Literature tends to be defined by language and place. For instance, Japanese literature is written in Japanese, or translated into another language, and written by Japanese authors. Chinese literature is however a little more complex because writers may also hail from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. In most of these places, citizens—a significant minority if not the vast majority—speak, read, and write Chinese. In the case of Hong Kong and Singapore, ethnically-Chinese writers may also read and write in English. But Malaysia is a case apart. Despite the Chinese being a minority that speak a variety of languages and dialects, there has been a robust Chinese literary tradition from Malaysia for almost a century. Cheow Thia Chan’s new book, Malaysian Crossings: Place and Language in the Worlding of Modern Chinese Literature, discusses the history and complexities of Mahua, or Malaysian Chinese literature, to show how it has developed and endures stronger than ever today.  

The two novellas in Shivani Sivagurunathan’s What Has Happened to Harry Pillai? take place on the fictional Coal Island in Malaysia, a setting she has used previously in a couple of other books going back a decade. Much lurks under the surface of this seemingly idyllic locale. In this latest book, each novella takes on the theme of loneliness and reinvention. 

In Preeta Samarasan’s new novel, Tale of the Dreamer’s Son, the caretaker of a commune in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands states that “some nations were sending people to outer space while our countrymen were busy butchering each other.” Mrs Arasu, the caretaker in question, was referring to the 1969 race riots in Malaysia, namely the May 13 Incident in which hundreds were killed, the majority of them ethnic Chinese. It’s this date that not only sets the tone for Samarasan’s novel, but also the 2010 award-winning Chinese-language The Age of Goodbyes by another Malaysian writer, Li Zi Shu, recently translated into English by YZ Chin, herself an author of some renown

The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan. 

At the start of Sandeep Ray’s debut novel, A Flutter in the Colony, a young woman named Maloti is approaching George Town by ship as she and her young family arrive in Malaya to start anew. Maloti’s husband, a Mr Sengupta who goes only by “the young man” in the story, has found a job working in a rubber plantation and has left Calcutta behind. As the title suggests, the story takes place during British colonial times, but perhaps the word “flutter” should be changed to the plural since the setting is in both in pre-Partition Calcutta and pre-independence Malaya.