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Saturday 15 December 2007

Growing up in Trengganu (GuiT) by Awang Goneng

Highly recommended for a winter read!
by Suzan Abrams in London
Growing up in Trengganu by Awang Goneng is surely the artistic venture for Malay recipe suggestions with a difference when you think that the content may discreetly whet the literary appetite to a higher measure of demand for a longer read, and this of course; bustled into a quiet interlude.

One must surely honour the blissful past carefully wound into the stories of a kampong era in Trengganu on Peninsular Malaysia's east coast...a state otherwise famous for its beaches, turtles, old puppetry and kite-flying fancies, colourful markets and the romantic intimacy attributed to an exclusive Malay culture.
No doubt, each short tale may fuel introspection and reflective observations, long after the last page is turned.

In this book, a concoction of blog posts lovingly cooks up the persuasive yarns that shapes old-fashioned storytelling with delicious spoonfuls of tastes and flavours laid out decoratively, for the mind and heart. All of which create an exotic mystery that serves up intrigue for a young boy in his childhood years.

It doesn't matter if Goneng silently chuckles at the delightful way in which a creamy Ovaltine beverage was served, armed with a classic condensed milk or perhaps, crackers, coconuts and scrumptious rice dishes to match the hungry stomach. It doesn't matter if fish odour filled the air when walking back from school, the author as a little boy, was met with the pungent smell of dried shrimps mixed with sea-salt and it also doesn't matter if dried tamarind paste soaked in cold water was dutifully pasted on an unsuspecting invalid's forehead to remove a fever. Never mind, that the patient may have jumped in fright.

The carefully-published paperback is guaranteed to earn the Malaysian raconteur more than his fair share of a campfire audience.

Think instead the mesmerised mellowed crowd while the tales are recited, some sitting, some lingering about with hands in pockets and many others, slouched over for a closer listen. And as in every kampung, one must surely hear the whistling of insects from ancient trees nearby.

Mirrored after a hearty bout of nostalgia that delves into a blissful kampung past. Awang Goneng (please click on blog above) is the pen-name of illustrious and popular Malaysian journalist Wan A. Hulaimi, who having resided in London for more than 2 decades, recalls tales of his Trengganu childhood with a forlorn longing and yet too, a serene acceptance of things, people and places long gone.
The author rustles up several carefully-researched subjects dwelling into history and juxtaposed with current social situations.
Goneng recalls the unsung occupations of provision shop owners, coffee-shop waiters, hawkers, tailors, herbalists, breadmen, news vendors, magazine stall owners and several other forgotten asian personalities who touched his family's life comprising various uncles, aunts and cousins, with their quiet skills and tenacious industry.
Through a vivid narration of personal episodes, he also discusses accents, dialects, ghosts, sultanates, the cultural arts, folklore and informal titles referred to different heads of the family.
In between the tales, the reader will come across fascinating b/w photographs that include rows of men with songkoks on their heads, Goneng's father displaying his overly-wide trousers that was all the trend, elaborate cultural weddings, lost scenic landscapes and that of the author himself as a tiny lad.
Painstakingly complete in its exquisite detailing plus the employment of a well-humoured style, if not too, the odd dramatic moment, the regular posts were interesting enough in its literary discourse to summon the attention of british publisher Philip Tatham of Monsoon Books Singapore.
This promptly resulted in the book's launch at the recent Singapore Writer's Festival.
The elaborate work of non-fiction never wavers in its mellowed tone and in its subtle remembrances, perhaps the strongest emotions are that of poignancy and a compelling tenderness.
Goneng commands a masculine style that is restful to the spirit even on a weary day and this trait reminiscent surely of the patient writer. One imagines that he took his time writing each word and line, without worrying about the hour of its completion. He has a kind voice and his methodical arrangement of structure and form for the sequence of the stories in neat category divisions are thoughtful, clever and sophisticated.
The memoir stands out as a former blog when Goneng pays tribute to his faithful commentators and talks about his personal feelings, writing for them as a blogger. He also peppers his stories with their generous and eager anecdotes. It is also easy to see that a passionate love for his homeland would have been the initial discipline that spurred the author on.
Here is the writer who writes for the reader and a coffee table book which lends itself lavishly to the imagination. It is so light, you can lug it about on a crowded train. You may after all, be in the mood to read about how the author's friend once spotted bits of a Malay castle in a car-boot sale! Oh go on... :-)

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