Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Books and the supernatural

Have just gotten my mits on some books I've been meaning to read for a long time:

Ripples by Shih Li-Kow - a short story collection
Lions In Winter by Wena Poon - more short stories, featuring Singaporeans
Growing Up In Trengganu by Awang Goneng - looks good and has a nice cover to boot

I still find it strange that when I am in New Zealand, surrounded by family and friends who do not believe in spirits, I lose that sensitivity to the supernatural world. If I am spooked, I blame it on a horror film I'd seen. However, as soon as I am back in Malaysia, it is so common to refer to spirits as if they were real people. I find myself thinking that my grandmother still hangs around the room she used to sleep in.

Flipping through Malaysian novels in the bookshop, I came across lots of stories with witch doctors and superstition... If South America has its magic realism, we have our pontianaks. Rani Manicka's The Rice Mother and Preeta Samarasan's Evening Is The Whole Day both have ghosts in them. The supernatural is as real to us as anything else.

I know of some readers who do not enjoy the magic realism of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Perhaps they think that the magic is there only to exoticize a place further and render it unfathomable, mysterious, and therefore appealing to the Western reader. Or perhaps these readers are fatigued by the seemingly pointless twists and turns (annoying deus ex machinas?) of a magic realist plot.

I wonder if there will be a similar 'pontianak/spirit fatigue' with Malaysian novels. It's probably a moot point, nothing to worry oneself about. Malaysians love eating up stories about the folllowing: how someone gained or lost his wealth, how someone's marriage fell apart, and how the spirit world plagues us. It's obvious that our stories of the supernatural are told for our own entertainment and not so much for 'the Westerners'. I think these stories are here to stay.

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