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Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A Question of Identity

Malaysian novelist, Tash Aw whose debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory (Fourth Estate, HarpersCollins, UK) was longlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and which also won the 2005 Whitbread Book Award for First Novel as well as another Commonwealth one, said that he felt he was living on the edge of society as a writer of the present Malaysian generation.

Aw who lives in London, questioned at the Singapore Writers' Festival, if it wasn't the same for other 30-somethings in multi-cultural Malaysia. He added that it was harder to get a real sense of identity in today's world where cultural boundaries had long dissolved its locked gates for a newer sophisticated modernity. "I'm sure many feel the same as me that we really aren't quite sure of who are, isn't that so...don't you feel it?" he asked the audience.

This as opposed to older matured writers in Malaysia whom Aw felt would own a sturdier sense of identity, having witnessed even a slice of Colonial history, for what it was. "It's harder when you're younger, he reflects.

The next day, another 30-something, the Malaysian-born historian and writer Dr. Hsu Ming Teo, a PhD holder from the University of Sydney and famed for her two novels, her debut one; the award-winning Love and Vertigo and Behind the Moon - both published in Australia in recent years - would echo similiar sentiments. "A part of me is still Malaysian, another part of me, Australian in my present lifestyle...who am I really?"
Hsu, who was born in Malaysia in 1970, emigrated with her parents to Sydney, Australia in 1977.

"At first in the writing of earlier stories, I felt I was highly mimicking the British and American literature that I loved to death. "
It didn't help that someone commented to Tsu, the stories weren't really her voice at all as it didn't have anything of her culture in it. Tsu suffered a mental block and for a long while couldn't write anything at all.
Later, she would start to experiment with an Asian world, drawing on traditions, habits, accentuated dialogue and the like.
Naturally, this worked in her favour when you think that Love and Vertigo went on to win the Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1977. It talks of mothers and daughters in Singapore. Behind the Moon tempts a reader's thoughts on emigrant identity and the difficult striking up of an Asian gay identity in a white Australia. It also disscuses the idelogies and interesting ambitions that surround such a character's desire.
Today Hsu Ming-Teo whose works of fiction are labelled as Asian-Australian by the Aussies, believes that a writer of any nationality should be able to write on any subject at all in the world, notwithstanding Asian or otherwise.
Malaysian novelist, Tash Aw based in London is currently writing another novel set in Jakarta and Malaysia in the year 1964.
Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng, famed for The Gift of Rain and longlisted for this year's Man Booker, is based in South Africa and is currently writing another
Malaysian war story, recapping the cool tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, in Pahang Malaysia as a fictitious geographical setting.
Malaysian novelist Hsu Ming-Teo based in Sydney, is currently working on two scholarly historical papers and slowly attempting her third book.

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