amazing.
I could even hear the sounds that Gun The Communist’s parang made upon the earth, clinking away the tiny pebbles on the soil. The way he described Tiger Tan’s estranged wife living in the palace of the Prince Regeant of Perak as the prince’s third wife, singing those chinese songs about lost love was enchanting.
“She sang with perfect pitch, her tongue capturing the words and releasing them across the valley like grass seeds in the wind.”
I really like these type of novels because of their nostalgic use of the english language. It’s all direct translation from their chinese descriptions. Stupid as it may sound, but the style always inspires me to write something as great as what I’ve read.
I want to write about olden day chinese-styled hardships but what do I know about such experiences? My only hardship is the quota system implied by our local universities and if I DO write a book on that, I might have to get a good lawyer to save my ass from landing in jail. Remember that rule about not questioning the Rights Of The Bumiputera Folks? Yeah.
With each page that I flipped, I started to imagine the movie version of this book. THIS BOOK IS MOVIE MATERIAL. Cantonese, Malay, English and even Hokkien can be incorporated into the dialogues. It’s not too difficult a transition as Tash Aw probably had ambitions for this novel to be turned into a movie when he wrote the novel. Either that or he is just too fantastic a story teller for making it all unfold as if on a silver screen(or a colour tv).
What’s really our taste? Should we go Malaysian all the way(Yasmin Ahmad’s name comes to mind) or will this make it big in Hollywood? If Tash Aw can push boundaries and go international and sell 12 million copies(correct me if I’m wrong) then I
think even if it’s a made-in-Malaysia movie, it’ll be a hit! We need people like Yasmin Ahmad with that equally magical vision to do the novel to movie transition for Tash Aw.
Sometimes I want to be a copy cat writer and write about the olden times as well.
At times like these, I really want to ask my grandparents so many questions about their past. What did they teach you in school then? How come you went to school? What was your house like? What did the local boys and girls do during courtships?
They did. They did tell me all about their history but they can only remember so much and I can only remember so much from what they remember.
Maybe one about my paternal grandfather who lost his father at the age of one and who used to get beaten by his uncle as a child. About him being one of the oldest of his generation with a mother who was away working as a maid for another family, his short education stint in St.John’s Boy’s School and his battle with TB at the age of 36. I know these everyday olden stories will allow others to relate.
Perhaps the far fetched story about my paternal grandmother’s wild goose chase with the Siam Queen after her father died might not be too easy to be written about but it would be of good use to groom my fictional writing abilities. If you must know, she was locked up in a room for two years by her mother because the Siam Queen wanted to capture her as she had her father’s face, the man whom she allegedly had an affair with.
If I want to, I would have to write a letter to my granduncle Harry who is living on a pension in Perth. From the photos, I saw that he was my grandfather’s play mate and that they were really close. I want to ask him questions that I never got to ask my
grandfather when he was alive. My grandmother’s siblings can be contacted during chinese new year, weddings etc. But if my grandmother is notorious for adding salt and vinegar to her stories, then her sister Aunty Peggy will be adding special effects and CGI and all that. Yup. Maybe I’ll ask Aunty Dolly and Uncle Johnny, they are more sensible.
What about the story about my maternal grandfather and his 5 mothers and 13 siblings? The struggle his father who came from China as a young boy had selling pork in Malaya and having families(note the plural) in China and families in Malaysia will make good novel material. Followed by all the complicated stories and family affairs that the Ho family managed to constitute over the decades. 13th Uncle once said, “With all these family affairs and conflicts, I can write a novel.” How my grandfather travelled to Singapore to learn how to make soap(when soot was still used in the process) and his boy scout days in Malacca High School will probably make the novel akin to one of those nostalgic ones like Tash Aw’s stories.
🙂 Just some fleeting thoughts.
As for now, I will be indulging in Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory. I love a good book.