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Novel 2 > Last Breath

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message 1: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Welcome back Brenda, Emelyn, Evon, Hannah and Natalie! Please post your reviews here.


message 2: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Loke | 8 comments “Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian culture was noticeably depicted. However, I did find the author’s writing very lengthy and boring as the plot progresses. To explain this, the story actually began with an engaging start when it portrayed a woman named Lani being discriminated by her boss. I was indeed captivated by this scenario and agreed to how it accurately depicts the patriarchal system of our society. However, the momentum of the plot began to deteriorate after several similar extensive descriptions of the characters and settings. I found these descriptions very unnecessary and quite repetitive. For example, when Puan Sri Kasnah and her family were stuck in the jungle, there were several times when she began to reminisce her luxurious past and the comfort of her home. I understand that the author’s intention was to emphasise on Puan Sri’s regrets, but I do not think it was necessary to describe it using that many sentences and yet using the same types descriptions repetitively.


    Moving on, I also found some parts of the story quite confusing and I had to read them several times before understanding what was happening. For instance, when the protagonist, Tan Sri Ismail encountered the bomoh for the first time, the whole situation was very hard for me to comprehend. I wasn’t sure if the protagonist was being delusional and that all of these events were only happening while he was still in a coma, or that the situation was actually happening and he has woken up. Thus, I could not picture the events of the story being played out and it felt like I was just blankly reading words off the pages at many instances.  


    I respect that Tunku Halim uses “dolob”, a made up race, to portray hate among the society, which I believe is a good way to avoid offending anyone. However, I did not like the amount of negativity there was in this book towards this specific group of people, calling them names like “Dolob Babi” and “Dolob Devils”. What’s worse was, the hate never really died down even towards the end of the story. I was really hoping that the tables would turn and the community would start to realize that hating the dolob isn’t a solution to anything. Sadly, this was not the case. Even when the story was reaching to an end, the discrimination still remains and the only turning point was the protagonist finding out that he himself was a dolob. This twist, in my opinion, did not do much of an impact because Tan Sri was no doubt a cruel and selfish person throughout the book so this account only further depict the dolobs as horrible people. So, I personally felt that there wasn’t an impactful message or moral that I can take back from reading this book besides the typical “don’t be a selfish jerk boss like the protagonist” which I felt was very average and cannot relate to.


    In the aspect of organisation, the transition from one scenario to another was done smoothly except when the “bomoh” was introduced into the book as I have said earlier. Besides that, I believe the author did a great job in introducing one character at a time and slowly linking them together with the use of the situations happening. But, I do think that the story’s progression can be improved in many ways. One of them is how the author builds the climax of the plot. During the part when the police found the bodies of the characters, I was definitely in shock. However, my emotion was quickly ruined when the author went back to describing the scene of the characters trying to survive in the rising waters. Honestly, I already know that they’re going to die so having to read that incident did not evoke any suspense that it should have thus, destroying the flow of the story. The ending of the story was also structured very badly in my opinion. For me, the closing sentence of a book is a huge factor in determining my impression towards it. Sadly, for “Last Breath”, it did not give me a lasting impression. I could not connect the final sentence to any of the events or messages that were portrayed throughout the book besides the book’s title itself.  


In conclusion, this book was no doubt very different compared to most American-written books that I have read. However, there are still rooms for improvement in many ways, from the author’s writing to the development of the plot.


message 3: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Ho (buhrenda) | 8 comments Let’s first put it out there that I didn’t like this book.

I had a lot of issues with this book, one of them being Halim’s desperate attempts to incorporate Manglish into speech dialogue to make it sound more authentic but having it backfire tragically. Being a Malaysian that speaks Manglish on a regular basis myself, it sounded very unnatural and distasteful, and it was an unbelievably poor attempt at imitating local slang. As a Malaysian author, I would have expected Halim to have known better.

Generally, I could not enjoy the novel as the overall plot and majority of the sentences were very “tacky” in a way that it felt like I was reading one of those poorly written fanfic. I mean, I can’t have been the only one that felt annoyed at the overemphasis on Tan Sri being the “5th Richest Man in Malaysia” and Puan Sri’s “sombong-ness”? WE GET IT. There are better, subtler ways to delineate a character’s personality than by directly emphasizing on the same quality of the character 100 times in the book.

Besides that, I was not a fan of the writing style at all. I’m not sure the best way to describe it but the descriptions just felt very “inaccurate” and a poor telling of the story; it was difficult for me to follow and often times I found myself having to reread the same paragraphs just to understand what was going on, and even then, I had to guess at what was happening.

I also didn’t quite like the inclusion of Dolobs in the story. I believe Halim did so to avoid backlash should he depict any of the existing races as undesirable as he did with the Dolobs, but the way it was written made it seem irrelevant (the only time it was portrayed as anything significant was when Tan Sri found out he is Dolob) and confusing (I will never understand “skin color darker than Indians and lighter than Chinese”), and if anything, it marred the existing pool of cultures with heavy focus on the Dolobs and little mention of the other races.

You know, my review makes it sound like this book is downright awful. But it wasn’t - sort of. I didn’t like many aspects of it, but it was still tolerable. Honestly, I have read worse. But a certain aspect of the book ruined it for me, and that was the disloyalty of the characters. The characters’ lust was revolting, abrupt and unnatural to the point that it made me uncomfortable. Infidelity happens to be an act I personally cannot stand nor accept, and I really disliked Halim’s way of portraying it as something acceptable if no one ever finds out.

Despite everything, I do have to say the book gets slightly better near the ending, and I suspect that is due to all the action that happens. Overall, I didn’t find this book appealing at all but I also can’t say it’s the worst book I’ve read.


message 4: by Hannah (new)

Hannah | 8 comments In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have to state the obvious: I really did not enjoy reading this.

Having never read a full length novel by a Malaysian author before, I was intrigued to see what the writing standard of the local scene was like; that being said, it breaks me to say that if this is how most of our local works are, consider me turned off– poorly edited with numerous grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, topped with an abundance of plot holes. It was difficult for me to get through this book, and if it were not for the fact that I am required to review it, I would have stopped reading it after the first 100 pages, for that’s how long it took for the story to finally pick up.

Admittedly, Last Breath started off with plenty of potential; I was intrigued by the premise of a greedy business tycoon being brought down from power by the influence of a bomoh. However, along the way, with the consistent and garish descriptions of people vomiting at the sight of the bomoh and her “nangka-like” breasts that sway with her every movement having been described as such one too many times, Tunku Halim’s writing not only grew repetitive, but corny and distasteful. What started off as somewhat comedic soon turned into poorly executed “satire”, a parody of what it could have been. Furthermore, while I appreciated the fact that an abundance of manglish terms were used for added effect and genuineness, there was just something so inherently crude about how Tunku Halim presented his work, and it made me cringe throughout. To add on to Tunku’s writing style, his obvious use of metaphors and symbolism throughout the work (i.e the change in colour of the white blossoms at the Muslim cemetery that turned “sewer water brown” upon Tan Sri’s decision to kill Lani, his former tea lady, out of revenge– the change in colour as if to foreshadow Tan Sri’s own demise), and misplaced, random, scenarios such as the “ape-men” in the jungle all contributed to how chaotic this story was. It was a hodgepodge of mismatched characters with odd and unrealistic reactions to the events happening around them. Perhaps the randomness of the events in the book were intended for some sort of effect, but whatever it was, it was certainly lost in translation.

Moving on to one other aspect that rubbed me in a weird way while reading this book was the introduction of the dolob race. Their skin “darker than the Malays and Indians but lighter than the Chinese”, the entire race seems to be collectively hated by all the characters in the book. Perhaps the inclusion of this fictitious race into the work was intended by Tunku to embody the group mentality of Malaysians towards all things foreign. Perhaps it was an attempt at social commentary. Nevertheless, I found it not only poorly executed, but once again, like all other aspects of this book, highly repetitive.


With all that being said, I decided to give the book two stars instead of one, simply because I recognised the traces of the philosophy of absurdism utilised throughout the book, and I could appreciate Tunku Halim’s work for that, and that only. Absurdism refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any, such as we can see in Tan Sri’s consistent pursuit of value in terms of wealth, or Puan Sri Kasnah’s attempts to add value by buying diamonds galore, and finally, all their attempts boiling down to nothing, swept away by “the great flood” of Sungei Mati. My beliefs that this work follows the thread of absurdism were finally confirmed at one later point in the work, when the quote “Life is but a dream,”, from Eugene Ionesco, a renowned absurdist author and poet, was used to describe the situation Puan Sri Kasnah, her two sons, Rajan, Boris, and Swee Cheng were in as water surrounded them. When I finally realised this, I grew a newfound appreciation for the work. However, the introduction of the element came so late in the story, so long after my perception and impression of the work and writing had been marred, that by that point, I no longer had the energy to understand what this work is truly about, nor did I want to.

In short, while I can commend Tunku Halim for his attempt at writing what could have been an excellent social commentary on the power plays and imbalance of social justice that do in fact happen right below our noses here in Malaysia, the execution of the work leaves me no choice but to say that this is certainly a book I would not pick up again.


message 5: by Emelyn (new)

Emelyn | 9 comments DISCLAIMER: my review of “Last Breath” may be a little dramatic, but to be fair, I’ve never had a book put me to sleep quite like this one did.

Reading “Last Breath” was a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I was intrigued, bored, angry, then bored some more until I just became sleepy. In short, “Last Breath” is quite possibly the most boring book I have ever read (and this includes all the books I was forced to read in school)! I’ve attempted to sum up the reasons I found this book so distasteful below:

WHY HAVE I LABELLED “LAST BREATH” THE MOST BORING BOOK ALIVE?

1. Overly repetitive
The author probably intended his repetition to emphasise upon several key facts, namely the Tan Sri as the “fifth richest man in Malaysia”, and the repulsive smell emitted by the bomoh. However, I believe he went wayyyy over the top with his use of repetition, to the point where it became tiresome and unnecessary. The phrase “fifth richest man in Malaysia” was mentioned whenever the Tan Sri appeared in the book - and as the main character of the novel, he sure was mentioned a lot! Likewise, the repugnant smell of the bomoh was also brought up whenever she appeared. Even the characters’ reactions to the bomoh’s smell was repetitive: they were all similarly repulsed, then proceeded to throw up.

2. What even was the plot?????
This is mainly directed to the first half of the novel. The author didn’t seem to have any direction at all!!!! After introducing the characters and the main conflict of the story - namely the Bomoh’s demands to stop the construction of the dam and the Tan Sri’s refusal to do so - the plot came to a screeching halt. The next chapters (too many chapters, ugh) flip flopped between the Tan Sri throwing up in sheer terror/giving in to the Bomoh’s wishes/attempting to outsmart her. I was bored to death and couldn’t read 10 pages without wanting a nap.

3. The author’s use of figurative language - especially simile and metaphor
Where!!! Do!!! I!!! Begin!!! Littered throughout the book are similes and metaphors that simply do not make sense. Authors usually employ the use of figurative language to bring their writing to life, but all Tunku Halim succeeded in doing was create a whole lot of confusion - and in my case, anger. Here’s an example of Halim’s use of simile: “She semi-squatted like a defecating wild boar…. limb bouncing beneath her sarong like a leg of mutton” (203). How is his use of imagery effective??? What similarities do a bouncing leg and a leg of mutton have??? How does the visual image of a defecating wild boar bring the image of the bomoh semi-squatting to life???

4. Narrative style
The book is written in 3rd person, with a very casual tone. Apart from introducing the characters and providing the setting for each chapter, the narrator would also occasionally mention a topic with absolutely no relevance to the story. An excellent example can be found in an early chapter of the book: “(Tan Sri Ismail Ismail) has signed several letters with a pen given to him by the French Ambassador. The particular brand has been deliberately omitted from this memoir for a lack of product placement fee” (29). I suppose the latter sentence is the author’s attempt at humour, but I thought the switch in topics to be jarring and unnecessary.

5. The dialogue, bless us all
I think the author attempted to incorporate Malaysian culture into the story, as the dialogue is littered with Malaysian slang, like “lah”, “eh”, and “aiyah”. Boris in particular speaks broken English (“What for work so hard?”), which is reminiscent of Malaysian English, and similar to the English spoken by locals. I do have to give the author props for that, but once again, I think he went over the line with his use of Manglish (Malaysian English). The broken English and excessive slang became tiresome and just plain annoying halfway through the book, which made it even more difficult to get through the book.

6. The pacing!!!
The book earned some redemption towards its final chapters when the pace picked up as the Tan Sri raced against time to save his family. Sadly, it was too little too late, and I had already mentally shoved “Last Breath” into the “NEVER READ AGAIN” section of my bookcase. Hence my last point: the pacing of the book was all over the place! “Last Breath” had actually started off strong, and had piqued my interest in the first few chapters, but I found my interest had waned after the pacing slowed down and the plot failed to progress. The pacing only picked up in the last few chapters of the book, making the middle chapters (at least in my mind) an unreadable bulk of text.

I did like some aspects of the book, I swear! I love the idea of an all-powerful bomoh controlling an entire nation, the “puppeteer” behind the prime minister’s every move. I just feel like the story wasn’t executed properly, UGH. I also love the exploration of Malaysian culture, especially in regards to bomohs and our version of magic. All in all, “Last Breath” had an interesting concept, but was poorly executed and ultimately was the cause of much anger and boredom on my part.


message 6: by Evon (new)

Evon | 8 comments Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to another and I think it’s because the narration(?)/writing style(?)/plot(?) is too long-winded. I never thought this was possible but I also think that the story was too descriptive, with many unusual similes which distracted me from the plot because I was subconsciously trying to understand and see the picture the words were trying to paint. For example, “the frangipani trees glistened like silk”. Although, I’m not sure if this is (me not being able to focus) because I haven’t been reading for leisure in a while.

I also find that language was used with no holds barred and very messily (like the author couldn’t decide on a style) For example, this phrase “stroking that cock of yours”(pg 95), shocked me when I read it because I just didn’t expect such crude words to be used in a book written by a Malaysian author and published in Malaysia, a generally conservative nation. Although it was the bomoh’s words, it definitely reminded me that such words are being exchanged in conversations here in Malaysia and the author was probably just trying to portray that fact as truthfully as possible. Besides that, I feel that there was an overuse of the word “bloody”, which made the sentences in which the word was used sound a bit unnatural. Like, I feel like Malaysians don’t really use the word that often. Lastly, sometimes the use of slang such as the “ah” in “I love her, ah?” and “Cannot be one!” sounds a bit off as well because I wasn’t able to say the words out loud without it sounding unnatural.


message 7: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Ho (buhrenda) | 8 comments Natalie wrote: "“Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian culture was noticeably depicted. However, I did ..."

I’m so glad that we feel the same way about how confusing the writing was and how difficult it was to follow the story. I thought it was possible that it could just be an issue from my end, that I didn’t understand it, but I suppose this can be attributed more to Halim’s writing style. On this note, I am somewhat surprised that you found that the transition between scenes were smooth. I had issues with the transitions as it tied in with the writing style. For example, near the end, the scenes abruptly going back and forth between the characters struggling in the water and the aftermath were a whole mess. As you mentioned, it destroys the flow of the story as well as ruins the consistency of the storyline.


message 8: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Loke | 8 comments Hannah wrote: "In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have to state the obvious: I really did not enjoy..."

Hey Han! I love your review on this book and I definitely can relate to your comments, especially on the usage of repetitions. I had a similar thought when I realised that there were an overuse of similar descriptions for some of the characters (i.e. the bomoh). I can't help but to say this in my head as I was reading them - YES I GET IT SHE HAS WEIRD SAGGY BOOBS or I KNOW SHE'S A STINKY BOMOH. These thoughts eventually ruined the mood of the story for me which I believe was supposed to be scary or suspenseful :( Besides, your review also touches on the usage of manglish in this book. I feel the same way towards them and how the author may have went overboard with it. Boris specifically made cringe the most lol. Plus, during the event when Swee Cheng was dying on the street and Boris was suddenly picking his nose without realising really had me questioning on his character and the execution of the plot. Not only I was weirded out by the event but I was also very confused??


Furthermore, I agree on your comment on the randomness of the events in the book. Until now, I still don't understand what role did the ape-men played in the story. Maybe the encounters they had with some of the characters like Puan Sri Kasnah meant something significant, but I personally didn't feel like the author wrapped that up in the end. Thus, I was very unsatisfied after finishing the book and these events left me with so many unanswered questions.

Lastly, I really like your thoughts on the presence of absurdism. I never really realised them until you mentioned it and I also didn't see it that way. Maybe now, I would have a better appreciation towards the author’s writing :)


message 9: by Hannah (new)

Hannah | 8 comments Evon wrote: "Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to another and I think it’s because the narration..."

Hey Evon! I totally agree with you on the oddly descriptive nature and overuse of similes in the work– it definitely left more to be wanted in terms of use of language and pacing, leaving me as well wondering not only where Tunku Halim was trying to steer this book, but what kind of style he was aiming for; it was definitely jarring!

I personally was intrigued by the crude use of language and found it oddly apt! Of course, there were definitely instances where its usage was misplaced, once again affecting the flow of the book and at times causing for drastic change in tone (though, perhaps that is what Tunku Halim wanted? Will we ever know? haha).

Finally, just to confer with the overuse of the word "bloody", I agree that our generation in particular doesn't use it as much, however I've encountered plenty of the English educated older generations (our grandparents and slightly younger) who seem to enjoy injecting it into their daily conversation quite a lot! Perhaps if we take into consideration Tunku Halim's own background and the time setting of the story as well as the age of the characters, the maybe it would make more sense? Either way, it was definitely still odd.


message 10: by Emelyn (new)

Emelyn | 9 comments Hey Bren! Regarding your view on the author’s overall use of manglish - I totally agree with you! Like I said in my own review, the author definitely went overboard with his use of Malaysian slang. On the other hand, we are fluent English speakers so perhaps we tend to inject less Malaysian “slang” into our everyday conversations; hence, the manglish could sound natural to everyone but us, lmao. (I’m trying to give the author some credit here since I bashed him so much in my review ok)

I really enjoyed your review of the author’s inclusion of the Dolob race! I hadn’t considered many of the points you brought up; I feel so enlightened now haha. I definitely agree that the inclusion of the Dolobs took away the focus from the other cultures in Malaysia (which is such a pity because Malaysia is such a melting pot of cultures!). I think part of the reason the ending of the book was so unsatisfying for me was because of the many loose ends, including the Tan Sri’s discovery of his Dolob identity. Yeah, so he’s a Dolob; oh the shame, how tragic, oh no. However, before the Tan Sri ever has to deal with his newfound identity, he drowns, effectively ending his potential character development before it could even begin.


message 11: by Evon (new)

Evon | 8 comments Hi Ms Kalai, sorry but I can’t reply to Emelyn’s review because I currently don’t have my laptop with me and I can’t seem to find the reply button on neither the goodreads website on safari nor the goodreads app. So here’s my reply to Emelyn’s review.

Hey Em, I totally agree with everything you’ve said except that it wasn’t as emotional for me. I was bored by the book but I definitely wasn’t angered by it or anything like that. I think this is because I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly I don’t like the book so to me it was just a very shallow feeling of “oh my god can I just get this over with” instead of annoyance like “why are there so many repetitions of the phrase describing the Tan Sri and the smell of the bomoh?”. And instead of being upset about the plot being all over the place, to me it was more like “this is so confusing I don’t get where the author is going with this”

Also, the similes and metaphors!! I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN. I’m generally not v observant but the comparisons were just so overused and strange that even I noticed it.


message 12: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Natalie wrote: "“Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian culture was noticeably depicted. However, I did ..."

Hey Nat...so this book is not your cup of tea, huh? Well, we are free to like and dislike reading material; everyone wears different lenses which frame their readings. And you have chosen yours which results in one form of interpretation.

Let's just shift our lenses for a bit and put on different ones. How about we look at the elements that are putting us off and dissect them not as defects in the story/defects of the writer, but as a form of storytelling that the storyteller has consciously chosen to tell his story.

1. What genre might this be?
2. Is it possible that the writer is letting you in? Letting you into a sect of Malaysian society or secrets into a culture that is different from yours-something that you are not familiar with? What would it teach you then? What would you have learnt?
3. The exaggeration, the repetitions, the verbosity-- let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he crafted them for a purpose-- why would he consistently insist on over-dramatizing the bomoh with sensory images, repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri?
4. The Dolobs and the Ape-Man? Are they representative of something Malaysian? Are they there to further the already blurred lines between reality and fantasy in the story?

These are guiding questions to see the text from another perspective; You don't have to answer them one by one. Try to touch on all the aspects I have raised in a general paragraph or two. Think Malaysia. Think Malaysian.


message 13: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Brenda wrote: "Let’s first put it out there that I didn’t like this book.

I had a lot of issues with this book, one of them being Halim’s desperate attempts to incorporate Manglish into speech dialogue to make i..."


Hi Brenda! Too much manglish for your liking? I understand how this story cannot be everybody's cup of tea and that is absolutely fine. It also goes to show that our realities are so different even when we are all Malaysians. Your reading is derived based on the lenses you have chosen to put on; that has framed your reading. We all do it.

Let's just shift our lenses for a bit and put on different ones. How about we look at the elements that are putting us off and dissect them not as defects in the story/defects of the writer, but as a form of storytelling that the storyteller has consciously chosen to tell his story.

1. What genre might this be?
2. Is it possible that the writer is letting you in? Letting you into a sect of Malaysian society or secrets into a culture that is different from yours-something that you are not familiar with? What would it teach you then? What would you have learnt?
3. The exaggeration, the repetitions, the verbosity-- let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he crafted them for a purpose-- why would he consistently insist on over-dramatizing the bomoh with sensory images, repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri?
4. The Dolobs and the Ape-Man? Are they representative of something Malaysian? Are they there to further the already blurred lines between reality and fantasy in the story?

These are guiding questions to see the text from another perspective; You don't have to answer them one by one. Try to touch on all the aspects I have raised in a general paragraph or two. Think Malaysia. Think Malaysian.


message 14: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Hannah wrote: "In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have to state the obvious: I really did not enjoy..."

Love the passion and emotion in your response, Hannah! What lenses might you be putting on to frame your reading? Many of us tend to be guided by American and British literary standards by default and when a particular writer fails to fit the expected mold, we deem his work as good or bad writing...just my observation of a general trend in the classroom. How would you react to that?


Now, whatever lenses that we have been wearing, let's just change our lenses for a bit and put on different ones. How about we look at the elements that are putting us off and dissect them not as defects in the story/defects of the writer, but as a form of storytelling that the storyteller has consciously chosen to tell his story.

1. What genre might this be?
2. Is it possible that the writer is letting you in? Letting you into a sect of Malaysian society or secrets into a culture that is different from yours-something that you are not familiar with? What would it teach you then? What would you have learnt?
3. The exaggeration, the repetitions, the verbosity-- let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he crafted them for a purpose-- why would he consistently insist on over-dramatizing the bomoh with sensory images, repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri?
4. The Dolobs and the Ape-Man? Are they representative of something Malaysian? Are they there to further the already blurred lines between reality and fantasy in the story?

These are guiding questions to see the text from another perspective; You don't have to answer them one by one. Try to touch on all the aspects I have raised in a general paragraph or two. Think Malaysia. Think Malaysian.


message 15: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Emelyn wrote: "DISCLAIMER: my review of “Last Breath” may be a little dramatic, but to be fair, I’ve never had a book put me to sleep quite like this one did.

Reading “Last Breath” was a bit of a rollercoaster ..."


Hi Emelyn! So this book actually took your Breath away, huh? Halim didn't call it Last Breath for nothing! Let's play a game shall we?

Let's just shift our lenses for a bit and put on different ones. How about we look at the elements that are putting us off and dissect them not as defects in the story/defects of the writer, but as a form of storytelling that the storyteller has consciously chosen to tell his story.

1. What genre might this be?
2. Is it possible that the writer is letting you in? Letting you into a sect of Malaysian society or secrets into a culture that is different from yours-something that you are not familiar with? What would it teach you then? What would you have learnt?
3. The exaggeration, the repetitions, the verbosity-- let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he crafted them for a purpose-- why would he consistently insist on over-dramatizing the bomoh with sensory images, repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri?
4. The Dolobs and the Ape-Man? Are they representative of something Malaysian? Are they there to further the already blurred lines between reality and fantasy in the story?

These are guiding questions to see the text from another perspective; You don't have to answer them one by one. Try to touch on all the aspects I have raised in a general paragraph or two. Think Malaysia. Think Malaysian.


message 16: by Kalai (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Evon wrote: "Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to another and I think it’s because the narration..."

Evon dear...sorry that page 95 has traumatised you! Who would have thought that we Malaysians talk that way. Crude. Agree. Now humor me...try.

Let's just shift our lenses for a bit and put on different ones. How about we look at the elements that are putting us off and dissect them not as defects in the story/defects of the writer, but as a form of storytelling that the storyteller has consciously chosen to tell his story.

1. What genre might this be?
2. Is it possible that the writer is letting you in? Letting you into a sect of Malaysian society or secrets into a culture that is different from yours-something that you are not familiar with? What would it teach you then? What would you have learnt?
3. The exaggeration, the repetitions, the verbosity-- let's give the writer the benefit of the doubt for a second and assume he crafted them for a purpose-- why would he consistently insist on over-dramatizing the bomoh with sensory images, repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri?
4. The Dolobs and the Ape-Man? Are they representative of something Malaysian? Are they there to further the already blurred lines between reality and fantasy in the story?

These are guiding questions to see the text from another perspective; You don't have to answer them one by one. Try to touch on all the aspects I have raised in a general paragraph or two. Think Malaysia. Think Malaysian.


message 17: by Hannah (new)

Hannah | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Hannah wrote: "In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have to state the obvious: I reall..."

Hi Ms Kalai! Addressing the “lens” I wear when I read, I would definitely have to agree with you that I do tend to hold many works, especially by Asian authors, to a Western standard; this is simply because majority of the works I’ve read throughout my life are by Western authors– I’ve never thought of it that way, but perhaps now that this unintentional perception has been brought to light, it may explain my sentiments towards Last Breath. That said, I did try to do as you have said and consider this work from a “lensless” perspective, and can therefore appreciate it for certain things such as I have mentioned in my review (i.e. the use of manglish to provide authenticity), but perhaps my preconceived notions run too deep, inhibiting me from appreciating it for more than what I’ve read at face value.

As I also mentioned in my review, based on my pre-existing knowledge of the philosophies of absurdism, I strongly believe that this work identifies with absurdist literature in terms of genre. Absurdist literature is said to be fictitious work in which characters attempt to find purpose in life, often depicted in the form of meaningless actions, speech, and events. For instance, while the occurrence of Puan Sir Kasnah, Rajan, Boris, and the two sons being stuck in Sungei Mati was admittedly illogical and odd, it was more of a measure of their reactions to it: Rajan and Puan Sri Kasnah reverted to seeking “love” in each other where they had lost love in their own respective “original sources”, Boris who was initially continuously thinking of his stocks had lost his phone, and Puan Sri Kasnah’s eldest son was slowly alleviated of his thoughts of committing suicide; through the inconsequential occurrence of them approaching death, they found the resolution to the things that were plaguing them, thus paying homage to the philosophies of absurdism, yet its own distinctly Malaysian setting.

As for the use of repletion, a reason could be that Tunku simply wished to instilill this vivid mental image of who these characters were within the readers, wanting the readers to be able to contrast the two, and simultaneously see that despite their differences, they aren’t necessarily as clean cut and two dimensional as they seem; i.e. the scene in where the bomoh urged Tan Sri to not kill Lai only for Tan Sri to prove just how pious and ruthless he could be by not only insisting upon Lani’s death but going on to boast about his own traits. Despite their distinct differences, it goes to show that people, regardless of their nature, can hide behind the masks that they create; it is oddly reminiscent of the former political strongholds that had ruled our nation up until recently, in a way. This notion also further explains why the Dolobs and the Ape-Men were introduced; to mirror the factions of society that we Malaysians often try to ignore. In my mind’s eye, the Dolobs are immigrant workers, or at least a portrayal of how immigrant workers appear in the eyes of general Malaysia. On the other hand, the Ape-Men, living in the jungle, pay homage to our Orang Asli counterparts, displaced by our urban and plundering nature. At face value, the introduction of these two aspects are oddly placed, indeed giving an air of fantasy and mysticism to the work. However, upon further analysis in a Malaysian context, these are the possible explanations I have deduced.


message 18: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Ho (buhrenda) | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Let’s first put it out there that I didn’t like this book.

I had a lot of issues with this book, one of them being Halim’s desperate attempts to incorporate Manglish into speech dia..."


Alright, I’m not very convinced myself by this theory but here it is anyway: the Dolobs and Ape-Man, and even the bomoh, represent the orang aslis and other indigenous people of Malaysia, those lesser known and even lesser understood. What they have in common is that they are often seen as “less worthy” and simply “undesirable.” Rather than directly mentioning the orang aslis, Halim attempts to use this pseudonym to detach any previous emotional bias readers may have towards the indigenous people. This way, the readers are able to experience firsthand the unwarranted hatred towards the Dolobs and realise that they are not so different from the other races of Malaysia. Perhaps Halim hopes that readers will be able to make the connection between the Dolobs and the orang aslis, hence reducing the divide between the latter and other Malaysians. Hence, following this theory, I believe this novel can be parked under the cultural genre with touches of magical realism.


message 19: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Loke | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Natalie wrote: "“Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian culture was noticeably depicted...."

Hey Ms Kalai! I do agree that the author had the intention of teaching the readers more about the Malaysian culture. I know this because, despite the fact that I did not enjoy reading this book, I was still very enlightened by many things that talks about my country’s culture which some that I previously did not know of. For example, the book had quite a thorough description of the bomoh, like where she lived, how she looked and even the powers that she possessed. Halim even wrote the differences between a witch and a bomoh which I did not know previously. So, if I were to see this book from this perspective (which honestly wasn’t my first interpretation or impression), I believe the book holds many valuable content especially for people who are interested in learning more about the Malaysian culture.

Next, about the Dolob and the Ape-men in the story, I do feel like they were indirectly employing different messages in the plot but they were not very clear to me. But, based on my own interpretation, I believe Halim uses the Dolob, a race which the majority hates, to represent the hatred and discrimination that are still present in our society until today. Meanwhile, the Ape-men in this story, I believe is meant to teach the younger readers about the existence of people like the orang asli which are lesser known and are slowly becoming more of a myth in the eyes of the younger generation.


message 20: by Emelyn (new)

Emelyn | 9 comments Hi ms, to answer your questions:

• Yes, I suppose that the author could be letting me into a “hidden” aspect of Malaysian culture - as a Malaysian, even though I’m already familiar with the culture as a whole, there were still aspects of Malaysian society that were new to me (eg: the way the bomoh’s “magic” is bonded to nature/the truly extravagant lifestyle of the rich). I was introduced to a whole new world; ultimately, the wealthy may not have financial troubles, but with their wealth comes an entire new set of familial problems. For example, the Tan Sri has been emotionally distant from his wife and sons for years. The Tan Sri’s familial issues are actually reminiscent of a few of my friends. Their families have never struggled financially, but they have never bonded with their parents, simply because their parents are never home.

• In terms of the use of repetition, honestly, I don’t really know :(((( personally, with all the repetition, my perception of the bomoh and the Tan Sri became cemented as “the smelly one” and “that rich guy”. Perhaps the author wanted these descriptions to be their defining characteristics/to emphasise on how smelly/how rich they are. Or perhaps (in terms of the bomoh) the smell was so overpowering the characters couldn’t help but vividly describe her pungent smell each time they encountered her.


• In terms of the Dolobs, since they are considered the outcasts and undesirables of society, could they possibly be representative of the migrant workers in Malaysia? As Malaysians, we tend to turn up our nose at these migrant workers; therefore a parallel can easily be drawn between them and the Dolobs. Assuming this is what the author hoped to convey with the introduction of Dolobs into the story, perhaps he wished to change the Malaysian mindset and the way we perceive the Dolobs/migrant workers. However, with that being said, the Tan Sri’s identity crisis (of being a Dolob) is never resolved before his death, which I think is a missed opportunity for the author to further his message.


message 21: by Evon (new)

Evon | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Evon wrote: "Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to another and I think it’s because ..."

I feel like this novel may be classified in the magic realism genre, which refers to fiction and literature in particular, with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting. While reading this novel, due to my annoyance at all its exaggerations, repetitions and general peculiarity, I did consider the fact that the writer most probably has his reasons for writing the novel the way it was written. So yes, I do think that it is possible that the writer is letting readers into this world where the lives of the super rich and the super poor meet. Eg. the Tan Sri and Lani. Or the world where the Puan Sri and her friends live in or Boris’ and Swee Cheng’s world, which are all very foreign to me because first of all I’m not an adult trying to survive in the working world like Swee Cheng nor does my life revolve around high teas and buying diamonds. Hence, I couldn’t relate to many of the characters which may have been why reading about them was so irksome. But it was also a very harsh reminder of the power play and wealth disparity present in our society. Moving on to how the writer repeat over and again the description of the Tan Sri and consistently paints an image of the bomoh as just a foul-smelling old hag who happens to have powers, I’m guessing it is to highlight how Malaysians in general tend to view people and things in a one-dimensional way. By continuously emphasizing on the Tan Sri’s wealth, it’s like the writer is showing how because he is so rich, he can do whatever he pleases and that that is all there is to the Tan Sri. Same goes for the bomoh- due to her stench, the focus of anyone associating with her always shifts to nothing else but how she smells, which emphasizes again how narrow-minded(?) Malaysians are. It’s like the writer is dehumanizing the Tan Sri and the bomoh. As for the Dolobs and the Ape-man, I agree with what Hannah said about how “the inclusion of this fictitious race into the work could’ve been intended by Tunku to embody the group mentality of Malaysians towards all things foreign”, which I think is quite a smart thing for the writer to do.


message 22: by Kalai (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:52AM) (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Hannah wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Hannah wrote: "In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have to state the ob..."

Hannah...interesting to see how a change of lenses can breed a different perspective. I did note your point on absurdism in your initial review of the book and yes, I can see how that works in context. My lenses are always driven by Darwinism and the theory of Evolution and the 7 deadly sins... saw this book as something else entirely!! But now I have your views to reflect on! Now, tell me what you think /or observe/or can conclude about the following in Last Breath:
1. forms of social cohesion/race relations-core races
2. multiculturalism
3. societal pressures
4. communication patterns (subtle/aggressive/manipulative etc)
5. what drives this society/motivates this society forward

Now that you have read 2 short stories and 1 novel:
1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?


message 23: by Kalai (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:52AM) (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Brenda wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Let’s first put it out there that I didn’t like this book.

I had a lot of issues with this book, one of them being Halim’s desperate attempts to incorporate Manglish i..."


Hey Bren, its ok to not buy theories...as long as we acknowledge that there may be more than one way to seeing something. To be honest, I saw this whole book from a Darwinian point of view...so when you guys are saying Orang Asli...I'm like wait what? So I am learning so much here!

Now, tell me what you think /or observe/or can conclude about the following in Last Breath:
1. forms of social cohesion/race relations-core races
2. multiculturalism
3. societal pressures
4. communication patterns (subtle/aggressive/manipulative etc)
5. what drives this society/motivates this society forward

Now that you have read 2 short stories and 1 novel:
1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?


message 24: by Kalai (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:51AM) (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Natalie wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Natalie wrote: "“Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian culture was notice..."

Wow..! this reading from a simple shift in lenses? I was just telling your friends that I was reading it from a Darwinian point of view...you know, Theory of Evolution and all. But, I never thought of the Orang Asli...not once!

Now, tell me what you think /or observe/or can conclude about the following in Last Breath:
1. forms of social cohesion/race relations-core races
2. multiculturalism
3. societal pressures
4. communication patterns (subtle/aggressive/manipulative etc)
5. what drives this society/motivates this society forward

Now that you have read 2 short stories and 1 novel:
1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?


message 25: by Kalai (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:50AM) (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Emelyn wrote: "Hi ms, to answer your questions:

• Yes, I suppose that the author could be letting me into a “hidden” aspect of Malaysian culture - as a Malaysian, even though I’m already familiar with the cultu..."


Hmm...you're looking at it a little different now, huh? I believe that there may be so many more angels that you and I may still not be able to see; someone else may pick up something else...well, that's the point isn't it?

Now, tell me what you think /or observe/or can conclude about the following in Last Breath:
1. forms of social cohesion/race relations-core races
2. multiculturalism
3. societal pressures
4. communication patterns (subtle/aggressive/manipulative etc)
5. what drives this society/motivates this society forward

Now that you have read 2 short stories and 1 novel:
1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?


message 26: by Kalai (last edited Jun 19, 2018 07:49AM) (new)

Kalai Vaani | 44 comments Mod
Evon wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Evon wrote: "Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to another and I think..."

Hi Evon,

Learnt so much from your answer there!! You have drawn some very pertinent conclusions about Malaysians as her whole "narrow-minded" "group mentality"-- I love it! Tell me more:

What you think /or observe/or can conclude about the following in Last Breath:
1. forms of social cohesion/race relations-core races
2. multiculturalism
3. societal pressures
4. communication patterns (subtle/aggressive/manipulative etc)
5. what drives this society/motivates this society forward

Now that you have read 2 short stories and 1 novel:
1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?


message 27: by Hannah (new)

Hannah | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Hannah wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Hannah wrote: "In all honesty, I don’t despise this book as much as my following review may claim, however, before I go into the things I would like to commend, I have ..."

To answer your questions, in terms of race relations depicted in Last Breath, I observed that there is no distinctly proclaimed statements along the line son “x race is better than y race’. However, to quote Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,”, such thread of thought can be seen in how there is a distinction as to how the different races were represented. The Malay race was represented through those in power and of higher standing (Pn Sri Kasnah & Tan Sri, all of Puan Sri Kasnah’s rich lady friends who were also Malays), the Chinese race was represented in the form of Boris & Swee Cheng as hard working and middle class, and then there was the Indian race represented in characters like Rajan who worked as service to those of higher authority and social class. That being said, with the inclusion and representation of so many different races (including the Dolobs), there is an element of multiculturalism seen in how Tunku Halim depicts all these different characters coexisting (though not exactly harmoniously).

To address your questions on societal pressures and what drives the society in this novel, both these question can be answered with the following; the society in this novel is pressured to consistently outdo themselves and become more successful, bigger, better, constantly searching for a grander purpose, whether it be in their personal life, their work, or in their romantic relationships. On top of that, everyone in the novel seems to want to fit in and be a part of a social class that is not exactly within their means. With that, it can be deduce that what drives this society forward is self-gratification in the hopes of bringing meaning to their own lives, whether it be in the form of money, power, or love. How they do so relates to the communication patterns in this work, which were often obvious, aggressive, brash and uncaring.

To summarise the experience of reading the two short stories and the novel, some of the ket similarities I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is how outlandish the works have been; unconventional story lines, easy-to-dislike protagonists, and most importantly, brash language that adds an element of authenticity and satire to all three works. So it seems, Malaysian authors are unafraid of writing about the unpleasant side of human existence, which is something that interestingly enough contradicts the otherwise seemingly conservative and withdrawn atypical Malaysian disposition.


message 28: by Natalie (new)

Natalie Loke | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Natalie wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Natalie wrote: "“Last Breath” by Tunku Halim was one of my first Malaysian-written books. Hence, it was definitely an interesting read especially when the Malaysian cu..."

I think Tunku Halim has clearly depicted the core races of Malaysia in this book along with their culture and their way of living. He even accurately portrayed the lifestyle of the people that lives in the rural areas of our country when he depicted the kampung of Lee Kuan Yew . I believe this kampung in particular also has another meaning to it. The villagers all have the same name which represent their unity and how they are much more united as a community than the people in the city. I also cannot help but to realise that all the characters in the book have one thing in common which unites them-they all hate the dolobs. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the core races, in this book surprisingly come together quite well and do not seem to have any form of hatred towards each other. Instead, they directed their hate towards an entirely different group of people who are the dolobs.

As for the societal pressure, again, I can see a distinct difference between the villagers and the characters who lived in the city. The city people like the protagonist and Boris seemed to conform very easily to societal pressure. They both want to earn money, a common goal that everyone fights for. On the other hand, the villagers never seem to have problems like them. They do not see the need to conform in such social norms.

Lastly, after reading this novel and the other 2 short stories, I did realised that in all these Malaysian-written works they have several similarities. One, is of course, the choice of language. The use of Manglish in these works enhances the cultural aspect which I believe brings out their significance as local stories. Next, I also realise that in all 3 works, there will always be one significant character that comes off clearly as the villian. In the Last Breath, it was the bomoh. Fong in Don’t You Dare Forget Me and the kidnappers in Monster.


message 29: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Ho (buhrenda) | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Brenda wrote: "Let’s first put it out there that I didn’t like this book.

I had a lot of issues with this book, one of them being Halim’s desperate attempts to incorpo..."


As I mentioned before, I wasn’t a fan of the inclusion of the Dolobs as it took away focus from the other races. Since this book had heavy cultural influences and revolved around cultural elements such as the bomoh, I felt like the other races had a big role to play in this novel but was somewhat neglected instead. Nevertheless, I did like how Halim portrayed Malaysia’s multiculturalism in a non-blatant way. All three main races were included throughout the story and Halim made it so that everyone got along nicely, without making race a “thing.” What I mean is that he never once highlighted the difference in race between the characters, as it should be. Because if one were to be accepting towards people of different races, they wouldn’t think, “I gotta make friends with a Chinese, an Indian, etc”, they would simply be friends with everyone of all races without race being a factor at all. In the novel, Rajan and Puan Sri begin to fall for each other, and the difference in their races are not mentioned - not once. In this sense, I respect Halim’s normalisation of multiracial relationships, as we sometimes see in real life that it is frowned upon.

To answer points 3, 4 and 5, I believe they are all linked. What drives the society in Last Breath is a result of societal pressures on the characters, which then determines their communication patterns. Pretty much everyone in the novel is determined by their circumstances and society’s reaction to them. The repetition of Tan Sri being the 5th richest man is society’s glorification of his status hence is the driving factor of his arrogance that eventually led to his downfall. Driven by a desire to keep his original elevated status, he would appear as being manipulative and aggressive to those of a lower class in a bid to achieve what he wants. Similarly, the bomoh is coerced into adopting a maniacal personality after she is shunned by society and ‘forced’ to live in the caves. I believe before she became a bomoh she was a decent woman from the way she talks about her earlier days, hinting that she led a normal life and was just an average person. Yet when everyone is dead-set on seeing you a certain way (in her case, a hysterical, off-putting bomoh), it is hard not to see yourself that way either. The society in Last Breath, much like our own society in real life, thrives off validation from others and mould themselves according to others’ judgments.

A shared element in the three Malaysian stories I have read is a strong incorporation of local culture in terms of names, language, dialogue, food and lifestyle. Regardless of the storyline, all the stories more or less stayed true to its Malaysian roots. Besides that, all seem to explore humanitarian and social issues that are more specific to Malaysia, such as the child trafficking issue we often see but neglect during our weekly night market visits, the lack of attention by the local authorities on sexual harassment cases, as well as the disparity between the main races and the lesser known indigenous people of Malaysia. In all these Malaysian stories, their common goal seems to be to prod impartial locals out of their comfortable neutral stance and actually care about current issues we have grown to ignore to out of routine.


message 30: by Emelyn (new)

Emelyn | 9 comments Kalai wrote: "Emelyn wrote: "Hi ms, to answer your questions:

• Yes, I suppose that the author could be letting me into a “hidden” aspect of Malaysian culture - as a Malaysian, even though I’m already familiar..."


Hi ms, to answer your questions:

In terms of social cohesion/race relations - the author does not highlight any racial tension between the core races in particular; instead, he created an imaginary race, the “Dolobs” that are despised by all members of society. However, in terms of multiculturalism, each race (the Malays, Chinese and Indians) are incorporated almost nonchalantly into the novel. One aspect of the novel that I really appreciated was the ease in which the characters communicated with one another. The protagonists are a diverse mix of individuals: the Tan Sri is Malay, the driver is indian, whilst Boris and his ghost girlfriend are Chinese. They may be of different races, with different backgrounds and upbringings, but the author managed to capture an essence that is uniquely Malaysian - the ability to converse easily with one another, to the point of mixing different languages and dialects into our everyday conversations.

In terms of societal pressures, the author tackles quite a few in his novel. The Tan Sri’s wife feels an overwhelming pressure to be “cultured” in front of her friends - whether it extends to owning the largest/most expensive diamonds, or being able to pronounce the names of french dishes at the expensive restaurants she dines in. She also succumbs to the societal standards of beauty, to the point where her greatest desire is not the academic success of her sons, but rather, her own beauty and slim figure from the past. Boris, too, is susceptible to societal pressure - he constantly feels the need to earn more money, to climb the career ladder and achieve financial security. Finally, the pressure I am most familiar with - the pressure of achieving academic excellence, is felt by the Tan Sri’s sons. From a young age, they were already chauffeured off to various tutors to achieve excellent grades; but all for what purpose? The Tan Sri’s wife’s motives are purely selfish: she only asks the Bomoh to grant her sons good grades so she can brag about their academic achievements in front of her friends, a feat which is all too common in Malaysia.

I think the communication patterns are intertwined with the societal pressures experienced by the characters. For example, Boris subtly “sucks up” (for lack of a better term) to the Tan Sri at the beginning of the story, in order to establish relations with a rich and powerful businessman that is sure to elevate his career.

It seems to me that the society in “Last Breath” is largely motivated by money. The Tan Sri is in such a position of power because he is the fifth richest man in Malaysia. His wife, too, enjoys an elevated status because of their riches. The Bomoh takes over the Tan Sri’s CEO position at the end of the book, earning herself great wealth and power.

As for the key similarities - I have enjoyed the incorporation of Malaysian culture in all the stories I have read. Some aspects have been subtle, like the ease of interaction and communication between races, but others - like the direct references of night markets and Malaysian cuisine - have been more direct. I was surprised by how much “Manglish” was incorporated into these stories, as well. Every Western novel I’ve read features characters with perfect English, so reading such broken English mixed with other dialects/languages was a bit of a shock! I suppose the authors seized every opportunity to put Malaysian culture on display, and I’m glad to say that for the most part, they succeeded.


message 31: by Evon (new)

Evon | 8 comments Kalai wrote: "Evon wrote: "Kalai wrote: "Evon wrote: "Firstly, I personally feel that the book was quite boring. It’s not the worst book I’ve read, but it was definitely difficult to move from one page to anothe..."

Hi Ms, to answer your questions:
1) Although the members of society in Last Breath aka the characters do not directly cooperate with each other to survive and prosper, I feel like there is still social cohesion in the society because the characters indirectly support each other- Lani represents the people in the lower class of society whereas the Tan Sri represents the rich and powerful. People like Lani work for people like the Tan Sri no matter how bad he treats her because she needs any job she can get. Whereas although the Tan Sri may let go of Lani, the person he hires next will most likely come from the same social class as Lani. So in a way, him hiring people to serve him tea and those people working for him supports the social system although it is obviously not in their interest at all. They only have their own interests in mind, Lani wants to survive and Tan Sri needs someone to serve him tea. The Tan Sri is not providing Lani with a job because he pities her and Lani is definitely not serving him because she wants to, but because she has to.

2) In sociology, multiculturalism is the view that cultural differences should be respected or even encouraged. Last Breath was definitely a melting pot of cultures because not only did the characters include all of the 3 main races in Malaysia, but Tunku Halim also created another “race”, the Dolobs, who could represent the Orang Asli of Malaysia or foreign immigrants, to emphasize on the richness of culture in Malaysia. However, the only times which I can recall there being elements of multiculturalism was when the topic of food was brought up. When Boris, Swee Cheng and the Tan Sri talked about food, there seems to be no possessiveness or any form of negativity in the conversation, which I believe shows what multiculturalism means.

3) - I guess the only societal pressure that I could see in this novel is the same type of pressures that most young adults experience, which is to become successful. Hence, I believe that a good example is the Tan Sri and Swee Cheng. The Tan Sri, who we can classify as successful already, is not really affected by societal pressures to succeed because he already has. If he takes on a project, it is not because he needs to, it is because he wants to. It is his greed telling him that being the 5th richest man in Malaysia is still not enough. Whereas Swee Cheng, who is just starting out as a lawyer, feels the societal pressure to build her career so that she can take care of her mother who seems to never be able to make ends meet.

4) - Aggressive and condescending towards people of lower status such as how the Tan Sri talks to Lani
- The way the Puan Sri Kasnah and her friends’ converse appears very shallow. The Tan Sri is also very nice and civil to Swee Cheng. This shows the importance they place on keeping up with the fronts they have put up for themselves.
- Overall very negative communication patterns, which can be seen in the way the Tan Sri speaks to people who he dislikes or deems is standing in his way to more wealth. Eg. To Lani and the bomoh who wanted him to stop the dam project. Whereas to Boris, his remiser, someone who’s helping him earn more money, he speaks and act in a pleasant manner, treating Boris like an old friend. This shows that he prioritizes wealth and power.

5) money, power, success, constant desire to one up each other

1. What are the key similarities in Malaysian stories that you have noted to date?

I’d say that the most obvious similarity would be the usage of Manglish, followed by the presence of cultures that I am familiar with. It’s not anything big, but just the mention of simple things such as the Sungei Wang shopping centre, Ampang, chicken rice, sago gula Melaka and etc that immediately tells me that the story is set in Malaysia and that the author is most likely a Malaysian. I’m not sure if I’m using the right word for this, but I also noticed that aside from the Manglish used in Malaysian stories, the language used in these stories oftentimes sound more proper(?) than the language used in American books. Perhaps it’s the influence of the Queen’s English on the English spoken here since we were once colonized by the British.


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