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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Saturday, 3 March 2007

I just remembered...

When I'm asked to remember favourite reads, what immediately springs to mind are Winifred Holby's Land of Green Ginger, Iris Murdoch's The Black Prince & The Philosopher's Pupil Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Rosamund Pilcher's The Shell Seekers and its sequel, September and this too would be followed by a host of other compelling names like Doris Lessing, Edna O'Brien, Pearl S. Buck, Penelope Mortimer, Margaret Drabble, Malcolm Bradbury, Bryan Forbes, Kingsley Amis, his son, Martin Amis, Dickens, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Erle Stanley Gardner etc.

These are some of the few novelists who more or less shaped my use of the English Language and also prompted my artistic liberations...some with candour and others with a distinctly mellowed subtlety. My spirit swears never to forget them.

Today, I suddenly remembered with a start, Han SuYin.

I recalled her outstanding influence over me with just one of her many works of fiction, autobiographies and biographies that were moulded from international cultural aptitudes.

The Eurasion contemporary novelist, who wrote in English, French and Chinese, was born Rosalie Elisabeth Kuanghu Zhou, in China to a Hakka father and a Flemish Belgian mother, lived a colourful bohemian life in many different countries, travelling even as her whims would take her.

She married three times and had affairs. She lived for 10 years in my country Malaysia, at the time it was called Malaya. Her second husband Leon Comber, a British, worked as an officer with the Special Branch. Han SuYin, who started working life as a typist but later graduated in medicine from Brussels, opened clinics here and in Singapore.

Later, she would marry again and reside in Bangalore, India. After her third divorce, she finally relocated to Lausanne in Switzerland.

SuYin first achieved international literary success when she published a story of forbidden love called A Many Splendoured Thing with Jonathan Cape in London in 1952.

The poweful tale made her a household name and was later turned into a Hollywood film starring William Holden and Jennifer Jones (pictured above). The production which won two Academy Awards, was considered second-rate to the novel, and angered friends, family and relatives.

I remembered SuYin for her short story, Winter Love. I read it when I was 18. It spoke of lesbian love between two girls who were medical students in London during the war years. The tale caught me spellbound. It was utterly bewitching...a time when I enjoyed books for their magic and happily failed to see flaws.

It was the painful absence of one lover when she returned without a word to her husband and the terrible way, the shocked abandoned loverl mourned for her. As a reader, I was caught in the net. The story on loss, haunted me for months afterwards.

Today, when I read of SuYin's life, I wonder that she didn't steal snatches of her own emotions for her prose. With her affairs, broken marriages and diminishing friendships as she travelled, she must have faced more then the average person's fair share of heartbreaks and restless movements.

I wonder that her experiences didn't influence her writing to shape it in that distinctive magical way.

I wonder too that SuYin didn't influence me subconsciously that I would in later years, embrace my own liberal assumptions of humanity. This would include the acceptance of an individual no matter what his or her lifestyle and the hesitation on judgement of human character.

Today, I remembered Winter Love at the thought of my own loss for a friend that went away.
And how even from nothing more than a close camaraderie, I could have been that same unfortunate girl who was left behind.

And then as if I had never forgotten all these years, I remembered Han SuYin, once more with fondness, comfort and that bewitching allure of absence in my honeyed thoughts of loss.

In a way, that I may have read Winter Love all over again, just yesterday.


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