Setting this unusual, aesthetically intriguing, and often exciting novel in Malaya/Malaysia, author Tan Twan Eng* provides insights into the Japanese Occupation of Malaya from 1941 – 1945, while recreating the horrors endured by the local population. At the same time, he also illustrates the highly formal aesthetic principles which underlie Japanese gardens, ukiyo-e prints, and the practice of horimono (literally “carving”), which is part of the long tradition of irezumi, Japanese tattooing. Amazing as it may sound, Tan succeeds in accomplishing an elegant blend of these seemingly incompatible subjects and themes while also appealing to the reader with characters who face personal tragedies and strive, somehow, to endure. Through hints and small details mentioned throughout the novel, Tan creates interest in Yun Ling’s history, and the eventual discovery of how she becomes the sole survivor of her work camp in the mountains is one of the most dramatic sections of the novel.
Category Archive for 'Malaysia/Malaya'
Aware that nearly all the history books about Indonesia begin with the discovery of the sea routes from Europe to Asia, thereby reflecting a western slant, a young teaching assistant in Jakarta in 1964 reflects the growing desire among Indonesians for a history of “their own.” Indonesia had been a Dutch colony for three and a half centuries, and had been occupied by the Japanese for much of World War II. Though long-time leader Dewi Sukarno declared the country’s independence–and became President–after the defeat of the Japanese, the Dutch remained a dominating presence in the country’s economy, to their own benefit far more than the Indonesians’. By 1964, when this novel opens, resentment against westerners is peaking. The Dutch are being arrested without warning and forcibly “repatriated,” the Chinese and Russians are exerting significant influence, Communism has become so popular that the president and the army fear a coup, and violence has become a way of life. “The police can kill anyone nowadays,” a teacher remarks, “and we just say, ‘Hey, there’s a dead body,’ without really knowing, or caring, who it was.”
Full of the colors, scents, and sounds of exotic Burma and Malaya in the 1860’s, this novel comes to life within the Glass Palace of the royal family and in the streets of Mandalay, which are sometimes the only “home” of its ordinary citizens, in the final days before Britain’s voracious, imperialist juggernaut shoots its way up the Irrawaddy River. Giving life to the Burmese point of view, Rajkumar and Dolly, orphaned children working as servants when the novel begins, eventually become the founders of a family whose members, in succeeding generations, reflect the economic and the political realities in Burma, Malaya, and India over the 150 years from the British raj to the present day.