Penang, with its mix of old world charm and modern bustle, has captured the hearts of many — making it the ideal place for a little bit of romance. Bask in the sweetness of young hearts falling in love and cheer them on when circumstances stand in their way. Walk through the pain of broken relationships and rejoice at unexpected reunions. Whether you prefer it happy or bittersweet, straightforward or a little complicated, Love in Penang offers you 18 morsels of love in various forms.
Anna Tan grew up in Malaysia, the country that is not Singapore. She writes fantastical stories and fairy tales, and has short stories included in various anthologies. She helps people publish books at Teaspoon Publishing, which includes yelling at HTML for epub reasons. She is also the editor of NutMag, an annual zine published for and by MYWriters Penang.
Anna has an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel under a Chevening scholarship and is the current President of the Malaysian Writers Society. She is interested in Malay/Nusantara and Chinese legends and folklore in exploring the intersection of language, culture, and faith. She can be found tweeting as @natzers and forgetting to update annatsp.com.
1. I mentioned on Twitter that I'd rather not review locally-published English books anymore because of small-minded reaction by small-time author(s). However. This book has that much strength, leave that deep an impression, that I shall write a review anyway. 2. You may notice my name as one of the contributors, so if you think this is a biased review...eh. Read this review and I'll let you decide.
I have not been kind to books (especially novels) published by Fixi Novo. I expected...more, despite the clearly stated manifesto that Fixi Novo publishes pulp fiction. I still buy every title published, but my level of expection has significantly dropped.
Then Love in Penang comes along.
Where KL Noir series revel in the corrupt, the depraved and the less than savory facets of Kuala Lumpur, Love in Penang is, as its title implies, about love. The anthology isn't about bodice-rippers--come to think of it, why aren't there bodice-rippers? It's less about romance than it is about the romantic. Best of all, the romantic element is (mostly) Malaysian-style. I think this is what I love most about this book. Though written in the American language, not a single story in this anthology attempts to to emulate American sensibilities.
First, you'll notice how varied the "American language" is employed, from half the story (and most of the dialogs) unapologetically written in Penang-Malay (Nadia Khan's "Yana"), to Manglish with its lahs and hors and fragmented sentences (Zen Cho's "Double-Blind") to formal English with Malaysian sensibilities (my story "Name" is among them), and to prose that touches the literary (Leroy Luar's "Happiness" and Marc de Faoite's "Majestic Heights").
Perhaps stories like "Yana" will alienate readers who do not understand Malay, much less Penang-Malay, but will tickle the fancy of local readers who will read the story with much familiarity and vocalize the dialogs with a pseudo-Penang twang. Perhaps stories like "Double-Blind" will have actual American readers go, "Oh, how quaint. These third-worlders can speak and write a semblance of understandable English, and not live in trees as we've expected." Perhaps they are the most at risk to be set into a certain niche labeled "Malaysian English". Perhaps local readers will have difficulty accepting stories written in proper English, saying, "Konon Mat Salleh sangat la tu. Perasan." Let me tell you that it doesn't matter, because almost the entire spectrum of Malaysian English can be found within this anthology.
Then you'll notice the recurring locations. Eastern & Oriental Hotel is mentioned in 3 stories, the Esplanade in 2, Chowrasta Market in 2, Hard Rock Cafe in 2, Penang Bridge in...hmm...it's featured in 1 story (Agnes Ong's "At the Bridge") but mentioned in passing in several other stories. Funnily enough, Komtar is only mentioned in 1 story, and Bukit Bendera is not used as a setting. I wish there were a more defined sense of setting instead of simply mentioning these places. Take the E&O for example. I'm sure it is used because of its fame & history, but these stories don't describe the actual building. Kris Williamson's "A Swift Tour" does, actually, but if only there were..more.
A lot of the characters are also Hokkien Chinese (plus a Nepalese & an Indonesian protagonists in Marc de Faoite's "Majestic Heights"), and a recurring name is Hui Lin, Hui Ling, and Ling. Purely coincidental, mind.
And then there's the food. We're in Malaysia, and food is a major part of our culture. Perhaps this element could have been employed more, as certain foods are aphrodisiac, and a person's love for food will surely fit the general theme of the book, but this is just me being anal.
Because honest to God, this book is awesome. I am most concerned about a complete story arc (beginning, middle and end, though not necessarily in that particular order), and what's frustrating about Malaysian writing is that writers like to act "smart" and meander the whole length of the story, then abruptly end using totally new and unrelated elements in an open-ended conclusion that concludes nothing. Often, deus ex machina is used, and I hate that the most. Except for 1 or 2 stories (that shall remain nameless), stories in this anthology respect readers, and for that, I wholeheartedly respect the editor, Ms Anna Tan.
If you only have time to read one story, I highly recommend that you read Leroy Luar's "Happiness". The prose is brilliant, and every sentence moves the story forward. The story is quietly beautiful. It's a wonder I've never read his work(s) before. It's also a wonder why this story wasn't made the opener for the anthology. It's that strong.
There are also stories that touch on corrupt politicians and equally dubious political parties, namely Mamu Vies's "Oh, Snap!", but I'd be surprised if there are no stories at all that do this. Literature, and Art in general, reflect the time if its conception, and our political scene, with its toddler-tamper-tantrums, is a part of our culture, our life. I'm just thankful it doesn't overpower the theme of the anthology, as it does in other anthologies & long-forms.
This book is not perfect. I never claimed it was. One novelist keeps repeating "Penang" in his story, taking up the most "Penang" word count. Because, you know, if Penang is not mentioned enough for a story based in Penang, people won't know it's in Penang, because it is in Penang, you know? Because the anthology is Love in Penang, you readers have to know the story's in Penang. Again. It's in Penang.
Yeah. When an author is not familiar with a setting, generalize it enough, sprinkle the name of the location enough times that readers will get distracted & don't realize you don't actually know what you're talking about. However, I do give him props for subtly (or not so subtly) promoting the title of his novel. Brilliant.
Another novelist's short story in here is as equally messy as the novel. Poor characterization, immature plotline & measures to move the story forward, and overall it's just...messy. Bleugh.
1 story I couldn't not finish because it meandered too much that it got boring.
Others? They give this anthology strength and dignity. They give me a sense of excitement that Malaysian-English literature is leaping out of its sandbox & into international playing fields. They make me say, "this book should seriously be considered for serious awards." They are beautiful, they are tragic, they are well-written and well-chosen.
And then there is my story that closes the book. Well, that's for you to decide if you like it or not.
Technical-wise, the anthology is well-edited & well-formatted. I have qualms about the improper use of colons and semi-colons, but that's also me being anal.
All in all, I salute Anna Tan for compiling an excellent book, and I believe my hope in Fixi Novo is restored. May more volumes of this caliber be published and read worldwide. This book deserves 4.5 stars out of 5.
A friend of mine called me out after reading my review of Love in Penang. She said I was being suspiciously vague. Apparently I'm known for being bold & direct (her words), and my review stank of my chickening out.
My first instinct, of course, was to get defensive. After all, I have a story in the anthology, and saying outright which stories suck would be counter-productive. And using "bleugh" is part of my voice, just as I like using "pfft" and fragmented sentences and single word and/or sentence paragraphs. However, one word she said kept ringing in my head as I stood in the shower contemplating a proper reply:
Initially I kept telling myself that no one reads my blog and reviews, anyway, and the only reason I went against my stand to not review local English books again was that I was inspired to share the beauty that is Leroy Luar's "Happiness" with the world. Well that was a long sentence. Anyway, as hot rain-shower eased the tension off my shoulders, I thought about my previous reviews and about how right my friend was. If I was going to review the book, then the least I could do was to commit to my truth, my style, my voice. So here it is, the unadulterated review of the stories that make up Love in Penang.
"Double-Blind" by Zen Cho is about misguided assumptions from gender stereotyping. The use of Manglish is quaint, if somewhat niched, and the story line is quite standard. Read enough QUILTBAG-themed stories and you'll notice certain tropes: us against the world; finding the courage to come out; the queer pining for the straight; discovering and accepting one's own sexuality; mistaken orientation and/or gender assumption; out and proud and looking for love. I may have left a few. Zen's story employs one of the tropes. I like the little well-placed twist at the ending (definitely not a trick ending, which is a major plus), but I don't see the need for the first scene. The story would have been stronger if she had started from the second scene. As for the Manglish, though I don't personally prefer it, I do believe that the author pulled it off quite well.
"Amah's Bicycle" by Julya Oui is a quiet little story about a teenager who takes out her boredom & angst against a rickety old bicycle that has become a permanent fixture outside her grandmother's house, which prompts the grandmother to talk about the past, thus giving the girl a new perspective in her surroundings. It's an anecdotal story, where the scenes move not in front of the reader's eyes, but through the grandmother's storytelling. This means there is no sense of immediacy, but the story is beautifully written nonetheless. The narrator is transformed at the end of the story, so it's a definite plus.
"Happiness" by Leroy Luar is beautiful, pure and simple. As I mentioned before, the prose touches the literary. The story isn't about the narrator, but about his best friend Rachel who's always been haunted by her mother's abandonment when she was four. There is a certain subtlety that you don't realize the change until the story is over and you think about it and then it hits you. To me this should have been the opening story. I am now on the lookout for more works from Leroy Luar.
"Tingles" by Khaliza Khalid is one of the weakest stories in this anthology. There is no sense of place, there is no character depth or development, the plot is weak, and the solutions are immature. Made out of mainly narrative summaries, there is a lack of immediacy & intimacy. The story doesn't move me, doesn't give me tingles.
"When it Rains" by Celine Wu Yee Pheng is among the shorter stories in this anthology. It's a standard boy-meets-girl (in this case, girl-meets-boy), and is baby-platypus-in-a-top-hat cute. The style is simplistic, almost juvenile, but shows potential.
"Yana" by Nadia Khan is one of the few tragic love stories in this anthology. There's something about her writing that grabs you right from the start and keeps you enthralled. Mark my words: Miss Nadia will be one of Malaysian's literary giants of our generation. Her prose is unassuming and candid--in Malay we call it selamba--and you can't help but fall in love with the characters. My only concern is that most of the dialogs are in Penang-Malay, with no supplementary English explanations. While I had fun imitating the dialect, this much bilingualism may alienate readers who have no clue what is being said. However, the story carries its own weight, and I'm quite confident in saying that people will get the story anyway. The story works, dammit. It works.
"Rock 'N' Love" by Gina Yap Lai Yoong is about a man duped into entering the rat race and has to forsake his dream of being a musician. The complications and solutions are convenient--a bit too convenient, in fact--but the prose is clean and the story arc is complete. Standard story.
"Oil on Canvas" by Eeleen Lee is quietly beautiful, as expected of her. It revolves around the identity of a woman in an oil painting, and the love the deceased painter had for her. I was able to guess where the story was leading somewhere in the middle, but the story moved me nonetheless. It's one of the pieces in this anthology that gives it strength and solidity.
"Katak" by William Tham Wai Liang meanders about, and is a bit too generous with adjectives. It's about a guy pining over the memories of an old flame. I think. I kinda lost my concentration halfway through.
"The Baobab Tree" by Shivani Sivagurunathan -- I couldn't finish this story. I tried. I'm trying right now. Maybe one day I'll finish it, but not in the near future.
"Love Letters" by Lean Ka-Min is a fun read. It's about a bookworm who finds a love letter tucked between the pages of a book in the library and decides to trace the addressee. Complication arises and he flails and fails at attempting to save the day. The stakes aren't high, but it's a fun read nonetheless.
"Oh, Snap!" by Mamu Vies touches on corrupt politicians and the measures opposing parties take to defame one another. I can easily see this piece as a screenplay, and it's actually a solid read. Nothing groundbreaking about the plot, but it's entertaining and well-written. Definitely short-film material.
"A Swift Tour" by Kris Williamson can be a tour-of-Penang piece...if the author had any sense of the location in the first place. Where he excelled in describing Kuala Lumpur in his novel, Mr Williamson floundered here and ended up repeating "Penang" so much that it feels like a placeholder, letting readers conjure up their own images of the island-state. And to fit the theme of the anthology, the author also insisted on repeatedly saying how the protagonist loves Penang, because in essence, it's not a love story. The plot is simplistic, but the story could have been saved if actual descriptions of setting are used. Lazy writing, perhaps? However, I like the author's cheeky inclusion of his novel's title in the story. Sorta like finding an Easter egg.
"At the Bridge" by Agnes Ong is about what happens when reality follows happily-ever-afters. It's one of the only pieces that actually describe the setting. Not one of my favorites, but nothing glaring either.
"Runaway" by Dayang Noor is about a woman with commitment issues. Seriously. It's refreshing to know that this affliction is not limited to men. Clean prose, excellent characterization and a complete story arc. What's there to complain? One more pillar to lend this anthology strength. Like Eeleen Lee's works, I think by now I can recognize Dayang Noor's signature voice.
"She, He" by PP is about first loves, forbidden loves. The prose is a bit pretentious and overreaching, but it's not exactly bad, either.
"Majestic Heights" by Marc de Faoite is a beautifully-crafted piece. It's about the potential of love between a Nepalese and an Indonesian, both looking to make a living in a foreign land. I use "foreign land" instead of "Penang" because the setting could have been anywhere: Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Timbuktu. The story could have been leaps stronger had the author grounded the setting, which is a shame, really, because it is a good story.
"Name" by Fadzlishah Johanabas. Eh. That's me. I'll let you decide if it's good, bad, or blah. I know I wrote it with much love and affection.
So why did I give this anthology 5 stars on Goodreads, when there are weak stories? Stories I hate may be your cup of tea. Stories I swoon over may be blah to you. My actual grade is 4.5, but I rounded it up. There are plenty of pillars in this book that make up for the weaker ones, with -- for me -- "Happiness" being the central support pillar. There is a mixture of voices here that represent Malaysian English (except for barely-legible-English, which you can find on Twitter). The arcs are mostly complete, a rare commodity in Malaysian anthologies, and the contents of this book aren't overwhelmed by political, racial and religious parodies. It shows how Malaysia is moving forward, growing up. It shows grace, and there is much beauty in grace. I hope this book will be read far and wide, and I hope more anthologies of this quality (and more) will be published in the near future.
I am excited by the potential this anthology heralds.
The book arrived. It was thicker than I thought it would be. I tore it open and wrote on the first inner page - Writer's copy. I do that with every first copy of the books I've written or have contributed to. This is one of them. I know I'll be proud of it without even reading the whole collection. Because my story is in it. One of my stories.
Satisfied, I took my favourite bookmark, placed it between the pages and started reading from the first story. The introduction. It is a good one, Anna, a very good one. And then, I got lost in the island I miss the most - Penang.
Thank you, fellow writers, for such great stories. Your well-written stories bring back memories of my one-year stay at Penang, the island I've come to miss very much as I moved on in life. And LOVE IN PENANG is just a perfect read to bring back those beautiful memories.
I wish fixi publish more books of this kind of genre. I had so much fun reading this, I want to revisit Penang again. I was there, back then when I was 4 years old. Nothing much come to mind, except went to the famous mall, had nasi kandar and went to the beach. I'm just too old to remember everything now.
Looking at the title you know all of the stories was based in Penang. But for me it is actually more about life than Penang itself. Having said on the intro I quoted "I'm somewhat surprised that there was no ode to Penang food in these pages", and I can totally relate to it. Nothing too much about Penang actually, just the mentioned of few familiar places here and there.
But I have so much love for "When it Rains" by Celine Wu Yee Pheng "Amah's Bicycle" by Julya Oui "Yana" by Nadia Khan "Rock n Love" by Gina "Runaway" by Dayang Noor "Majestic Heights" by Marc de Faoite "Name" by Fadzlishah Johanabas
I have different reasons why I love them. Some just got straight to your heart, it was funny, the ending was heartbreaking, the bittersweet feeling, the unexpected ending.
Tiga terfeveret: Name (Fadzlishah Johanabas), Amah's Bicycle (Julya Oui) & Majestic Heights (Marc de Faoite).
Aku tau cerita yang ada love-love ni memang bukan 'makanan' aku tapi kebanyakan cerita dalam buku ni takde la menekankan love-love antara kekasih semata-mata (fuhhh~ *lap peluh*). Memang takde letak apa-apa expectations pada buku ni. Kebanyakan jalan cerita agak cliche, yet still enjoyable to read :)
Masa belajar public speaking dulu Lecturer cakap first point dengan last point kena yang paling power. Macam dalam buku ni, cerpen pertama dan terakhir memang buat aku terbuai-buai dengan cinta. Tapi paling terkesan dengan 'He, She'. Aku harap mereka dapat happy ending dan aku harap aku pun akan dapat happy ending with my own 'he'
double-blind: a very open-minded story, loved the dialogs, and left to wonder if one would ever find love in such a way… amah's bicycle: chili stuffed fish… happiness: amazing how one gets clarity from siu bak… must be one ho liao siu bak… tingles: how to detect a … when it rains: is integration known as janjang? lol… hmm… penang seems to be very small or i should say pulau tikus area… yana: wah… so tragic… and yet the story has potential to be developed into a ghost story… rock 'n' love: wow… what a couple of sociopaths… oil in canvas: one is left to wonder… was it his mother? katak: very dry… like the dried up mud at gurney drive when low tide… the baobab tree: what a tree… love letters: first thought - wah, so keh poh… last thought - wah, like that also can… oh, snap!: ooo… this is how chua cd was produced… a swift tour: what an opportunistic fella! should report him to immigration … at the bridge: what a pathetic man…how the heck did she find him? resolving marital issues at the Penang bridge… cannot resolve? we still have the second bridge… runaway: teruk betul… she, he: blood brother, heart brother, online bf --> forbidden love… yawn majestic heights: hmm… giving false hopes to people… how irresponsible… name: another bittersweet love story… reminded me of that movie - the vow by channing tatum… overall, i like most of the stories, you can tell by my reviews…
There's a reason I don't read romance books. Most of it is predictable.
I decided to get this book because Anna Tan was one of the speakers for my event and well then, it's the right time to get familiar with her work. I knew that Anna is based in Penang, so how lucky for her to have the opportunity to edit a book that is solely set in her hometown! I don't read a lot of short stories compilation, so I was excited to start this book.
I know that most Malaysians overlook the works of local artists and authors, but wow..you are really missing out if you're not reading this. The stories revolve around different age groups and ethnicity, which represents the diversity of Malaysia. There are stories involving interracial couple, high school couple, college couple, old couple, arranged marriage, politics, gangsters and many more. Even though these are short stories, the authors can still manage to rip out your feelings (death, unrequited love, etc)...great..tissues please. I like how they included pop culture reference like, Taylor Swift and make the conversation sound SOOOO Malaysian!
If you hate cheesy lines and want to get a reminder of how awesome Penang is (especially the food and architecture), then this book is for you. This book has given me higher expectations for other Fixi novels.
I finally have time to write a review of this anthology. It's also exciting for me because I have a story in it! But anyway, I enjoyed reading the other stories very much. A few didn't work out, a few were light, and there were some which I really enjoyed, reminding me of the time that I was last back in Malaysia, Penang in particular. Kudos to Anna Tan for putting together a book that manages to deliver just what its title promises.
I am not great at writing reviews, so I will list out some of my favourites:
1. She, He| PP 2. Majestic Heights| Marc de Faoite 3. Happiness| Leroy Luar
I really enjoyed all three stories because of their meandering, somewhat indefinite styles, telling stories spliced together from various perspectives, but still delivering a wonderful experience and atmosphere. Overall, these stories transcended the pages of the book, even though the stories themselves seemed somewhat sparse.
In short, it's a very good book. Great for a light read when you're missing the island.
I love it. Lots of simple yet sweet stories compared to kl noirs which for me are a bit complicated to be understood. what I like best about this book is the setting of the stories which is in penang. it really gives me a feeling of breathing the air of penang. penang isn't so big. I can remember most of its places though I went there for only a few times. so whenever the writer mention certain places of penang that I know, I feel good! I love penang. The foods, the unique designs of the buildings n houses there, the beautiful arts etc etc etc. Thank you Love in Penang for giving me a nice and warm feeling inside. ;) among my fav short stories inside this book are: 1) Amah's bicycle 2) Tingles 3) Love Letters 4) Name
Satu percaturan yang menjadi apabila disudahi dengan cerpen cinta berbaur rasa daripada Fadzlishah Johanabas. Membaca helaian demi helaian umpama mendengar simfoni sebuah orkestra yang mendamaikan halwa telinga. Kecuali satu. Hanya satu cerita yang memecahkan senyuman romantis kepada tawa. Kris Williamson tahu di mana harus meletakkan sentuhan komedi ketika pembaca hanyut dalam mood berbunga.
I finally have time to read and write a review of this book. I’ve put it on-hold for almost, what? Eight or nine months?! Insane. I don’t particularly enjoy reading local books, but when I saw this title and knew that it’s written in English and of course with a little bit of Malay and Chinese, I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, I got bored and annoyed with some of the writing styles and the use of languages, so I stopped reading it.
And this month, I’ve finally finished it!
In general, I enjoyed reading most of the short stories in it. Some were really great and surprisingly touched my heart, some were light, and a few didn’t work out and kind of hard to get into. This compilation focused on love from every aspect and that’s what makes it different. Most of the stories makes us wonder what is going to happen next and it’s sad and frustrating because we won’t know. They are short stories. There will be no sequel. Thus, I imagined a lot and that’s fun!
Reading this book reminds me of when I went to Penang, but since I’m not too familiar with the places, I’m kind of clueless. I was surprised none of the authors mentioned Bukit Bendera in their stories, isn’t it one of the famous/must-go-to places in Penang?! Weird. I wish the authors mentioned more about tourist attractions, instead of hotels and Hard Rock Cafe.
And one thing that makes our country unique is that our foods. I was hoping to read more about famous local foods, particularly in Penang, but there were just too little. I remember being so happy when rojak is finally mentioned in one of the stories. Heh, don’t judge me.
I know, I know, my review so far kind of sounds more negative. But it’s just me being honest. And I know that this book is about love, and it’s not necessarily must mention about famous places and local foods, but in my opinion those elements will make the stories more interesting and help people to know and learn more about Penang. We all know that Penang is one of the unique and most visited places by tourists.
I’m not going to write a detailed review of each story, so here are my favourites: When it Rains by Celine Wu Yee Pheng, Yana by Nadia Khan, She, He by PP, and Majestic Heights by Marc de Faoite
Those four stories are my favourites, but my top favourite is When It Rains. The romance in it is just light and sweet. And the story made me smile most of the times and I truly enjoyed it. The most unpredictable story that I read is Majestic Heights. It’s not unpredictable in term of plot or storyline, but I’m surprised to know that one of the authors wrote a story about the potential of love between foreign workers (Indonesian and Nepalese) in our country. I didn’t expect it at all. And the story surprisingly turned out really good. It’s one unique story. All in all, it’s good for a light read. Only a few of the stories really stand out, while the others seem bland.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
Thank you Buku Fixi for providing me with a physical copy in return for an honest review.
This took harder than expected to read. Overall though, there is something for everyone. If you're the kind that loves comedy, or tragedy, or need some hope, you'll find it in here. Bear in mind that the stories are a wide and diverse collection, so while there are some you will love, there are some that will annoy you (I personally don't quite like Runaway, but I must insist that it is MY OWN PERSONAL TASTE).
If you need a light read, then this is probably a good one.
Various short stories which will certainly tug any reader's heart strings. Some stories are thought-provoking and some really warms the heart. Some could even be made into a movie, like "Rock 'N' Love".
A local publication that's definitely a page turner.
If you have just visited Penang and thinking of getting a souvenir, this book is just what you need.
Cherish the love..love of your life, love of your soul, love of your happiness, love of your places, love of your country. All kind of love is written in this book. You will appreciate the love from it, LOVE IN PENANG. Thanks Fixi, great books.
it tell the daily living in penang..how the culture life in penang, the environment, the interesting places, events, foods.... it's kind of colourful hectic life here... interesting to gain and learn life experiences...
Satuan antara Pulau Pinang dan cinta. Hampir separuh dari koleksi cerita buat aku tersenyum di penghujung. Bukan semuanya ada happy endinglah, tapi. Personal favorite aku; Double-Blind (salah anggap cinta), Yana (cabaran cinta bila si wanita ada ramai abang), Runaway (cinta lari-lari), dan Name (cinta, gitar, jeruk dan lampu isyarat).
LOVE IN PENANG Buku Fixi 2013 Editor: Anna Tan -------------------------------------- 18 Stories about love in various form and various styles of writing. A good company while feeding my cats at Armenian Garden. I saw a few that can be turned into short movies, among them When it rains by Celine Wu, Love Letters by Lean Ka-Min and Majestic Height by Marc de Faoite.