Earlier this year, I decided to embark on a quest to read more local authors and I had the beautiful luck of reading three of Dr. Chuah Guat Eng’s books in a row! As ‘luck’ would have it, the books are easy to adore and appreciate as the words are strung by Dr Chuah Guat Eng in nimble delight, making my Dr-Chuah-books-marathon a pleasure that is unforced and always leaves a lingering thought as I go about my day when I put the book down.
The first I read was The Echoes of Silence. I had goosebumps when I came to the point when I realised why the book is entitled as such. The use of an oxymoron as a title is a smart, creative and artistic way to touch the readers amidst the drama, like saying, “Hey, they are fictional characters. No matter the face, the attire and the Ulu Banir that’s been living in your head these past few days.” There were times I caught myself mimicking the gestures made by the characters, as if to understand what the character is undergoing and attempt to recreate the character’s feelings. Or because, Dr Chuah Guat Eng had perfected her descriptions right down to the details. Not too detailed that you feel soaked, just a bit dewy perhaps; like the dew lightly sprayed to your face as you know you’re getting nearer to a waterfall; you are free to leave the sight of the waterfall to your imagination. But you could definitely taste it already.
Another reason I love The Echoes of Silence is for the background is set in pre-Independent Malaya. It is always a joy to be reading historical fiction to imagine the livelihood of our grandparents and those before them; to understand their approach to life, their struggles and how their surrounding had shaped the way they raised their children. I couldn’t help but imagine the plantation mansion described in the way of a government’s old quarters I’ve seen as a child. But the other day, I saw a documentary on a plantation’s bungalow in Bertam Estate (not fictional) and I had the background surrounding of The Echoes of Silence changed in my head. Although suffice to say that fact is always stranger than fiction – to my liking, at least.
The second I read is Days of Change. Days of Change bore the same characters as in The Echoes of Silence and the storyline is as told by one of its non-main character. The background set of Days of Change is post-Independence and it revolved around one’s unsettled thoughts about some incidences of the past. If The Echoes of Silence had indulged me with extrinsic descriptions of the happenings in fictional Ulu Banir, while Days of Change indulged me in the intrinsic thoughts of a fictional character concerning the happenings of fictional Ulu Banir. Although, the intrinsic thoughts belonged to a man, Dr Chuah Guat Eng had nailed it like a male writer, a talented male writer.
Besides the luxury of beautiful writing, I had also benefited with the insight into I-Ching’s hexagrams as Days of Change is structured by the character’s current reading of I-Ching as a book of wisdom. I also suspect the title Days of Change came from the elements of I-Ching which are the Yin, Yang and the Forces of Change. There is certainly a message embedded in gaining reflections of the past through prompts from the pages of an old book that is supposed to predict the future, I believe Dr Chuah wants us to see that the best way to predict the future is to simply analyse the past.
The third book of Dr Chuah Guat Eng’s I read was Dream Stuff. It is a collection of short stories but I must say it wasn’t short on stabbing at the heart or pricking the brain on a perspective that might have never crossed your mind. One story stood out in particular to me, The Forbidden Tree. It was a little hard for me to fall asleep after reading that particular story that night, as personally I thought my belief in the goodness of religion hinged on kindness to others and this short story just gave that away in a short sharp slap in the face. There should be nothing complicated about religion when love is the unifying theory.
My tossing and turning in bed was due to the realisation of the times I could have chosen love over judgement as the simple story had shown that love and kindness is sown bit by bit over time, not by a grand dramatic show of affection, for the grandest of love is the patience of standing by a person while they are making mistakes. And the my struggle in my tossing and turning in bed was in being affectionate enough to accept one’s flawed experience as emerged wisdom. Perhaps I need to read more of Dr Chuah’s books to ease such kinks in my head?
Before I conclude this post, I must say that Dr Chuah Guat Eng has a deep observation on the traits of Malaysian races, our different cultures and believes, and also of human behaviour. Reading her books feels naturally easy because the narration of the story flows and doesn’t contradict with human nature. A master storyteller like Dr Chuah Guat Eng must be celebrated as a local author for her artistic, intelligent and creative writing. It is my hope to read all Dr Chuah Guat Eng writings and to promote her books to fellow Malaysians as a means to understand ourselves better through her art of fictional history, her short stories and also by attending her events.
If you are interested to read Dr Chuah’s books, you may get them from Silverfish and Lit Books in KL, Gerakbudaya bookstore in Penang or you may contact Dr Chuah Guat Eng directly via her Facebook account here, or via Whatsapp or you may email to her [email protected] I for one wish I had been acquainted with her books sooner and gained the insight and wisdom via Dr Chuah’s flair of writing that I couldn’t really recall as reading. Because I was immersed in her writing and it felt more experiential rather than one-dimensional reading.
Now I am curious, how do you classify a good author? Is it the knowledge the author passes through his/her books? Is it the wisdom woven in between the words and the lines? Or is it something like Dr Chuah’s magic where you don’t even feel like you’re reading at all? Let me know in the Comment section below or you may reply to me if you subscribe to The Baini Mustafa Weekly email. You will receive updates from me directly to your Inbox when you subscribe to The Baini Mustafa Weekly email here.
Until next week!