Monday, November 15, 2010

Tales out of the Kebaya Closet

Book Title: Kebaya Tales

Author: Lee Su Kim

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

Ratings: ****'

Tadaima!!! I'm back after being on hiatus for a while. School had been hectic, as always. Anyway, this time I'm using the free time I have to do a little review on a book by one of my favorite Malaysian author. The first time I heard about this book was from the author/my lecturer at university, Dr. Lee Su Kim herself. I was in the middle of looking for a short story to do an assignment on another subject and this book is exactly the type that I was looking for. So, I grabbed the opportunity to be the first (in my school, I guess) to buy the book and get my assignment done immediately. The first story that captured my eyes was "The Goddess and the Japanese Officer". Obviously anything that has the synonym equals to -Japan- will never be missed by me. So I thought this story would be the right one for my assignment until I flipped the pages and found another story; "The Courtesan from Gion". For someone who had dedicated her life to anything that is Japan-ish, I should know that Gion is a place in Kyoto, and I am right. I fell in love with the story instantly, really, no exaggeration there. Where in the world can you find a story that associate Malaya during the colonial time and espionage together? I don't think so (if there is, I've never heard of it). And using that particular short story, I proudly handed in my assignment and now waiting to see how was I graded on it.

My favorite short story in the book - The Courtesan from Gion

Moving on to the rest of the stories, there are a total of thirteen short stories in Kebaya Tales in which all of them are accentuated with the Baba Nyonya (Straits Chinese) or Peranakan essence. The stories are filled with family values, humor as well as angst in them. It sounds like a very interesting book, isn't it? I'm reviewing this book through the point of view of a fan as well as a reader. What I like most about this book is the creativity that it brought forth. Other than being filled by exciting short stories, the pages are also decorated with colorful pictures of the author's Peranakan heritage such as the kebaya, pantun Nyonya and pictures of the author's family members. Every cent of money I spent on this book was well worth it. Other than that, I love the fact that there are a lot of facts and events that I think the readers could relate with themselves. In the story "The Bachelor from Balik Pulau" for instance, tells about a matchmaking gone wrong between a spinster and a crooked bachelor. The story reminds me of my aunt, who is never married even until now. Well, she didn't have this kind of hilarious fate, but still, it makes you wonder if its ever going to happen to someone you know one day. Another one is "A Promise is a Promise", where the character who was pregnant gave birth to a dark skinned baby after she was surprised by a chettiar. Something like this was claimed to happened to a lot of people. My sister-in-law, during her pregnancy went to UK for a conference. When her son is born, people were surprised that he looked a lot like anak Mat Salleh when both of his parents are without a doubt Malay. So we concluded that my sister-in-law was 'terkenan' by the white people while she was in UK. There are a lot of other things that I could relate to, like "The Breadman's bicycle" story. Well, when I was young, there was no such thing as the breadman's bicycle, but there was the breadman's 'motorcycle' making rounds in my neighborhood in every late afternoon. It really brought back memories of my childhood days.

I am not one to talk when it comes to language used in writing because I am still learning and trying to be more proficient in English. Nevertheless, as a reader, I found this book really easy to read and understand. I think the story is pretty clear cut, no mind-boggling metaphors or riddles that I need to figure out to understand the plot.

A sneak peek into Kebaya Tales

Ok, so I'm done talking about the things I like about Kebaya Tales, now its time for a few things that I think could be improvised. First of all is the use of terms in other languages. I have no complaints with the use of terms from Malay, Chinese and Baba Nonya, but there are times when I don't understand what it means. I'm
really glad that some of it came with translation however, there are some words that didn't, for example 'Fatt sun keng...Chan hai ow huit lor'. Now, I could just easily ask my Chinese friends what does it means, but I think it would be much better if the book has a simple glossary at the back. I would also like to praise the effort done for the two stories with Japanese backgrounds. Although I am not an expert in Japanese culture and language, from what I know the facts in the stories are pretty accurate to me. However, there is a slight mistake in a few of the spellings. I know Japanese people are very nice when it comes to people who are trying to learn their language. Anything that sound Japanese enough to them are considered correct, but, I think it would be much better if the spellings are correct as well.

One of the things that is very special about this book is the effort of spreading the Baba Nyonya culture to the readers. As a reader, I see this as something very unique and different. Nonetheless, I think a little bit more of different culture should be mixed into the stories. I could see there are a few non-Peranakan characters in the book but most of them play minor parts . From my point of view, if there is a little bit more mixture of other ethnics in the stories, the readers who come from different ethnic groups could relate themselves more to the events in this book. I'm not promoting the 1Malaysia concept for sure, but from my own reading experience, this book would capture me a lot more if there is a much better balance among the ethnics mentioned.

Autographed by the author herself, Dr. Lee Su Kim to me and my sister ^_^

All in all, I think this book is a good read. I have to admit, books of Malaysian writers are rarely my type, but this one is the first in my collection and the best so far. If you are bored of the old collection of short stories ever published, try something more refreshing like Kebaya Tales. It's truly one of a kind.

A/N: The book is copyrighted by the author and publisher. The review and the pictures taken using my camera are copyrighted to me ;3


mwddhshf said...

ohh...gonna try this soon~

tea drops said...

tell me what you think of it and I'll pass the message to the author. I'm sure Dr. Lee would love to know what readers think of her book.

Malini Lakshmi said...

Kebaya Tales by Lee Su Kim is certainly a reader friendly book which is filled with humour and treasures of the Peranakan culture. I find it very interesting and extraordinary. Indeed, a one and only mobile Peranakan knowledge which educates while entertains you. 'Boxed-In Bibik' and 'The Bachelor from Balik Pulau' from this tales are certainly my cup of tea ! Fantastic writer with fabulous tales !