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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Short Run

by Suzan Abrams

This is a case of a prophet being recognised in her own country but not in retail outlets abroad. Idealism would demand the recognition of a genius for Preeta Samasaran's Evening is the Whole Day. But realism shrouded in its brutal truth, tells a different story in London. The title has simply vanished from the display sections in the city's many main bookstores on the Oxford Circus and Charing Cross Roads and can't be seen anywhere at all, although of course, it must be slotted somewhere in the far back...
Not even Hatchards in Piccadilly's famous for its generous rows of hardbacks and even more its devotion to multicultural titles, is showing a Samarasan. The title feels like it never was and when I watch the consumers ferrying their little baskets of books for purchases, there's no sign of the fat, chunky novel. The sad truth is that no buys because no one sees.
The shortest run I know for any Malaysian novel.
For Malaysian bloggers in the Far East who assume that a handful of Malaysian literature in English has made it big in the West, then they ought to fly to this side of the world to see how steely the competition really is and how easy on the other hand to be blinded by the misconceptions of a seemingly golden success. The worldwide web and commercial bookstores tell different stories. On the contrary, another Malaysian writer Rani Manicka's The Rice Mother had a delicious long run in displays roundabout the place, spanning a few good years.
The reason is clear. With the exception of brilliant South Asian writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, who easily command worldwide audiences, many multicultural titles first published in the USA, garner only a lukewarm effect among a UK reading audience. I mentioned this concern a few months ago and certainly on my trip to London this time round, have been proved right.