Little Basket 2016 is the first of a planned annual literary journal of new Malaysian writing. Unlike similar journals in other countries, it is produced with zero government or corporate funding. Each issue will have a print run of 3,000 and won’t be reprinted. Aside from sales at selected bookshops in Malaysia, it will also be distributed at international bookfairs such as London and Frankfurt. This volume features work by: Foo Sek Han Eileen Lian Marc de Faoite William Tham Wai Liang Murugasu SHANmughalingam Choong Jay Vee Tunku Halim Edwin Kho Julya Oui Kris Williamson Chua Kok Yee Zedeck Siew & Sharon Chin Angeline Woon Ling Low Lean Ka-Min Tilon Sagulu Terence Toh Zhou Sivan Cassandra Khaw Jin Hien Lau Timothy Nakayama
As a person who doesn't read many literary journals (or any at all, I suppose?), Little Basket 2016 was an absolute break from my usual fare - a complementary copy from the Malaysian booth at the London Book Fair, read in one sitting at the hostel bar while eating pizza (which may have gotten on some of the pages, oops), and then thoughtfully deconstructed as I lay on my top bunk and contemplated sleep.
This is a pretty dang good book. Short story collections come in so many forms, but they always feel a bit tame. A sci-fi collection loses something in its adherence to the genre. A generic Europe collection becomes narrowed in its definition of "literary". A single author's work becomes trite and repetitive. Anthologies of all sorts run the risk of getting too far off track and losing cohesion, or becoming too entrenched in their concept and losing originality.
But then Little Basket 2016 is a bit of all of those things. The stories are mostly weirder, genre-y style stories, but they're also not just that. There's sci-fi and horror and fantasy and comics, but there's also politics and contemporary stories and essays and poems. As the collection itself states, this is simply "New Malaysian Writing". Off the beaten track, but there's still a flexibility here in terms of content, and it makes for excellent reading. The fact that every contribution is its own whole piece is also refreshing. I ultimately only disliked one or two pieces in the entire book, while actively loving several.
Because this is a journal with a limited print run, and specifically focused on Malaysian writing (in English), I doubt that this is something people will just be able to pick up and read. Basically, this review is to say that if you suddenly HAVE a chance to read this collection, you should. It's delightfully different.
Yesterday while browsing through the shelves at MPH, I picked up a copy of Little Basket, “an annual literary journal offering a taste of Malaysian writing and visuals”. I got the 2016 issue, their very first issue, as it was the only one on the shelves. Maybe the 2017 one went pretty fast? Considering that the 2016 one only had a print run of 3000 copies (after which, the copyright page adamantly states, there will be no second prints), I felt pretty lucky to get a copy for myself.
I’d seen the Fixi and Fixi Novo books before (although, as someone who has poor Malay skills, I paid more attention to the Novo ones… lol), and I’ve skimmed through a copy of KL Noir once but it didn’t really grab my attention. I picked Little Basket up because, for one thing, it was way cheaper than any of the other imported books on the shelves–RM25, which is as good as it’s gonna get for a fresh copy of any book in Malaysia–but also because I thought it’s high time I try and get a sense of what the literature scene is like in Malaysia, and to start learning some names that may become big one day. I’ve spent my whole life reading books but never, ever any Malaysian authors.
And honestly? I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. Considering that I wrote off the Fixi Novo series earlier on when I put down the copy of KL Noir, I didn’t expect that English-language Malaysian writing was actually… pretty good, and readable! I’m definitely going to pay more attention to the Fixi Novo books after reading this, and I’ll try to see if I can get the 2017 Little Basket anywhere.
As the “Foreweird” tells us, the collection is dominated by short stories, and specifically by “genre fiction” short stories–leaning more towards the fantastic, horror and sci-fi. I think only about five or six of the 21 stories are naturalistic stories, with no involvement of bomohs or ghosts. The lean towards genre fiction reflects the trend in Fixi Novo publications, and also the trend of popular Malaysian fiction generally. As a kid, I remember reading a lot of True Singaporean Ghost Stories and Mr. Midnight books, and it’s kind of funny to see that that tendency towards the supernatural hasn’t really left Malaysian fiction, or what Malaysian readers look for in their fiction.
However, when you write in a genre that’s been done to death in your country (as a comparison, war stories in English literature come to mind, lol), it also means that it’s easier to bore the reader with the same common tropes, cliches and plot devices. Unfortunately, a few of the stories in Little Basket are guilty of this: Tunku Halim’s “Man on the 22nd Floor” started off pretty creepy with the teeth & fingernails, but lost my attention when its exposition used the old “dead beloved relative” trope; Chua Kok Yee’s “Love Potion No. 5” even included that good ol’ “suddenly died in an accident” trope that I swear featured in almost every other passage that we studied in Bahasa Malaysia. There were two forays into science fiction, with Terence Toh’s “Full Circle” and Julya Oui’s “Transbotica”. The paradox in the former felt too easy, too recognizable if you’ve watched any Doctor Who at all, and the lack of exposition left me pretty disappointed with the story’s ending (why did the protagonist have to go back in time to pretend to be the old man?), especially when I thought the author’s vision of dystopia was pretty interesting, and could have been explored way more. The latter had a great title, and was interesting enough, but could have been a lot punchier especially as it was dominated with dialogue.
The stories that I personally believe pulled off the supernatural/fantastic/horror genre well were Foo Sek Han’s “Red King, Asleep in the Garden” (whose protagonist’s life story was still pretty cliche, but the execution & interesting style makes up for it – I loved the idea of the monster that lives forever in our family homes), Marc de Faoite’s “The Green Fuse” (the political allegory almost became too heavily obvious, but it was restrained enough), and especially Angeline Woon’s “The Bloody Keris” and Zedeck Siew’s “Local Fauna” with illustrations by Sharon Chin, both of which were my personal favourites from the entire collection. I might be a bit biased towards Woon’s story, as it was a retelling of the legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang, and I’m usually a sucker for modern re-writes of folk tales, especially so with local ones as I didn’t grow up in a household where I got to hear a lot of them. Still, it made excellent use of the word limit and the cool emotionlessness of her sentences (especially in the final scene) made me feel more horror than any of the other overtly horror-genre stories in the Basket. As for Siew’s story, the editors compared it to Borges in their “Foreweird”, which I think is one of the best compliments a fantasy/supernatural writer could receive, and which I think is deserved as well. The collection of imaginary South East Asian beasts was delightful to read, and it made me excited to note from the author bio that Siew has a full-length collection of these in the works.
So yes, some of the genre fiction was a bit disappointing and may have been better suited for a longer word count, but the writers who can pull off the genre fiction can really pull it off. Besides, this is all still just my personal opinion, and maybe the wider Malaysian readership aren’t bored by these kind of stories, and in choosing them the editors were choosing stories that would appeal to more people. As the literature scene in Malaysia isn’t that big anyway, I can understand the need to just give people what they’ve proven to enjoy already.
The short stories that weren’t genre-fiction were a mixed bag as well. For the most part, I have to say that I enjoyed them a lot more than the supernatural ones. I noticed they tended to be a lot more nostalgic, with a lot of them featuring either children or childhood memories. They were quiet reflections on Malaysian life, and I wonder if that’s due to the overtly Malaysian specificity of the collection, and of what Fixi Novo looks for generally from their writers: in the manifesto from the book’s frontmatter, the third point is that Fixi Novo looks for “stories about the urban reality of Malaysia”, adding that, “if you want to share your grandmother’s world war 2 stories, send ’em elsewhere.” I wonder if asking specifically for Malaysian writing on Malaysia inevitably leads to self-reflection: a lot of the more naturalistic stories are reflections on Malaysia written as if the author(s) don’t live in Malaysia any more. I know from the author bios that a few of them don’t, so maybe that’s why.
Eileen Lian’s “The Pawn Shop” and Kris Williamson’s “Family Business” are both simple short stories that offer snapshots of a specific aspect of Malaysian life from a child’s point of view, and I think the technique of using a child’s POV makes the emotions they convey more effective. There was also Ling Low’s “Wanton Noodles” (my personal favourite of the naturalistic stories) and William Tham Wai Liang’s essay “Diaspora”, both of them written by Malaysians living abroad reflecting on the distance between the home of their childhood selves and the home of their current selves. “Wonton Noodles” offers a snapshot of a past life, like Lian’s and Williamson’s stories, but is also more complex from how it juxtaposes nostalgia for a childhood memory alongside the disillusionment of growing up. It is a short story about the memory of a beloved wanton noodle stand, “the best in Ipoh”, and the memory of a beloved uncle, and how both memories–inextricably linked to the protagonist’s image of a Malaysia now lost to them when their family immigrated to Australia, where “when we wanted wanton noodles, we had to go to Chinatown”–are dashed when the family returns for a long-overdue visit to their home town. “Diaspora” is also laden with sadness, the sadness of knowing that one’s memory of home no longer reflects the current reality of it. Again like in Lian’s, the emotion is effectively conveyed through a juxtaposition of the author’s internal feelings with an external environment that is lonely and sad, with the repeated references to a “frigid northern city” in Canada where the author worked for a few months.
All in all, it was a fun collection for a decent price, and I’d explore future collections and publications from Fixi/Fixi Novo. It got me really excited to explore more of Malaysian culture and every time I finished a short story I always got busy Googling the authors so I could start knowing some names. Generally, the collection was pretty hit and miss and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for its literary merit, but the content of the stories is solid enough reading for anyone looking for representations of a diverse Malaysia.
I picked this up in Kuala Lumpur, looking for something contemporary that'd help take the local pulse. I wish more places did this sort of thing.
It's a nice mix: some thoughtful, some daft, some set-piece-y and some kinda YA. I'm getting that Malaysia likes its horror and fantasy (who doesn't). My favourites were 'Wonton Noodles' and the piece on being a Malaysian abroad. 'Local Fauna' was a nice collaboration. A few trippy 'Huh? Who's doing what here?' numbers. But all pretty decent, really.
This is their first year and I hope they do well; there's a welcome irreverence and sassiness about their manifesto - all the way down to the price point. I love that line 'We don't publish poetry because we want to make money' (NB they do, actually). I know we have Granta and are spoiled by endless short story collections, but this feels more like a likeable bunch of mates doing it (in a good way). Bravo.
I love that most of the stories were short, 'sharp' and straightforward. I read one or two stories from other books, but still I love re-reading it again in here. My favorite would be How Broken Is My Aircond by Choong Jay Vee-- love both main characters, very comical and suspense, quite fancy and I love the ending. I like that some of it gave me this twist feeling about the plot like Love Potion No. 5 (Chua Kok Yee), Full Circle (Terence Toh) and Man On The 22nd Floor (Tunku Halim). So much variety and genre, love most of the narrator especially that little boy in Family Business (Kris Williomson) and Wanton Noodles (Ling Low). It was a nice read, from humanity and nature to family and relationship, some longing for love, friendship and desperation. Also a bit of sci-fi and illustrative plot, which making this more compelling. Love the fruity basket!
This compilation of poem, short stories and strip comics are PER.FEC.TION!
Just as the title implies, it is a sort of little basket full of various 'fruits' of your liking. There's scary ghost stories, supernatural mumbo-jumbo story, sci-fi dystopian short about robot, heartbreaking peek of social commentaries, LOLed snippets of life's anecdotes.
You name it, this book is (sure) going to have it.
Its very hard to pinpoint which stories are my favourite as each and every one of them are really really good.
Guess the 4 editors had done a successful job in selecting the crème de la crème of awesome compilations of English writings.
Hope that next year's entries would be as varied and more awesome that this one.
“But to the city at large we were just Asians, most of us with recognizably Chinese features. We were merged together with the rest of the huge East Asian diaspora that filled the city with medicinal herbs and cheap take-outs and medical school graduates. But we resisted the stereotypes, we were Malaysians, we would say proudly, and we were not like the others. And so that was us at the start of our university years, alive and full of energy. But for them Malaysia always beckoned. They would always return there. I wasn't so sure. My future was hazy but I had already felt the first sneaking suspicions that I would not be going back. For then we lived headily in the city of bright lights”. - Diaspora by William Tham Wai Liang (Little Basket, New Malaysian Writing 2016) . . It would be weird not to pick up this one after i have read Little Basket Malaysian Writing 2017 and 2018 months ago. As usual, the collection of stories can be hit and miss but with that expectation in my mind, i enjoyed this way more than the others. Funny how our brain were wired that way. This collection featured poems, comics, anecdotes and short stories - some were horrors, some were sci-fi , some were thrillers and some were just simply personal thoughts. I have shared some of the stories that i liked from the book in the following parts. . My Individual Rating for these stories: Rating : 5/5 1. Diaspora by William Tham Wai Liang - On the identity of wanderer, neither rooted nor belonged to the birth country. 2. Transbotica by Julya Oui - When android regained consciousness and being self aware of her gender. 3. The Bloody Keris by Angeline Woon - What if Puteri Gunung Ledang story were told in the POV of Sultan Mahmud’s Son. 4. Local Fauna by Zedeck Siew & Sharon Chin - The quirky description of Nature that existed in Malaysia. 5. Full Circle by Terence Toh - Predestination or Serendipity? . Rating : 4/5 1. Love Potion No. 5 by Chua Kok Yee 2. Wanton Noodles by Ling Low 3. The Pawn Shop by Eileen Lian 4. Striving After Wind by Tilon Sagulu 5. No More by Murugasu SHANmughalingam 6. How Broken Is My Air-cond by Choong Jay Vee 7. Man On The 22nd Floor by Tunku Halim 8. Breeding Ground by Edwin Kho & Julya Oui 9. 21 Across by Lean Ka-Min . Rating : 3/5 1. The Green Fuse by Marc de Faoite 2. Family Business by Kris Williamson 3. Red King, Asleep in the Garden by Foo Sek Han 4. Wang Kelian by Zhou Sivan 5. Monsters by Cassandra Khaw 6. Diarrhea by Jin Hien Lau 7. Abracadabra by Timothy Nakayama .
A pleasant surprise. Most of Fixi Novo's titles seem a bit too self-consciously sensationalist; this one has a happy cover design for once not featuring panties or phallic shapes. The stories themselves are natural, unforced, thought-provoking, and I recommend this based on its optimistic (almost feel-good!) realism. This is where I say my faith in Malaysian writing has been restored.
Not all great - a couple of stories still rely on the clunky tropes of pontianaks and bomohs - but overall refreshing.
Fixi Novo has always been rather genre-unbending, overtly relying on the shock-value of stories rather than storytelling itself. Little Basket signals a maturing of the franchise, and hopefully the readers that support it.
I don't usually like short story collections, but I love this one. The content is varied. The fantastical elements are delightful. Each and every piece has something interesting to think about. I also enjoy the cheeky, irreverent style of the editors.
This is a box of mixed chocolate, the writings / drawings can vary to a relatively great extent so one might not enjoy all of them. Here are some of my favourites from the book: - Red King, Asleep in the Garden. - The Green Fuse. - How Broken Is My Air-cond. - Man On The 22nd Floor. - Local Fauna. - Full Circle.
A great first compilation of Malaysian writings with mix genres of stories, comics and 1-2 poetry.
Giving it a 4-stars because of the memorable stories in it. The Pawn Shop’s relatability for working class family daily life, trying to lessen the feel of the Malaysian heat in How Broken Is My Air-Cond and the creepy but romantic lasting love story of Man On The 22nd Floor all feels true to those that have been raised and lived in Malaysia.
Full Circle by Terence Toh is a sweet and funny love story that ended differently than what I would have thought but memorable nonetheless.
Julya Oui’s Transbotica is fascinating in making me wonder if Malaysia, as a country, will ever let people truly embrace who they are? The story of The Green Fuse by Marc de Faoite is one way of looking at the politics of the country and why it has turned out the way it has.
All the writers have done a great job of adding the Malaysian sprinkle to their stories which made them relatable and interesting. In terms of which story, you will remember/ relate the most is of a personal preference or experience. But, I am sure there is a relatable story for everyone in Little Basket 2016.
there have been love-hate relationship with this book for me. there are some stories that I absolutely love but there are also stories that I could not understand what the story is all about, what's the writer trying to potray/tell.. but for this I blame it on myself. My fav story would be 21 Across lol.
These are no ordinary stories, for sure. Each stood out as its own, but never really dimming or ruling other stories out. My favourite has got to be Tunku Halim's story. It was horrifying at first, but I couldn't take my eyes away from the book, and what a lovely surprise I had when reading the plot twist.
"I briefly worked in China... There I was in the place that my grandfather had fled from a century earlier, escaping for the shores of Malaya from a republic torn up under the weight of competing warlords." — Diaspora by William Tham
Mais moi aussi!
Fun and light read. Nothing impressive linguistically (the more grandoise the attempt, the more pretentious-sounding, in fact), but I heartily applaud the story lines with sly twists.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
As expected from a collection of short stories, it's a mixed bag (or basket). Unfortunately most of the offerings are blah and only two of them had any zest in them. Still, it's the first issue so let's hope with more submissions next year the editors will be able to put together something less bland.
Yes maybe my expectations did go higher and I expected the stories impacted me like KL Noir did. However, looking from the literary perspective, the writing (language) is local to Malaysians and good I admit. Hopefully the second issue gains more submissions!
Favourites: - The Pawn Shop by Eileen Lian - Diaspora by William Tham Wai Liang - No More by Murugasu SHANmughalingam' - Family Business by Kris Williamson - The Bloody Keris by Angeline Woon - Wanton Noodles by Ling Low
I really really like this 'little basket'. I think, out of the 21 works, only 1-2 works that didn't appeal to me. They don't even get to the point where I dislike them, it was just I enjoyed those 1-2 works less than the others.
I decided to read this work after a long weekend getaway to Malaysia and my trip left me confused about the country. In the spirit of wanting to understand the country a bit better, I decided to read this book. It helped me a bit, definitely. And if I were to choose a favourite, I would go for the Diaspora essay. That essay made me understand. I feel really connected to the writer and to many Malaysians after reading it. It is that great.
Props to Buku Fixi, the publishers, and the editors who definitely did a brilliant job. I wish other countries, including mine, do it. It would help everyone, both locals and tourists (to understand each country a bit better), a huge favour.
An entertaining anthology of Malaysian writing from a smattering of experienced writers, and a few interesting comics. Though I wished some of the stories were longer or were less reliant on certain stereotypical portrayals, it was overlooked for the entertainment value they brought. Thanks to Fixi Novo who continue to bring more local writing to the fore!