Archive for January, 2010

A Dublin Encounter

by Susan Abraham

At Waterstone’s on Dawson Street, I performed the cardinal sin of being seduced by a sign that said Discover the Old in Winter. Faced with the classics & b/w illustrations, I spied Dickens & a host of fairy tales wear immortality in the spirit of their plots & characters. Where once they mirrored a girlish delight, my evergreen tales now readied themselves for the long low summer of my life, willing nostalgia to hurry before the last sunset. As they wished for me only a flicker of remembrance, I saw it was I who had grown old, the gold seeped off my frail, stale skin and not at all, my beloved fairy tales.

Credit: Clip art coutesy of Download-Free-Pictures
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Behind that Shiny Resume by Jasmine Yow

by Susan Abraham

A melancholic & subdued mood snatched from a blistering jet-lag after Africa and this, compounded with a half-empty planeload, saw me start and finish Jasmine Yow’s compelling raw memoir titled Behind that Shiny Resume on a recent night-flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi.  A small book published just this month by Armour Publishing, in Singapore; the diary jottings would detail the  travailing of academic brilliance gone sour in the face of a painful rebellion matched against a dreaded educational system, both in Malaysia & Singapore.

Yow, a Malaysian high-achiever resented her academic brilliance from a complicated and lingering clinical teen depression that stubbornly stayed the course. She would learn to celebrate life again… her Christian testimony eventually evident and coined from the onset of heavenly love & healing; of which this present student of journalism professes with great expectation towards the end of her story.   Meanwhile,  a reader  would collect the impression that the miraculous breakthrough in question was still habitually working over time, to soothe a series of hard emotional knocks.

Yow’s  tender story derives its beauty from a brutal honesty told through caustic speech & steely perceptions.   Her efforts are almost methodized in her many dislikes and resentments of the ordinary as much as she stays idealistic for what one may only assume to be an elusive eternal beauty. Her thoughts and  little essays are painstakingly structured and  well-regulated in a way that stays obvious of  many feature journalists in the presentation of tidy articles.  She also seems doubly sure in the way of cynicism although she would later reproach her own initial thoughts with virginal meditations of love and joy.

However, the book is heavy with emotion & be warned that this  sometimes starched content may easily draw on a slight listlessness for the reader not as familiar with the subject of depression or of Yow’s fearless, candid lessons  measured from hindsight.  Still,  in the light of a willing party, there is much wisdom to be learnt and philosophy built from society’s cultural values and traditions may take a sound beating.  There is no doubt that Jasmine Yow’s story although narrated starkly and early in  youth, is one that signals a necessary, industrious hope for a highly-promising writer whose resonant voice stays becoming against an urgent timeline measured with the studied if not threaded silkiness common of a spider’s lovely web.

The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

by Susan Abraham

Malaysia’s first internationally-acclaimed novelist, Rani Manicka who authored the highly-successful The Rice Mother in London in September 2002, comes out with her third hardback (£17.99)/paperback (£12.99) in the UK on May 13, 2010, called The Japanese Lover and to be published by Hodder & Stoughton (ISBN: 1444700316).

The story will once more detail a romantic family history based on the lives of a Sri Lankan family in old war-torn Malaya, that matches closely with a loose theme bearing on her famous saga of the past.

The cover art is not yet available. The photograph above belongs to my personal records.

Further Reading: Vaani, the voice of Asian Women Writers.

The book cover design was slotted into this post on February 27, 2010.

A Dublin Encounter

by Susan Abraham

One Saturday afternoon, not too long ago, I visited a popular bookstall in Temple Bar here in Dublin.

I was instantly drawn to a fat ancient storybook and in my eyes, an early version of Alice in Wonderland. Propped up in a corner on the tiny shelf, it clearly pleaded attention.

The cheerful cover featured an animated discussion that appeared to be caught forever in mid-air. The moles with their showy shawls and shirts, the panicky White Rabbit, the shocked Mouse and a fashionable bird all stunned in their vibrant show of gaiety… Anticipating an eager desire for refreshments, a watering-can waited, all ears. Meanwhile, the back of the book displayed a splendid woodland scene.

These covers were nearly torn off the edge and ready to be dislodged from the spine at the next rough touch. Yet to me, the dangerous fragility was nothing that a roll of cellophane tape couldn’t work its magic on. The bookseller explained that the children’s book belonged to an elderly gentleman who had recently passed on. His family subsequently made the difficult decision to part with his childhood collection.

I opened carefully to the first blank page. Inside was pasted an elaborately patterned inscription with a line in tiny lettering that said Printed in Great Britain. It displayed a crimson typeface with the words Presented to. Someone had written very neatly in black ink – and this foiled only by a slight smudge – The Chilson Council School…. for Robb Wm. Smith for Proficiency in Geography from Mr. Wallace 1936.

This storybook had been handed to I could only assume, a delighted young boy.

How faithfully preserved it looked. The pages were naturally worn out with time but that was the book’s only crime. It wasn’t dog-eared in the least but instead signalled the impression that the past owner had perused his text very carefully and thoughtfully fingered the pages as he turned each one over. Not too, just for days and months but for years and years.

Inside were humorous b/w illustrations complete with the odd splash of colour. It looked like Robb had safeguarded his prized book for all his life. And then finally, it was time to let go.

I bought it, felt that I must and the joy was whole, almost as one would feel at the promise of a sacred redemption. I was thrilled and sad at the same time. That was how powerful; the hidden tale locked inside the pages of a visible one. Still, I turned the silent custodian and felt obliged to protect yet another Alice in Wonderland storybook almost as if a strangers legacy had been eagerly if not accidentally, befitted to me.

I considered this strange message of timelessness to be priceless. A friend in Toronto said, she would continue to preserve it on Robb’s behalf, if I ever had to let it go.

Today, I thought once more about the book’s owner and this with a diligent pensive air. I pulled the book off the shelf and ran my hands once again over the beloved pages as if it would bring the distant past closer for just a minute. What an excellent time of introspection. What a beautiful form of stillness!

I wondered if Robb’s excellence in Geography had later led him to a life of high adventure or perhaps a caring appreciation of foreign places and cultural treasures. Was he ever happy? Did he retain a notion for dreams and ideals in later life? The reality is that I will never know unless someday, the bookseller – and that too, if I see him again – willingly relates details of the family left behind.

Yet, how a ’seasoned’ elegant object haunts a reader with secrets. To me, this mattered not even as the book crossed the ocean to reach another library in a different time and place…. a different century and age. They say a pair of eyes masquerades windows to lodge in the heart of an unsuspecting soul but a book just like this one, may mirror a finer trick.