Book Reading

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As part of our commitment to showcasing and nurturing the best of Penang and Malaysian talent, we started a series of book readings and ‘meet the author’ sessions, in July 2007. This is designed not just to make literature more accessible to a Penang audience, but also to give an opportunity for younger writers to have a platform to showcase their work.

We have been privileged enough to have had the following:

27th April 2008: Lim Kean Chye

Telling his own stories, this session presented Penangites with the unique opportunity of meeting and listening to one of Penang’s living legends. Kean Chye is well into his 80s, but remains as fresh and sharp as ever. Kean Chye was a distinguished lawyer, particularly astute on matters of constitutional law, and was also heavily involved in the anti-colonial struggles of the ’40s and ’50s. He featured strongly in the recent award-winning documentary “Sepuluh Tahun sebelum Merdeka” and has remained outspoken and forthright in his views. He told two of his stories: one written for children, and one for a general audience. 

30th March 2008: Amir Muhamad and Chuah Guat Eng

Coming all the way from KL, it was fantastic to welcome Amir and Guat Eng and assorted friends. As well as taking a bookstall in the Market, Amir and Guat Eng led a reading from their recent work. Again, this gave Penangites a chance to meet two of Malaysia’s most famous younger writers and to exchange views on writing, society and the challenges facing critical voices in literature and elsewhere.

24th February 2008: AWAM

As part of the Celebrating Women theme, we welcomed members of AWAM (All Women’s Action Society Malaysia) from KL, who led a reading and discussion from the recent publication, Young Women Speak Out. This important book proclaims the voices of some of Malaysia’s younger feminists, with their ideas, insights and wisdom as to what makes up our (patriarchal) society of today. Required reading for all of us.

27 January 2008:  Choong Kwee Kim

Ah Fu The Rickshaw Coolie tells the rags-to-riches tale of a poor rickshaw puller by the name of Ah Fu, who sails from China to Malaya to seek his fortune in late 19th-century colonial Penang. Narrated by a girl named Siti the Storyteller, the story, in rhyming couplets, tells of how Ah Fu finds not just fame and fortune in the new country, but is also hailed as “King of the Road.”

Choong Kwee Kim is a journalist with the sub-editing desk of The Star in Penang. Prior to joining the company in 1995, she was a teacher at the Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School where she taught English and Art. Ah Fu The Rickshaw Coolie, published in August last year by MPH Publishing, is her first children’s picture book which she wrote and illustrated.


30 September 2007: The Malayan Trilogy: a reading and discussion presented by Cape Poetics

“No English novelist has created Asian characters that are more convincing… Burgess presents all these people with an impartial generosity; and the steamy, noisy, confused world they live in is conveyed with knowledge and skill.” – New Statesman

The Malayan Trilogy, the famous classic series of three novels by acclaimed writer Anthony Burgess has been as much celebrated and venerated over the past 50 years as it has been slated and criticised. Written and set mostly during the post-war era of the Malayan period, just before Independence from the British, the novels describe with spectacular detail, humour and drama, the lives of the Malayan people and their British colonisers during that historic period.

Why has this series been described as the most masterly literary work to have emerged from the pen of a British writer on the Malayans of that age? Why has it been equally regarded as a highly controversial work by critics over the last few decades?

These and other questions were answered at our July book-reading session, with selected excerpts, exposition and discussion of the themes, context and relevance of the work. We were lucky enough to have the wisdom of Prof. Dr. Ghulam-Sarwar Yussof, and the readings were by Gan Teik Chee and Himanshu Bhatt (photo left).


26th August: Cecil Rajendra

Poet, lawyer and activist, Cecil led a reading of his poetry to an entranced audience. Having just come back from a major human rights meeting in Ireland, to which he delivered a keynote poem, Cecil noted the slightly different atmosphere and reception to his poems in Malaysia. readings were taken from his older books (Refugees, Songs for the Unsung, by Trial and Terror, as well as the newer Tankas from a Tsunami.

29 July 2007: Beth Yahp

The first Book Reading session featured Beth Yahp – writer and librettist. Beth Yahp’s short fiction, essays and articles have appeared in a range of anthologies, magazines and newspapers in Australia, South-east Asia and Europe, and she has edited or co-edited several collections of stories and essays. Her novel The Crocodile Fury, was published in 1992. In 1993, she won a fellowship for her novel. It has since been translated and published in several European languages. Her reading was held at Beach Blanket Babylon (one of the outlets in Upper Penang Road), and many thanks to them for hosting us.