Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review: The Other Malaysia by Farish A. Noor

(The video can be watched here: )

Assalamualaikum wbt and greetings.

So in this video I shall be giving my opinions on this book right here.

[what is this book about?]

This is Farish A Noor’s The Other Malaysia: Writings On Malaysia’s Subaltern History, published by SilverFish Books.

First released in late 2002, it has 303 pages and is almost 100% in English. There are bits of Malay here and there, but they’re mostly excerpt of other pieces of writing which he refers to.

This book is basically a collection of articles which the author had previously written periodically for

They are mostly articles about local history, Malay culture, Islam in the region as well as local politics.

A lot of them were writings that were triggered by events that made the press in 2002, 

so a little bit of general knowledge about political events that were popular during that time would help the reader understand the pieces a lot more.

There are also a handful of book reviews in this book, so if you want to know how a proper book review is done, definitely have a read of the few included in this one.

[What did I like about this book?]

I liked that this book opened my eyes to a lot of historical events that I didn’t previously know.

I consider myself a fan of stories and there are quite a number of factual and historical stories provided in this book.

For example, in the few opening chapters of the book, we are introduced to the extraordinary life of sultan abu bakar of johor.

We discover how he struggled to keep the land of Johor free from English residents, trying as best he can to maintain the sovereignty of the land under his rule.

We are introduced to a few historical figures that weren’t given a lot of emphasis during our schooling days.

Such influential figures such as Dr Burhanuddin alHelmy and Ibrahim Yaakob, whose stories were very interesting and had they been able to achieve their goals at their time, the Malaysia we know could have been a very different Malaysia today.

So I guess that’s the thing that I appreciate the most about this book.

It’s that it allowed me to see a different, alternative Malaysia than the one we have today. 

And to know that all of this is grounded in fact and things that actually happened makes it all the more compelling, I think.

Here are some quotes from the book:

“We have sacrificed our ideals and dreams at the altar of political expediency. Shame on us all.” (page 155)

“We need not fear our past and the unknown. We would be able to face the future with much greater confidence if we could admit our own internal heterogeneity and complexity, rather than continually trying to deny the past and to homogenise the present into one flat, monolithic discourse of sameness.” page 202

“After all these so-called Islamic reform programmes and Islamisation measures, are we any closer to creating an Islamic society? Do we, as modern Malay-Muslims, have better manners, drive safer, pollute less and consume in a more discriminate manner?” Are we more immune to the evils of consumerism, corruption, money politics, or neo-feudal cults of leadership? Have we overcome our baser instincts that manifest themselves in the form of racism and prejudice?” Page 218

[What were my least favourite parts in the book?]

The way the author wrote about some things felt really partial. 

The language that the author used to describe certain people and institutions made it really obvious what the author felt about them, and seldom were they in a positive light.

One would expect a certain impartiality from academic works, but of course these are after all articles for an online news portal, 

so I guess you can’t expect full on academic language from the writer, since the target audience was not academics alone.

Besides that, a small handful of articles felt like fillers, in a sense that they sort of felt out of place in the book.

Articles such as Humpty Dumpty Politics felt like they didn’t add in helping the reader understand an Other Malaysia, but rather just explained the current 2002 Malaysia.

But of course, those articles were very few, and the overwhelming majority of the book was a real good read.

[Who would I recommend the book to?]

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history, especially local history and who would like to know more about the multitudes of layers that form our Malaysian history.

I would also recommend this book to anyone who feels a little dissatisfied with the current situation of the country of Malaysia, especially Malay Muslims, I think.

A lot of things for us to think about in this book.

I have to admit that I am a fan of Farish A Noor’s writings, so I may well be biased in my review of the book.

If you have read the book, feel free to comment down below, especially if you disagree with me, because I would love to read your input on the matter.

Or you could tweet me @inianwarhadi and of course email me at iniunutkakusahaja@gmail,com

Next month we’ll be taking a look at Terima Kasih Si Babi Hutan by Ismail Arifin aka Lepat

That’s all for this video, until the next one, may peace be upon you!

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