Saturday 29 November 2008

Sertailah peraduan untuk memenangi buku percuma!

Those gossipy folks at are giving away 10 free copies of Kitab Pengetahuan Hantu Malaysia.

To enter, you need to register at the site (it's free) and click on one of these banner-type things:

The winning entries will be read out at the launch on Friday.

Friday 28 November 2008

L for Lucky

The sixth video column of mine is here!

Starting next month, it will be monthly rather than fortnightly. Harap maklum.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

What a girl wants

TEN By Shamini Flint (Sunbear, 2008, 146 pages)

Two weeks ago we spoke of Shamini Flint’s crime novels. Her latest book is about a 10-year old girl who wants to play football – and as this sort of behaviour does not yet have a law, or even fatwa, against it, Ten does not qualify as a crime novel.

Yes, it’s a children’s book! Although it has understandably been a long time since I last touched base with the genre (what do you take me for, some kind of pervert?) this book took me back.

Part of the reason the book took me back is that it is, quite simply, set in the past. I am not a football fan – those games do go on forever, don’t they? – so couldn’t figure out the exact year, but since there were references to Maradona’s skills rather than weight I figured we were talking about the pre-Internet era here. It’s only on the last page that the year is spelled out: 1986.

So, Maya David wants to play football. Trouble is, she’s in a girl’s school – in Kuantan, to boot – which does not have a football team. The very idea seems freaky. Add to this the fact that she’s never kicked a real ball in her life; she’s only had vivid Technicolor fantasies of being on the Brazil team. But she, in the tradition of plucky heroes and heroines everywhere, won’t let these little details get in the way of true glory.

Like all bright people, Maya seems to keep a running commentary in her head. Her wry observations of the way her family and school operate (or don’t operate) keep things bubbly even though there are some darker undercurrents. Bend It Like Beckham got there first and so steals some of its ‘high concept’, but Ten still succeeds as an admirably grounded fantasy.

Maya reads many books, including the Famous Five ones. But the world of children has become more complicated since those Enid Blyton days, and so Ten is not ‘just’ about a girl with a seemingly impossible dream, but about the social forces that swirl around said girl.

For starters, she’s of English and Indian parentage. And since race always matters here, this places her as a minority within a minority. (That’s where all the more interesting contemporary protagonists should come from, anyway.)

Life in school is not made out to seem too brutal; perhaps Shamini did not want to traumatise the intended readers. (Then again, my expectations could be skewed by the fact that, although I don’t read children’s books, I still enjoy women-in-prison movies and have seen dozens. Ah yes, that’s a fine genre that I should write about more someday. Now, where was I? Oh yes…)

Race matters, but Maya – or perhaps, more accurately, the author – is wise enough to see that class plays a bigger role. When a classmate turns up late for school, she notices it’s because the poor girl had to stay up late to help with the family business. These seemingly throwaway observations actually form the heart of the novel’s empathy.

Even though her parents bicker nightly and are seemingly headed for a breakup, football isn’t solely a distraction from family dysfunction. Maya really likes it, as evident from the many football-related similes that pop up in the oddest places. These similes provide much of the humour; another source would be Maya’s gift for noticing exactly how a person, most often an adult, is cringe-worthy.

If we wanted to be political (and since we’re here, why don’t we do just that?) we can say that football, when played well, actually represents a metaphor for how life can be: People are placed where they are because of skill. If the perceptive reader wants to figure out why Malaysia never qualifies for the World Cup, he or she could do worse than study the subtly drawn social divisions that are already at work in our primary school life, as shown in Ten.

There’s a nicely improbable scene near the end in a faraway land, but Maya ends squarely in the place she began. She’s a much better football player by now, of course. And although not everything turned out the way she wanted, you get the feeling she’ll enjoy the rest of the game, even with the occasional yellow card or injury. Ten will be in Malaysian bookstores in a few weeks’ time, so book your seats!

(Malay Mail, 26 November)

Call for Entries: Body 2 Body

Writings on Alternative Sexuality in Malaysia
Edited by Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik
Published by Matahari Books



1. Writings should depict queer or alternative sexuality in Malaysia, or of Malaysian queers' experience in the world.

2. Possible Genre: fiction, true life accounts, essays, memoir, excerpts from novel or play. We do not accept verse.

3. Queer includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite, transgendered, intersexed.

4. Possible topics: coming out, forced out, going back in, love found, love lost, love squandered, encounters with homophobia, trying to go straight, married life, being friends with a queer person, being seduced by a queer friend, self-loathing, religion, family, work, studies, activism, etc.

5. Writers can be Malaysian or non-Malaysians. Writers can be queer or straight.

6. All writing must be in English, or translated into English. The writers are responsible for getting their own translations done. Minimal use of other languages is acceptable with explanatory notes.

7. Writers should use their actual names. A pen name is allowed when the writer has been publicly associated with that name.

8. You're advised to submit no more than 3,000 words. However, the maximum is 4,000.

9. Deadline: Sat 28 Feb, 2009

10. The editors plan to select up to 20 pieces of writings.

11. Book will be launched at Seksualiti Merdeka 2009 at The Annexe Gallery in August 2009.

12. Please email entries to with the heading "Body2Body"

13. Writers who are selected will share 10% of the royalties from the sales. Conversely, they can choose to receive 4 books in lieu of royalties.



Pang Khee Teik is the Arts Programme Director for The Annexe Gallery, Central Market Annexe, Kuala Lumpur. He was formerly the editor of Pang has also been involved in theatre, independent films, writing and even a spot of experimental dancing.

Jerome Kugan is a writer and musician who has been living and working in Kuala Lumpur since 2000. Besides being the Media Manager at The Annexe Gallery, he is the creator of Poetika and one of the organisers for KL Sing Song.

In Aug 2008, Pang and Jerome organised Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia's first sexuality rights fest at The Annexe Gallery.


Matahari Books is a publishing company, set up by the writer and occasional movie-maker Amir Muhammad, that specialises in non-fiction books about Malaysia. Its first book in 2007 was Volume 1 of Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things, which was an immediate best-seller. It published five books in 2008, including a tie-in screenplay book for the hit film Kami. All its books are sold in major Malaysian bookstores as well as

* If you have comments on this, do post them on the Matahari Books Facebook group :-)

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Debuts at #2 !

MPH Local Non-Fiction Bestsellers for the week ending November 23:

1. Mahathir Mohamad: An Illustrated Biography by E. Yu
2. The Malaysian Book of The Undead by Danny Lim
3. Blog Merentasi Halangan (Dwi Bahasa) by Mahathir Mohamad
4. The Malay Dilemma by Mahathir Mohamad
5. Things In Common by Syed Akbar Ali
6. Nation Before Self and Values that Do Not Die by Yuen Yuet Leng
7. Ahmad Sarji : Attaining Eminence by Lim Chang Moh
8. March 8 the Day Malaysia Woke Up by Kee Thuan Chye
9. Resipi Bonda: Koleksi Masakan Tradisional Melayu by Hajjah Teh Mohd Hassan
10. Secrets Of Millionaire Students by Stuart Tan

Monday 24 November 2008

Friday 21 November 2008

I never knew I was an "outstanding Chinese figure"

... until I read JakPos (yes, that IS what we used to call it, back when I was a proud resident of Kemang Jaya).

Ceylonese, yes lah.

Jemputan ke pelancaran buku

Bapak-bapak, ibu-ibu, jambu-jambu dan awek-awek hadhari dijemput ke acara yang santai lagi gerek: Pelancaran buku KITAB PENGETAHUAN HANTU MALAYSIA.

Buku sususan Danny Lim THE MALAYSIAN BOOK OF THE UNDEAD ini telah diterjemahkan secara sahih oleh Ahmad Kamal Abu Bakar.

Ketahuilah asal-usul, sifat serta tumit-tumit Achilles puluhan hantu dan roh yang menjadi khazanah budaya masyarakat sipilis (sekular, pluralis dan liberalis) kita.

Tempat: Bau Bau Cafe, The Annexe, Central Market.
Tarikh: 5 Disember (Jumaat)
Masa: 8:30pm hingga LRT senyap.

Terdapat hiburan oleh beberapa kumpulan gitar rancak yang akan diumumkan kelak. Juga pembacaan mengejut oleh:
Ahmad Kamal Abu Bakar
Amir Muhammad
Danny Lim
Fahmi Fadzil
Shahril Nizam
Sharon Bakar
Ted Mahsun
dan beberapa lagi artis yang tak sempat masuk Bi-pop hari minggu lepas.

Buku akan berada di toko-toko hanya 2 minggu setelah tarikh pelancaran, jadi dapatkanlah di sini agar anda tidak frust menonggeng.

Harga buku: RM20. Tebal: 115 mukasurat.

Bisa konfirm di Facebook.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Music video for HISTERIA

The film opens in Malaysia 18 December. My most anticipated local flick for the rest o' the year.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Lock, stock and two Ministers

DEVIL’S PLACE by Brian Gomez (Idle Minds, 2008, 349 pages)

This debut novel made me nostalgic for the time I was young and saw Pulp Fiction on its opening day. The day after that, I went back and saw it again -- twice.

Why did that film excite? It did not contain anything new, but it had the snap and crackle of pure pop. By shoving the ingredients of the crime caper into a post-modern blender, Tarantino invigorated the form. There came the expected rash of imitations, of course, but most of them faded away as quickly as a too-clever smirk.

Devil’s Place (you have to wait until the last line to appreciate the title) is a more linear tale but gives a similar kind of sugar rush. The back-cover synopsis runs for seven paragraphs and will introduce you to all the main characters: a struggling musician on the verge of an unwise marriage, a Thai hooker who bit off more than she could chew, a pimp named Fellatio Lim, a tabloid hack, a JI terrorist, a CIA agent, a corrupt cop, a local version of Mel Gibson’s Conspiracy Theory taxi-driver, guns galore, and a bag stuffed with US$18 million. Save for a brief epilogue section, most of it takes place in much less than a week.

And what a high-octane sequence of days it is. There are murders, jail breaks, shootouts in bars, and even (steel yourself) incompetent renditions of I Will Survive and Smoke on the Water.

Many of the fight or chase scenes have very short paragraphs that breathlessly switch perspectives. It’s like you’re watching a rapidly edited film.

As if the name Fellatio Lim isn’t a giveaway, it’s also a comedy. Some of the humour in the beginning seems a bit forced, but when the body count escalates, the levity and the danger achieve a fine balance. At times, I am reminded of Elmore Leonard.

Devil’s Place soars because of the author’s superb sense of pace, and also a certain sweetness that keeps away any humourless macho swagger. It’s not like the more self-serious door-stopping thrillers that are invariably called The Something Something and made into summer blockbusters with frowning male leads.

I have been reading Brian Gomez’s very funny Internet postings for years without knowing who he was. So it’s nice to know than even though he was not a full-time writer, he’s gone ahead and published a novel. Contrast that to the many journalists who are content to merely put out regurgitated opinion columns, and expect us to pay for the damn things!

I shall not give away too much of the plot, but suffice to say that two fictitious Cabinet Ministers (one seen, the other only referred to) are part of the proceedings. And one of them is a really bad guy.

This novel is plainly written by someone who has lived here and observed much; he has been outraged by many things but knows how to laugh. It’s the little touches of comic authenticity that give a thrill: our TV reporters’ way of emphasising the oddest words, the racial composition of Irish bars and (my favourite) the cranky Chinese women who answer the phone when you’re calling for a cab.

There is a healthy, frisky irreverence, but it has an undertow of real smarts. There’s much more profanity than a local novel would normally dare, and certain of our most battered institutions, like the police and the executive, take a further battering. (Not that the CIA or the Arabs would be so thrilled, either.) It’s about time our books stopped being as tame and self-censoring as our movies.

Like last week’s book, Shamini Flint’s Criminal Minds, this is a pacy genre novel that has a lot to say about the society we have become. Who would have thought that our hypocrisy, corruption and enforced social divisions could create such entertaining backdrops? Devil’s Place is the more funny-ha-ha, but it also has the more sobering denouement – no mean feat, this.

Reading these two novels so close together, one of the conclusions I can draw is this: If you want to escape the peninsular without a valid passport, the Thai border is a safer bet than the Singaporean one. You probably knew that already, but you’ll never be told so in such a fun way.

Devil’s Place will be in bookstores at the end of this month. Brian Gomez blogs at The Floating Turd.

(Malay Mail, 19 November)

Thursday 13 November 2008

Now on

I am right chuffed to announce that all the titles by Matahari Books can now be purchased on

If you live outside Malaysia, be the first to order:

Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol 1)

Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things (Vol 2)

New Malaysian Essays 1

The Malaysian Book of the Undead

Kitab Pengetahuan Hantu Malaysia

Buku Untuk Filem: KAMI

(If you live in Malaysia, erm, it's much cheaper to just go to a bookshop).

The books are listed for the first time today, hence the "Temporarily Out of Stock" message. Rest assured that once the first orders are made, the more accurate shipping-time-notice thingy will be up.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Murder, she wrote

Criminal Minds by Shamini Flint (Heliconia Press, 2008, 246 pages)

I seem to have gone off Serious Literature. One of the last literary novels I read was set in Malaya but had people crowding around a TV set to watch the live proclamation of Merdeka. Something didn’t seem right: sure enough, our country didn’t even have TV in 1957! And that book was published by an international firm that could afford fact-checkers.

So call me a philistine, but I’ve been finding it difficult to finish any novel that does not happen to be a juicy murder mystery. Unlike other types of novels, there’s always a reason to turn the page: to find out whodunit, of course.

This brings us to Criminal Minds. I was aware of it for some time but had resisted because I didn’t like the title and cover. (There: My shallowness is now complete). I particularly didn’t like the label “Asian Crime Fiction.” This was a novel set in Malaysia and written by a Malaysian-born, Singaporean author. Was the word Asian (written in the same type that you’d find, in neon, for a Chinese restaurant) a transparently desperate attempt to downplay these relatively unglamorous countries?

True, my curiosity was piqued when I found out that Shamini Flint had since sold the rights to her crime novels to the UK publisher Little, Brown. Truly a case of Malaysia, or Singapore, boleh! But then I remembered that Merdeka TV set, and I decided that I didn’t have enough confidence in UK publishers to give this book a go.

This changed when I saw the author introduce herself at a reading session at No Black Tie. Most writers simply cannot read their books in public; they have this mumbling, aw-shucks personas that make you want to end their miseries by whacking them with their deservedly unpopular tomes, But her brilliant, hilarious, topical introduction made me aware that I was in the presence of a major talent. (I have uploaded the moment on Youtube, so you can check for yourself).

So I bought Criminal Minds, and finished it in 48 hours. I scooted out to a bookstore and bought her earlier book, Partners in Crime, and finished that in 24.

Partners in Crime (another lame title) takes place in Singapore. But Criminal Minds takes the same investigator, Inspector Singh, to Kuala Lumpur. He is the only character that the two books have in common, although he is far from a conventional sleuth.

Inspector Singh is fat, coarse, sweaty and drinks on the job. In Criminal Minds, he is assisted by Sergeant Shukor, who is younger and hunkier. I picture this double-act to be like Wexford and Burden in Ruth Rendell’s mysteries.

The novel does many things very well. As a mystery, it succeeded in keeping my eyes (to use that particularly disagreeable cliché) glued to the page. I never suspected the eventual murderer, so adept is Flint at tossing red herrings. And here’s the catch: when you do find out the killer, it’s not through Inspector Singh’s doing. The same was true of the earlier novel, too.

Inspector Singh is an anti-detective, or maybe even an existential detective. He keeps things moving but is not the moral, emotional or even narrative centre. The complacent notion of the detective as omniscient deity has been splendidly debunked.

Since the Inspector is Malaysian-born but working in Singapore, he becomes our conduit for many tartly humorous observations about the commonalities and differences between us. I won’t spoil them for you, as Flint is a much better guide.

Criminal Minds isn’t ‘just’ about the murder of the amoral millionaire Alan Lee. (Was it his beautiful, long-suffering wife? His bitter son? One of his two brothers? Stay tuned!)

The fact that the deceased was a timber tycoon opens up opportunities to speak of our ‘close one eye’ culture, as well as the continuing plight of our indigenous people. (One of the characters is a Bruno Manser-type). And that’s not all: Alan’s sudden conversion to Islam, in the midst of a custody battle, also brings the hot-button topic of religious bullying into the mix.

The UK publisher, bless them, has re-titled this book Inspector Singh Investigates – A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, and it will be re-released next year. I look forward to reading it again, with the inevitably nicer cover.

(Malay Mail, 12 November)

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Flea market time!

We will be spending this Sunday at the Amcorp Mall flea-market, peddling our books :-)

'We' means Danny Lim (The Malaysian Book of The Undead), Ruhayat X (Kayangan), Sufian Abas (Pasca Manusia) and perhaps a few others. The last four autographed copies of Buku Untuk Filem: KAMI will also be there.

So do join us! 10am-5pm. It is very close to the Taman Jaya LRT. This link explains a bit more about the mall (and "the best flea market in Malaysia") -- although I am not sure that Amcorp Mall actually exudes much "exotic, decadent elegance"; methinks the copywriter must have been smoking something, erm, exotic at the time.

I must thank Lennard Gui for suggesting the idea to me sometime last year, when we were pushing the first book. I have, since then, taken part several times and met some interesting folks along the way, including loquacious priests, long-lost classmates and Special Branch officers on their day off.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Danny on The Fairly Current Show

A write-up also appears in KLue, and I am glad that the book has proven its worth as a social ice-breaker (and maybe future pick-up line).

The bad news is that there has been a slight delay in getting the book to the shops. The distributor has been "upgraded the invoicing mechanism" or somesuch, but I am assured that most Klang Valley stores will get the title on Monday, and the rest of the country by next weekend. But if you are gagging to get it now, you can head on to Silverfish in person, or online at Kinibooks.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Hail the conquering hero

Winning strategies of Anwar Ibrahim by Mutharasan (Focus Media, 2008, 231 pages)

As far as books go, Malaysians love politics and we also love being motivated. Winning Strategies of Anwar Ibrahim puts both ingredients in a pan and stirs gently. The author proudly displays not only his legal but business academic qualifications on the front cover, so we should all feel reassured.

You have read much about what Lim Kit Siang termed the ‘political tsunami’ by now. What this book offers is a very clear hero. Mutharasan attributes the elections results almost exclusively to one man, since Anwar Ibrahim is credited for not only using his strengths but equally shrewdly capitalisng on the weaknesses of his opponents.

Although written and published rather quickly, this is a cut above a sponsored hatchet-job or hagiography. It is not a nudge-wink conspiracy theory, either. In fact, he is so careful about libel that although Altantuya is mentioned, no politician is named as being smeared by her murder. He keeps it civil.

Although he has never met the book’s protagonist and did not conduct any interviews with him, Mutharasan has attended many of his ceramah. Which accounts for the many, many references to Anwar’s dazzling oratorical skills, charisma and, to quote a possible redundancy, “well-known popularity.”

We can readily agree that the very dates of the Elections were most likely set by the government to occur just before Anwar was eligible to stand as candidate. So from the start, the ruling establishment was acting on the defensive. But it seems that in other areas, the author seems to give this charming man a bit too much credit. For starters: a ‘Visiting Professor’ does not actually teach.

Another example: PKR’s decision to field Nurul Izzah as a candidate is hailed as a brilliant strategy to make people see that there is a new generation who will take over the helm. And yet, dynasties in the BN are proof of nepotism. And even after that, when Wan Azizah vacated her seat, this became yet another marvelous tactic to ensure the family does not seem too greedy by hogging three, instead of two, seats.

What is heart-warming, however, is the way in which the Opposition this time worked together much more effectively than in the past. The decision to not come together under a clearly-defined name (unlike in 1999) helped stave off some predictable suspicions that would arise from a Pas-DAP alliance.

The multi-racial character of PKR is also to be credited for firing up the imagination of the young, in ways that the old parties no longer do. (Although this was the first time I came across Goh Cheng Teik’s line: “For a multi-racial party to truly succeed in Malaysia, it must be headed by a Malay!”)

How much of this new-found wisdom can be attributed to Anwar personally? Mutharasan says that Anwar’s 16 years in Barisan Nasional taught him everything he needed to know about how the BN eliminates its foes. And so Anwar is uniquely placed to use this insider info against his former party.

What Mutharasan gets right is that Anwar is probably the first opposition leader we’ve ever had who is serious about taking over the government. This does not mean that a ‘PM in waiting’ should be given a blank cheque, just as an actual PM should not.

This book seems to have been written just before 16 September proved to be a non-event. But the post-election noises about crossovers alarmed even some people who are oppositionists. Such gimmicks surely eroded some of the goodwill that the election results generated. (Mutharasaan never considers that the results were a surprise to the pembangkang).

Above all, aside from his great networking skills (which he started to cultivate as a student), Anwar seems to embody that well-worn motto: If life gives you limau, then make teh O limau ais – as soon as you get hold of the tea and ice, that is.

In this high-stakes game of chess, he has so far emerged victorious. He has anticipated and responded to the opponent’s moves with gusto. But after all this hard work, perhaps it’s time he settled down to being a good Opposition leader for the next few years, and to make sure election pledges are fulfilled. (Local council elections and transparent tenders, anyone?) Heaven and Putrajaya can wait.

(Malay Mail, 5 November)

Up to #3

MPH Local Non-Fiction Bestsellers for the Week Ending 26 October

1. Mahathir Mohamad: An Illustrated Biography
by E. Yu

2. Blog Merentasi Halangan (bilungual)
by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

3. Buku Untuk Filem: KAMI
by Fariza Azlina Isahak

4. March 8 The Day Malaysia Woke Up
by Kee Thuan Chye

5. Resipi Bonda
by Hajjah Teh Mohd Hassan

6. The Kampung Boy
by Lat

7. The Millionaire Formula
By Jeffrey Chiew & Tan Thiam Hock

8. Sendiri Mau Ingat
by Dr HM Tuah Iskandar

9. Tipping Points
by Oon Yeoh

10. Rahsia Buat Duit Dengan Internet
by Wan Mohd.Syazwan Wan Sukri

Monday 3 November 2008

Danny reads from the book!

This happened on Sunday night at a venue called No Black Tie.

The event, called Readings, has been organised by Bernice Chauly for the past 7 years!

You can also hear my voice somewhere...

By the way, a review of the book is already available at Gundu.