BOOK REVIEW | Malaysian novels in English with a definite local setting and theme are rare, too far apart, and rare in between. Even fewer are those who do not disappoint and give a good read.
One such book is “912 Batu Road” (Clarity Publishing, 2021, 275 pages, RM39). Viji Krishnamoorthy’s first novel is a different kind of historical tale because it not only preoccupies itself with the past but juxtaposes it with the contemporary, a difficult thing to do. The author accomplishes this well, keeping interest in both.
Another book from a Malaysian author who did well was back in 1998 in Uma Mahendran’s ‘The Twice Born’, which swings between ancient history and the present when a psychiatrist, aided by an autistic boy, undertakes a telepathic mental journey. in the past up to 1500 BC.
I’ve read two other books by local authors with slightly similar themes, but they don’t go back to different time zones, both of which are good reads. The first is Preeta Samarasan’s 2008 book “Evening is the Whole Day” about an Indian immigrant family in Ipoh and their shenanigans.
The second is Tan Twan Eng’s hauntingly beautiful 2012 book The Garden of Evening Mists about the former Japanese emperor’s gardener in the mountains of the Cameron Highlands. This book won the Man Asian literary prize.
All three books are valuable contributions to local literature in English and it is hoped that ‘912 Batu Road’, named after the house in which the author’s father was born in Kuala Lumpur, will take its rightful place. amongst others.
Viji’s story does not go back as far as “The Twice Born”, but focuses around 80 years ago on the days leading up to the Japanese occupation of Malaya in 1941 until their defeat in 1945. It is interesting how these reach into the life of a Chinese boy and a Brahmin girl, childhood friends who become lovers in the present day.
Ken is an architect working in London while Geetha is a successful lawyer in Kuala Lumpur…