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Book Title: Malesia!|
The author of the book: Anthony Burgess
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 2246 times
Reader ratings: 7.9
Edition: Editoriale Nuova
Date of issue: 1980
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 3.12 MB
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Those measly two stars don't mean that I didn't enjoy reading this. I did, rather. It's just that I find that the novel undermines its own intent.
The novel's dislike of racism is apparent, and Burgess skewers it in all its forms: the colonisers' contempt for the colonised and vice versa, the various inter-ethnic hatreds among the Malayans, the overweening love of certain Malayans for their colonisers... This makes for much hilarity.
Burgess said of Malaya that it was “the most remarkable multi-racial society in the world”. And he certainly covers that vibrant mixing of the different ethnic groups with relish. Here he describes the difficulties of grafting an English house system in multi-ethnic Malayan society:The difficulties of organising a house-system in a school of this kind had been partly solved through weak compromise. At first it had been proposed to call the houses after major prophets – Nabi Adam, Nabi Idris, Nabi Isa, Nabi Mohammed – but everyone except the Muslims protested… The pupils themselves, through their prefects, pressed the advantages of a racial division. The Chinese feared that the Malays would run amok in the dormitories and use knives; the Malays said that they did not like the smell of the Indians; the various Indian races preferred to conduct vendettas only among themselves. Besides, there was the question of food. The Chinese cried out for pork which, to the Muslims, was haram and disgusting; the Hindus would not eat meat at all, despite the persuasions of the British matron; other Indians demanded burning curries and could not stomach the insipid lauk of the Malays.So, it was all the more disconcerting to find that all the Malayans are represented only by stock caricatures: We have Ibrahim, Crabbe's house boy, an effeminate Malay pondan (the Malay derogatory term for an effeminate homosexual, roughly akin to saying "faggot"); Alladad Khan, a Punjabi Indian Muslim policeman, choleric, adulterous, and lustful; Che' Normah, the oversexed husband killer; Ah Wing, the rat and cat eating Chinese cook… and so on and so on.
One could argue that the English do not come off in a much better light, and there is something to be said for that. This is Burgess on the Headmaster at Crabbe's school:Boothby yawned with great vigour. He was fond of yawning. He would yawn at dinner-parties, at staff-meetings, at debates, elocution competitions, sports days. He probably yawned in bed with his wife…. "Look here," said Boothby, "I know the facts and you don't. Their clothes were disarranged. It's obvious what was going to happen. You haven't been here as long as I have. These Wogs are hot-blooded. There was a very bad case in Gill's time. Gill himself was nearly thrown out."Nevertheless, Burgess imbues a certain tragic dignity to his key English characters, whatever their faults: the ineffectual Victor Crabbe and his wife, Fenella; the grasping English lawyer, Rupert Hardman, who marries Che' Normah for her money (view spoiler)[and then abandons her (hide spoiler)]; and Anne Talbot, the Englishwoman despairingly married to an older man throwing herself at any Englishman who crosses her path. Indeed, the contrast between Anne and her equally promiscuous Indian counterpart, Rosemary Michael, is telling. Anne is a figure who gains a measure of pathos and sympathy as the novel progresses; Rosemary Michael remains forever a bathetic bimbo.
So that's my problem. An equivalent division of characters is that of the lovers and the mechanicals in A Midsummer's Night Dream, only here, the lovers are the English and the rude mechanicals are the Malayans. Regardless of how the humour skewers them all, the English become rounded characters while the Malayans remain only figures of fun. If such a drama were to be shown now with that type of ethic division there would be outraged cries, not wholly unjustified, of racism.
So, there we have it: as much as the novel decries racism, it seems itself unable to achieve sufficient velocity to escape its pull either, and so ultimately falls flat.
Still, that's only my view. Here's a different one from a fellow South-East Asian who liked it much more.
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Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, critic and composer. He was also a librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist. Born in Manchester, he lived for long periods in Southeast Asia, the USA and Mediterranean Europe as well as in England. His fiction includes the Malayan trilogy (The Long Day Wanes) on the dying days of Britain's empire in the East; the Enderby quartet of novels about a poet and his muse; Nothing Like the Sun, a recreation of Shakespeare's love-life; A Clockwork Orange, an exploration of the nature of evil; and Earthly Powers, a panoramic saga of the 20th century. He published studies of Joyce, Hemingway, Shakespeare and Lawrence, produced the treatises on linguistics Language Made Plain and A Mouthful of Air, and was a prolific journalist, writing in several languages. He translated and adapted Cyrano de Bergerac, Oedipus the King, and Carmen for the stage; scripted Jesus of Nazareth and Moses the Lawgiver for the screen; invented the prehistoric language spoken in Quest for Fire; and composed the Sinfoni Melayu, the Symphony (No. 3) in C, and the opera Blooms of Dublin.
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