BOOK REVIEW | Malaysian novels in English with a definite local setting and theme are rare, too far and few in between. Even fewer are those that do not disappoint and give a good read.
One such book is ‘912 Batu Road’ (Clarity Publishing, 2021, 275 pages, RM39). Viji Krishnamoorthy’s debut novel is a different kind of historical tale because it not only concerns itself with the past but juxtaposes it against the contemporary, a difficult thing to do. The author accomplishes this well, keeping the interest up in both.
Another book by a Malaysian author that did that well was back in 1998 in Uma Mahendran’s ‘The Twice Born’ which flips back and forth from ancient history to the present when a psychiatrist, aided by an autistic boy, goes on a telepathic mind-journey into the past to 1,500BC.
I have read two other books by local authors with slightly similar themes, but they do not flip back to different time zones, both of which are good reads. The first is Preeta Samarasan’s 2008 book ‘Evening is the Whole Day’ about an Indian immigrant family in Ipoh and their shenanigans.
The second is Tan Twan Eng’s hauntingly beautiful book, the 2012 ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ about the former Japanese emperor’s gardener in the mountains of Cameron Highlands. This book won the Man Asian Literary Prize.
The three books are valuable contributions to local literature in English and one hopes that ‘912 Batu Road’, named after the house that the author’s father was born in Kuala Lumpur, takes its rightful place on the shelves amongst the others.
Viji’s story does not go so far back as ‘The Twice Born’ but focuses some 80 years ago on the days leading up to the Japanese occupation of Malaya in 1941 up to their defeat in 1945. It is interesting to see how these reach into the lives of a Chinese boy and a Brahmin girl, childhood friends who become sweethearts in the present era.
Ken is an architect working in London while Geetha is a successful lawyer in Kuala Lumpur...