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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Chiew-Siah Tei in the Times Literary Supplement

by Suzan Abrams

Alasdair Gray reviews Malaysian author, Chiew-Siah Tei's Little Hut of Leaping Fishes with an in-depth studiedness of the Chinese ruling dynasty and mention of other global conquests, in the July 4 issue of the Times Literary Supplement.

The review which tips over a full page, runs midway though the literary mag and boasts an intriguing grainy picture featuring the subject of introspection from the 14th century painting by Wang Zanpeng titled Vimalakiri and the Doctrine of Nondualit and which is currently being shown for viewing at the Metropolian Museum of Art, New York until the first week of August.

Tei is based in Glasgow and her book was launched at the city's Waterstone's branch, a store reputed for introducing first-time novelists.

Gray's superb review of Tei's fictitious Plum Blossom Village which also proves a long essay of sorts in tone and structure, is compared directly to Chinese history and empires long gone.

There is no mention made of Malaysia. Not that this is a worrying trend. A place of birth whether having subtly shaped an author's profile or otherwise, loudly proclaimed with gregarious chest-beating, can never be disputed or changed

However there is no doubt that this exclusion will disappoint certain Malaysian bloggers or non-Malaysian bloggers with Malaysian interests, who are often bent on capturing, heralding and celebrating with gusto; the majority - not all - of Malaysian authors published in the West complete with literary agent and any prize nomination that may come along, no matter how insignificant. Only a few years ago, these bloggers would have professed to a complete lack of understanding for and a snub duly attributed to the role of literary agents. These evident from the many blog posts that surfaced with a clamour for priority given to local publishing over the West. The faithless would soon jump camp when international acclaim beckoned the successful Malaysian novelist in the West. One, two and then a handful. Now, the clamour for local publishing seems to have wrung itself into a mere whisper as the party gets louder for a novel circling the globe.

Prizes appear to count for everything. The writer's accolades are quickly claimed as patriotic even as a national identity cannot possibly soften with the inclusion of universal fundamentals.

In this respect alone I am terribly relieved that Chiew-Siah Tei was able to think outside the box and create a wide international scope for her subject rather than settling for the usual market demand of local historical fiction with emphasis on exaggerated descriptions for the ordinary.

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