There are many ways to get you inspired these days. Either through the problems you see on the news, or maybe the feeling of serenity when looking up at the sky. Regardless of how you can get inspired, what you will do afterwards can be different as well. You might be inspired to take action and join in a volunteering program, or you’re inspired to make schools a safer place for girls, and many other things you can do when you are inspired.
Books and words, in particular, can carry a lot of message and inspiration to those who read and understand them. You might not even be a stranger in the realm of books, from fiction to non-fiction, but are you well-versed or find yourself familiar with titles that are written by Malaysian writers? In fact, there are so many well-written and important English books written by Malaysian writers out there, that might have flown over your radar. If so, here are some interesting books written by Malaysians that can inspire you in many ways.
Books that will inspire you to topple the government
If you ask me, youngsters today are slowly getting themselves well-versed in the world of politics. Although the number is not as impressive as it should be, there is some progress to it. Plus, the censorship that this country is facing is quite insane at times. Even a satirical comic strip could get an artist to jail, let alone a 300-page book that’s littered with political references. It won’t come as a surprise if you find a famous writer to get themselves banned just because of their political biases. Regardless, it is all the more reason that you should read the books listed below. Whenever you need a little push, or you want to push someone into finally realizing that there is something wrong with the system.
Swordfish + Concubine – Kee Thuan Chye
Kee Thuan Chye is an actor, dramatist, poet, journalist, and a noted civil rights activist who was born in 1954 in Penang. For his work Swordfish + Concubine, he takes the popular story of the swordfish attack on Singapura and that of the Sultan’s favourite concubine who is sentenced to death by impalement, and weaves them together to produce an epic that resonates with the present.
The play features the idea of the continuous battle between dissonant and submissive voices, as well as, the unyielding and authoritative voices. Even after years of being written and published, this play will always be relatable regarding its political agenda and critical criticisms on issues surrounding contemporary Malaysian society.
"A total must-read! If you like modern humour, a crossover of famous myths and Eminem-level (this is very subjective) rapping skill, then this one's for you. Written in script format, Kee Thuan Chye weaves a world where characters from two different stories exist in the same timeline. Maybe not as action-packed as Spider-man (2021), but definitely and politically relatable." - a_flower_that_reads
New Malaysian Essays 1 & 2 – Various Writers
This anthology of non-fiction Malaysian works invites readers and authors to pay special attention to the energy in their surroundings. Brian Yap, Aminuddin Mahmud, Amir Muhammad, Saharil Hasnin Sanin, and Sonia Rondhawa provide essays on issues ranging from the election to language in the inaugural edition.
However, the second edition has essays on religion and politics, criticisms of ‘power architecture,’ a National Service notebook, a tirade on the Americanization of pop culture, and much more. Ridhwan Saidi, Yusuf Martin, Andrew Ng, and a few more local authors are included in the second anthology.
“This handsome first volume deserves to be bought, read and debated...New Malaysian Essays 1 is certainly setting a benchmark for high production values as well as intellectual audacity.” - Kakiseni.com
Books that will inspire you to be the best version of yourself
If you’ve ever been on a Pinterest page, or an Instagram page, you might encounter quotes or short videos that somehow affected you more than it should. Which consequently made you rethink all of your life choices and all that you have (and have not) achieved in your life. The books listed in this part might just make you experience the same feeling. From environmental to racial issues, these works may inspire you to do better and be better.
Personal & Profane – Cecil Rajendra
Cecil Rajendra, a Malaysian poet and lawyer, was born in Penang in 1941. His poetry has been translated into various languages and has been published in over 50 countries. Despite the fact that Rajendra’s work is well-known abroad, his work is not well-known in Malaysia. Rajendra was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005, but Harold Pinter won instead.
The Malaysian authorities took his passport away from him in 1993, due to his anti-logging efforts, to prevent him from travelling. Although his works are often regarded as controversial, it does, in a lot of ways, inspire you to be much more aware of the environmental conditions in Malaysia.
“Rajendra’s grasp of purpose, his sense of conviction has lent his poetry an easy charm that conceals a deeper understanding of poetic form and structure. In the best of his poems he remains a balladeer, who, despite the pugnacity of his politics, inspires warmth and a certain romantic quality. His versatility remains stellar…” - The Star
The Weight Of Our Sky – Hanna Alkaf
In this heart-pounding literary debut, Melati, a music-loving youngster with OCD, attempts all she can to work her way back to her mother during the infamous racial riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1969. With a 24-hour curfew in place and all channels of contact down, Melati will need the aid of a Chinese youngster called Vincent and all of her bravery and grit to overcome the street violence, her own biases, and her djinn’s increasing strength to get back to the one person she can’t face losing.
The portrayal of racism and mental illness in this novel really does make one think of how far, and how much more we have to go through as a nation, to finally be a more open-minded society. You can also enjoy this book in a graphic novel medium through WebToon.
“The Weight of Our Sky is a labor of great pain, but it's also a labor of tremendous love. I went into this book knowing very little about the race riots of 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, but Hanna Alkaf has delivered a very informed, yet intimately personal account of one of the most tragic incidents that are folded into the history of Malaysia… To see Alkaf also devote substantial effort and attention to the subject of mental illness and treat it with seriousness, and to see her use Melati’s experience as a fulcrum from which to examine the taboo surrounding mental health, especially within Muslim communities, snagged at my heart the most.” - A Goodreads review by Chai♡
Books that will inspire you to hug your loved ones
It’s pretty obvious that the function of novels and books, alike, is to tell stories and share feelings. Which is why you would come across books that you would find relatable, multiple times in your life. This is especially true when we are discussing books that are heavily littered with familial themes and matters, since we all have families. Big or small, our loved ones mean a lot more to us than anything else (even though it’s hard to say it out loud). The books listed here have a coming-of-age vibe to them, but they also can remind you a lot of your home and loved ones.
The Rice Mother – Rani Manicka
Lakshmi, a fourteen-year-old Ceylonese girl, is married off and relocated to Malaysia, where she immediately discovers how difficult it is to raise a family in such a weird, violent, and beautiful area. As a result of her challenges, Lakshmi grows into a powerful matriarch. Rani Manicka won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2003 for this work, which was her debut. The Rice Mother tells stories from the perspectives of numerous generations, all of which are imbued with family themes and the sacrifices that families must make.
“The Rice Mother is a strong and powerful work that takes readers into the lives of people of diaspora in Malaya, their cultures, customs, religion, culinary delights, all interwoven with their lives and fate during the course of the last century. Filled with characters and events, Rani Manicka’s debut novel is indicative of the start of a successful writing career. It is a story with a lot of sadness, but it keeps the attention of the reader until the very end. It is a tale of choices that people make, sometimes, knowing, and almost inviting trouble…” - A Goodreads review by Dana Ilie
The Return – K.S Maniam
The Return is known to be an autobiographical book of K.S. Maniam. At the surface level, the novel is a Bildungsroman of an Indian boy named Ravi, who most of his life feels out of place. The novel heavily revolves around diasporic themes and the search for a sense of belonging. However, familial values can be seen as well. Many can relate to the theme that the novel portrays, but it can also leave the rest with a sense of hollowness at how even after an effort of integrating yourself into society, we can never really run away from who we are and where we came from. Blood is definitely thicker than water.
"The sober description of the Indian community’s lifestyle and the faithful representation of a set of extraordinary characters infuse the novel with a textual richness. It is this richness of language that raises the novel above the level of a simple account of success in the face of adversity." - V.M. Simandan
Books that will inspire you to paint the skies
Just like painting a picture, writing also involves a similar creative process. There are so many wonderful and beautifully written books out there that can really bring out your imagination. From seamless sentences that flow like a calm river, to detailed descriptions of scenery that can bring the story to life. The books listed here are some that can be both beautiful and melancholic, inspiring you to, perhaps, paint your feelings.
The Garden Of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng
Tan Twan Eng, a Malaysian novelist, has written two English-language novels, the first of which was launched in January 2012. The story revolves around the heroine Teoh Yun Ling, who was a Japanese prisoner of war during WWII and eventually became a judge supervising war crimes trials. She ends up serving as an assistant to a Japanese gardener in Cameron Highlands for many months after the war in order to establish a garden in remembrance of her sister, who was imprisoned alongside her but did not survive.
Years later, as the novel begins, she is still attempting to make sense of her feelings and experiences. This beautiful and well-written book was also turned into a film that was nominated for several awards.
“Have you ever sat in a dark room listening to an intricate piece of music (like Sergey Rachmaninoff's 'Tears') and experienced a deep-seated sadness when the last note died off?? Reading The Garden of Evening Mists felt like that. This book took me on a journey. It was turbulent and tranquil, beautiful and ugly - all at the same time - and when it was over, I found myself sitting by the window crying for reasons I cannot discern.” - A Goodreads review by Scarlet
Map Of The Invisible World – Tash Aw
Tash Aw’s second novel, Map of the Invisible World, was published in 2009. It tells a story about two brothers, Adam and Johan, who were abandoned by their mother as youngsters and eventually adopted by different homes in Indonesia and Malaysia. Map of the Invisible World has received largely excellent reviews, with The Guardian describing it as “haunting and evocative.” Cecie O’Bryon of the Washington Times praised Aw’s “interwoven voices” and termed the novel “wonderfully crafted.”
“If I could only find the words to express my deep love towards this book as beautifully as how the author had written it. It gives me such pride and bubbling hope to know that this book is written by a fellow Malaysian. Tash Aw writes with "effortless fluidity", not even close to being pretentious or trying too hard. Reading his writing almost felt surreal. It is as if I have only just been imagining the whole thing, but it couldn't have been so, as I know I'd never be able to match my imagination to one as great as his.” - A Goodreads review by Maisarah
Books that will inspire you to write your own
Sometimes, when I read a good book or just a book that I really relate to, I would often feel the urge to tell my own stories. The experience, the hardship, the joy and pain of life. Perhaps, it is mainly because you’ll feel somewhat at ease to find that you are not the only one who has experienced such plights in your life. Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. There are over 7 billion people in this world, all with their own stories to tell – even you. Read, write, and be inspired.
The Ghost Bride – Yangsze Choo
This historical fantasy set in the 1890s Malacca tells the story of a woman from a powerful but penniless family who receives an offer to marry the affluent Lim family’s deceased son’s ghost bride. Li Lan would be promised a roof over her head if she participated in this traditional, but seldom executed, ritual, but there would be a horrible price to pay.
Nevertheless, this debut work by Yangsze Choo, garnered numerous awards, along with a Carnegie Medal nomination and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Becoming a ghost bride is in fact an existing tradition, which makes this novel all the more interesting. Perhaps you have a similar tale to tell, that has its own supernatural and unusual characteristics.
“The Ghost bride's strength lies in its vivid settings, served by a lush imagery. It shines with its palpable atmosphere, with the fascinating descriptions of Malaysian culture and traditions. I fell in love with the evocative and compelling qualities of Yangsze Choo's writing. Moreover, … her narration is fantastic and suits the book perfectly - listening to Li Lan's story enhanced its out-of-the-world feel, and I adored that.” - A Goodreads review by Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘
King of The Sea – Dina Zaman
Dina Zaman took 13 years to complete this collection of short stories, illustrating that it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to write; what matters are the stories you create. The stories originated as part of her master’s thesis at Lancaster University in 1993, and were inspired by her loneliness and love for the ‘Terengganu air.’ She writes about love, sadness, loss, and longing, as well as the magic in our lives that we often take for granted.
“alright alright, this collection of short stories stole my heart the moment I finished reading the first one. it’s witty, infused with some magical and mystical elements hence portrays how complex human beings are. i noticed it touches on people’s belief, faith and whether or not they projected those to others. This is because the settings for all shorts are almost the same; mostly in kampung/rural areas so obviously there would be conservatives and how they lead and go about their days. Therefore, most characters are appealing and unique.” - A Goodreads review by Syaa R.