Philosophic pulp fiction
Review by PRIYA KULASAGARAN
KASUT BIRU RUBINA
Koleksi Fiksyen Pop Untuk Jiwa² Hadhari, Vol 1
By Sufian Abas
Publisher: Sang Freud Press, 96 pages
I SHOULD mention the fact that my foray into the world of Malay literature is minimal at best. Aside from a few readings I have managed to stop at (which were encouraging) and the required reading list for examinations (which all but killed my interest), I’ve not encountered that many writers working in this language.
I am uncertain whether this ignorance stems from my own complacency or if the scene does suffer a genuine lack of exposure. Of course, in a climate where the works of National Literature Laureate Datuk A. Samad Said are being edged out of the schools for being “too difficult for students to understand’’, one wonders about the state of local writing.
For instance, a trip to the local section in any major bookstore will yield plenty of fluffy novels of love, good marriages and badly drawn covers. On these mainstream shelves, it’s almost impossible to find contemporary Malay writers that resonate relevance – writers like Sufian Abas.
In his new collection of prose and short stories, Kasut Biru Rubina, Sufian weaves a world that sits at the edge of reality, unafraid to collide with fantasy, while maintaining very human emotions of existence. He writes of love, loneliness, city life, ghosts of grandmothers, deranged TV show hosts, unicorns and talking Coca-Cola bottles; each piece is snappy and heartbreaking.
While Sufian’s work is dense with imagery and metaphors, the physical book itself looks low-key; almost resembling the soft-core pornographic novels from the 1960s despite the stylish cover. Accordingly, the writing style is deceptively simple, opting for everyday language and pop culture references. The result is street poetry, with classic lines such as “dengan air mata berlenagan dan berkilauan seperti bebola disko” (with tears shining like disco balls).
Philosophic pulp fiction, if I may venture to coin a term.
The ultimate charm of the collection, however, is the author’s uncanny interpretations of Malaysian life. One gets the feeling that he is a diligent observer, constantly recording everything around him only to twist what he sees into strange new forms to entice us with.
The nature of the stories is that they work on two levels, challenging the reader to figure out the true point of the tale under the layers of absurdity. It seems not enough for Sufian to merely hold a mirror to our lives, but he insists on making us work to appreciate the reflection.
Case in point is Hikmat Hari Valentin (Valentine Day Wisdom), where a young girl saves a Coca-Cola bottle on Valentine’s Day and buys it a few rounds of beer – in return, it promises to grant her a wish. Even if you fail to see the line of commentary running through the story, it is still an enjoyable read on a superficial level.
I had one major problem with Kasut Biru Rubina though – it left me wanting much more of the same. Sufian himself may call his work “disposable literature”, but this is the kind of book that should be compulsory reading in schools. It speaks in the tongue of the current generation and echoes the hopes of the average Malaysian. Who knows, these stories might finally inspire some lateral thinking among our students.
Kasut Biru Rubina is a (as the subtitle says) “collection of pop fiction for civilised souls” that is a must-read for anyone who needs proof that local writers are coming into their own.