Historical Fiction set in Malaysia
The purpose of Long Ago & Far Away is to explore historical fiction, especially stories set in less commonly portrayed times and places. With it, I am reviving my prior Wordpress efforts and have reposted several older, slightly edited blog posts to the new Long Ago & Far Away Substack archive.
I begin with Malaysia, partly because I have previously reflected on four books set there, so I would like to make this material available on my new Stack, but also because I continue to be alert for HF set in the region.
You will now find the following “Reading Reflections” in the Long Ago & Far Away archives:
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng – His debut novel set in WWII Penang, Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007. Not a bad start!
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – His second novel set in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia among the tea plantations. This post-WWII, multi-layered story takes place during the Malayan Emergency (which pitted communist, pro-independence guerrillas against the British forces). This book was also Longlisted for the Booker Prize (2012), won the Man Asian Literary Prize (2013), and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (2013). Not bad for a sophomore effort! (You had me at “tea”.)
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo – This was her sophomore novel set in 1930s Malaya. In it, she intertwines dreams, folklore, mystical creatures, and in-between places with physical-world events. I’m listing it first because I read it first. And highly recommend it.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo – I loved The Night Tiger so much that I doubled back and read her debut novel. The Ghost Bride is set in 1898 British Colonial Malaya, but much of the story takes place in a mythical afterlife. An excellent launch for a talented writer.
I am excited to find that Ms. Choo is expected to release a third novel in February 2024. The Fox Wife is reportedly a murder mystery set in Manchuria! Oh, sign me up!
I am including King Rat by James Clavell with this list, although I have not written an article dedicated to it. This story, Clavell’s debut, is full of richness, the unexpected, and sorrow. Set in Singapore, it embodies a similar environment, physically and politically, to Malaysia during WWII, taking place primarily in a Japanese prison camp. Clavell wrote from experience. He spent 3.5 years as a POW in the Japanese camp, Changi Prison. Knowing this, it is remarkable that he went on to write Shogun, for which he is best known. Highly recommended.
There are more recent books set in Malaysia. A few I have tried. But I have found them leaning too heavily into “Women’s Fiction” and my personality balks at what strikes me as melodrama. I will not name them here because I wish only the best for writers slogging it out with words and thrilling the right audience.
Have you read any of these stories? Or others set in the region? Let us know!
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