Obscurely lying on a table marked “50% discount on all books on this table”, the sky blue painting-like cover reminds me somewhat of those oily gold-y paintings of women with very defined shapes and men with long hair and foreboding eyes riding horses and brandishing swords which hang on the walls of homes where people live to show off their Indian-ness mysterious and therefore cool. The title is in a bold yellow (such an oxymoron – how can it be bold and yellow?) and I immediately already see its love-potential because of the author’s name – Preeta. Sigh, another Indian girl has published a novel. Why can not I?
Price tag of $8.95 – even better because I have just a blue ten dollars in my purse. Wah, so cheap. I can become a writer by reading more and more is my procrastinating principle.
I turned it over and saw, an excerpt. Ha – an excerpt obviously means not enough commendations. One commendation from Tash Aw. Who is that? I must google her. The first phrase from the excerpt and I already know I will buy this book and read it no matter. It’s a perfect fit, it could be a coming home story, It could give me an i’m not the only one feeling – which does nothing for me. It could make me smile for its familiarities and laugh at truths. Am I enjoying it because it’s familiar or because it’s good literature? What’s the difference - nothing.
“Set in Malaysia...” That was enough for me.
I have completed “Evening is the Whole Day” by Preeta Samarasan. Enjoyed while reading and afraid of the last few pages – because its finishing and might be disappointing but I cherish the good and funny parts.
Visited Samarasan’s website and read over her profile many times. The ubiquitous Malaysian-born who left for the big outside world and made it big (obviously-she's been published) – she studied non-potential subjects like arts and literature. Unlike the rest of us at home who studied potential-filled practical subjects like the language of business, debits and credits and other such and such. The last sentence in her profile like all author profiles pierces me sharply. She lives in central France with her husband and dog. There’s a big ‘made it’ feeling if you live in central France. Not just the city of Paris where tourists can also go. But who goes to central France, unless you make it. How does “she lives in Sydney with her husband but no dog” sound.
I wonder now how is it that this book seems to have received so little recognition? No big awards, and no fanfare? Maybe I just was not aware. Maybe it does get its share of fanfare.
Some of Samarasan’s words are not usual speaking words for me. They must be words you learn and use when you study creative things. Many a mental note I made to look up some words on dictionary.com. I never did that and now can’t recall any of them. But what I enjoyed most about the book is the italicised lingo of “orang Malaysia” without the “”. Like its part of language which does not require explaining. You just have to get it without thinking it’s something you need to get.
It also reminds me of the God of Small Things style – written in the thoughts of a little kid and some adults – who among us cannot relate to that. Verses of lyrics and poems in centralised and italics with their English translations I never knew. Sometimes we think that we were born big. I can’t remember any of my kid thoughts, let alone my kid feelings. I can only remember now what I have been trying to remember all these years, and my feelings and memories when I looked at old photographs. Not the real feelings but the remembered feelings only are remembered now.
So now there are two novels that write stories of where I am from – part Kerala and part Malaysia. Is there room for more? Yes there is, yes you can. All you need to do is start. What do I have to say? Lots of things I do.
Malaysian Indian family with all its unmentionable problems and extreme fakeness of appearances – a bit of a truism (not my word - picked from pressing Shift F7) for Indians who know what it’s all about. Indians who don’t need to understand – we just get it. But a great fascination for other people who can’t understand it, who are amazed and shake their heads in befuddled turns.
Enjoyed God of Small Things? Sure to enjoy this. Enjoy family situations? Enjoy Bold and Beautiful type complications and unspokenness with a bit more sophistication because of exotic cultural value-environment and your imagination from the language of literature (as opposed to visual impressions)? Sure to satisfy.
I would ask all Malaysians to read Evening is the Whole Day. We often need to be reminded of us. We think that our culture is no culture. Our accent is no accent. What accent? Just say la-la only what. Conveniently altered English is a good part of it. Just simply-simply say. Ha! I love it! And as young Malaysians who were born in the 80’s and after – its important to realise and know the events that shaped our history, short as it may be – we can either be appreciative or disappointed about where we are now. But I think it’s necessary to realise it, whichever way it is. Then only can we contour ideas for our future?
I am jealous of Indian girls who publish novels. I will be until I can do the same. But Evening is the Whole Day still inspires me. It’s a good book. I must have a story inside my head. Maybe a few. Fanfare or no fanfare – I want to see sky blue or bold red colours on a book cover with Mary Zachariah’s name on it lying obscurely on a book store table. Maybe even somewhere as far away as central France or close to home as Ipoh.
I must start it.