Editor: Anwar Hadi
Publisher: Fixi Novo
Novel Pages: 144
Micro Malaysians! is a collection of 100 stories, chosen from 1,163 entries from all across Malaysia, each no longer than 150 words.
Accompanied by illustrations by Caryn Koh, the book promises “a smorgasbord of the Malaysian experience, bite-sized and biting”. On first glance, this book does not seem to have a particular audience in mind, aiming to simply satisfy one’s curiosity just how much a writer could tell with so little, and if the tales are truly reflective of the Malaysian scene.
The stories are not arranged via their themes or genre, which makes some of the shift from one story to another jarring and weird. One page you are reading in the point-of-view of a wild animal, and the next story you are reading about suicide. Furthermore, such switches happen so frequently, it felt like browsing books at a bookstore. Or a menu.
That said, I did find stories that were enjoyable which led me to discover more works by said writers.
The thing is though, I’m a little unsure on how I’m supposed to feel after reading this collection of extremely short Twitter sized stories. Perhaps the aim of its publication is to present a view of what different people consider an interesting micro-story. This was helped thanks to the diversed background of the writers.
Thankfully, the illustrations by Caryn Koh assisted in flushing out the emotions of these stories which jumped from various categories; religious, racial and cultural.
But what is amazing is that the publication of this anthology challenged the writers in a most unusual way. Given the limited space available, the writers must introduce their main characters in a way that attracts readers right from the beginning.
So the challenge is to create an interest from the reader about these characters and why they should care to read the story to find out what will happen to them. Among the short titles that I felt grabbed my attention and made a unique first impression were; “Pendatang”, by Yan Chee Chong, and Flawlove’s “Beyond Gray”.
““Kau pendatang!” I spat him. He didn’t hear it, or if he did, chose to ignore it.”
“They said she was colorblind. It was the seventh morning she sat in front of the brick wall, her palette and paintbrush around her. They also said she was a painter.”
Other stories, while having decent starts only made their true impact when we read them until the end.
Tones of some of the stories take an immediate shift towards the final lines such as “Malaysian Timing”, by Candice Lim. It starts sombrely, with the protagonist being told by Death that she has only three years left to live. The ending?
“Thirty years had come and gone… I found the courage to ask him, “I thought you said three years?” Death nodded. “Yup. Malaysian timing, ma’am.””
Some of the stories offer bittersweet musings, like “What Do Pets Think?” by Syaween Zainal, which let us feel what a dying loyal pet might feel. Some are incredibly reflective of scenarios certain Malaysians might feel as depicted in Masami Mustaza’s “3.33am”, where religion is a major obstacle that threatens to end a romance.
Others revolve around daily silliness, such as in “Eat First”, by Saodah Haji Lasim, where a public eatery’s wifi password is mistook for something else. Then there are just plain bizarre, bordering on disgusting – Ashraf Farid’s “Junk Food” concerns foreskins.
Despite the various themes, horror seems to be the most prominent. While several of them are retelling of horror tales we are already familiar with, many had titles that did not betray its true theme.
Can you imagine the horror behind titles such as “Pickup”, by Marcys Van Geyzel, or “Gulai Lemak Daging Salai” by Nur Athirah Radzi, or “Survivor”, by Terence Toh. If anything, these terrifying tales are certainly the most memorable compared to the others.
Though there is room for improvement as Micro Malaysians! was not impressionable in my opinion, yet it did succeed in showcasing a preview of sorts on how capable Malaysians can be when it comes to storytelling.
Micro Malaysians! is now available at all major bookstores nationwide. Read a book recently and would like to send us a review? Drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org