Malaysia as myth in K. S. Maniam's In a Far Country

Wicks, Peter (1998) Malaysia as myth in K. S. Maniam's In a Far Country. Asian Culture Quarterly, 26 (4). pp. 59-64. ISSN 0378-8911


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In his witty, elegant overview of Southeast Asian affairs, An Eye for the Dragon, published in 1987, the journalist, Dennis Bloodworth, entitled one of his chapters 'The Mythical Malaysians.'(1) By this phrase, he meant the profound, and perhaps even intractable, difficulties that exist in carving a nation called Malaysia out of three of the world's major cultural traditions, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, as well as the influential colonial heritage bequeathed by Britain. It largely remains the case that the ethnic group into which a young Malaysian is born determines his or her chances or prospects in life. Despite the undoubted successes of the Malaysian Government's New Economic Policy and the boldness of Prime Minister Mahathir's Vision 2020, this ethnic variable remains intractable. In particular, for most Malaysians of Indian descent, the chances are few and the prospects are limited. In 1990, there were 1.5 million ethnic Indians in Malaysia, some 8 per cent of the country's population, but their existence is regarded, in Suhaini Aznam's apt phrase, 'almost as an afterthought.'(2) Even Dennis Bloodworth substantially left the Malaysian Indian community out of his excellent 1987 analysis, preferring to focus on the numerically larger Malays and Chinese. The additional presence of some 1.2 million illegal, unskilled, immigrant workers from Indonesia and Bangladesh in contemporary Malaysia has exacerbated the displacement of Malaysian Indians from traditional occupations. In 1984, the highly regarded Malaysian Indian novelist, K S Maniam, poignantly reflected that the life of his particular
community was 'a straining towards achievement that does not
end in fulfilment.'(3) Maniam, who was born in 1942, and has recently retired from the post of Associate Professor of English at the University of Malaya, has strained and achieved more than most. Last year, Greg Sheridan from The Australian newspaper dubbed Maniam as simply Malaysia's 'leading English-language novelist,' and as the composer of 'beautiful, haunting, understated' works.(4) To date, he is the author of two substantial novels, numerous short stories, plays, essays, and reviews, all of which affirm what Edward Said calls 'a fundamental liberationist energy that animates the wish to be independent, to speak freely and without the burden of unfair domination.'(5) Maniam's first novel, The Return (1981) was essentially an autobiographical hymn to Indian ethnicity on Malaysian soil in fictive terms, furnishing a Tamil Indian perspective on Malaysia from a small town and rubber estate on the north of the peninsula. In a Far Country (1993), Maniam's second sustained work of fiction, takes on nothing less than the conceptual construction of Malaysia itself. It is an awesome effort.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Publisher unable to be contacted.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007 00:28
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 22:33
Uncontrolled Keywords: Maniam, In a Far Country, Malaysian literature, Malaysian Indians, Malaysia
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2005 Literary Studies > 200519 South-East Asian Literature (excl. Indonesian)

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