Monday, April 13, 2015


By Mansor Puteh

This novel can be rewritten to make it more interesting by putting it in the context of the overall history of the country, Malaysia today or Tanah Melayu then when it came under British colonial rule that not many today would know or are aware of.

I would also like to see how some of the British officers who had to do what they had to do despite their personal contempt of the orders they had to execute, and relating how they had to come here from having assigned a foreign duty by the Colonial Office in London.

They all have to come from somewhere with a certain kind of attitude and mentality and also training that had caused them behave the way they did.

And it’s the same with the local characters from amongst the Melayu laypersons and royalty, who were too forced to be in the position they were in, and the interaction of their personal fortunes is what creates the story.

Wouldn’t the British have preferred to remain in England with the Melayu walking bare-footed and eating betel leaves, if not for the turn of events which led their land to be colonized?

It did not happen for nothing and without any acceptable or unacceptable reason!

Or maybe it was the few British officers who had taken action on their own without being ordered to do so, which had caused the Melayu who they are involved with to suffer.

This novel is three hundred and twenty pages thick but each of the pages have at the most two hundred and fifty pages, so I was able to complete reading it in three days, twenty pages on the first day, two hundred and eighty pages on the second day and the rest on the third day.

The story is interesting but the premise is weak. I do not have to think much to be able to find out what the author wants to force me to think about what I am reading.

Because the author had taken it upon himself to force me not to think much or at all because he had taken such great trouble to admonish the British or the white people for having written the history of the country through their eyes, so it is now time for the Melayu or natives to rewrite it.

For a novel that is set during the British administration of Malaya, and in the state of Perak, one needs to be described or emphasize the place and time and architecture as well as lifestyles more to make it more appealing and attractive.

Some authors would even go beyond all that to describe the food the characters in their novels eat in the greatest detail and the clothes they wear so in the end anyone reading the novel can get a good sense of the place and time.

This does not happen in this novel.  

I did not see anyone sweating sitting in the train.

Maybe the author of ‘Tree of Sorrow’ Malim Ghazali PK did not want me to give him my comments on his novel, a copy of which he gave to me at Rumah Pena, so he did not answer the two calls I made to him. So I deleted his number from my phone, unless if he returns my call which does not seem likely as it has been more than two weeks since I made the calls.

‘Tree of Sorrow’ is a direct translation of the book which was originally written and published in Melayu called ‘Pokok Nering’.

I do not have a copy of this edition so I am basing my views on the English edition, which was translated by the same author, who thought it would be better for him to do that since he is bilingual and good in the two languages.

But writing novels in either languages, does not involves one being good in the languages.

This is where I begin my review of ‘Tree of Sorrow’.

It has a promise. But there is no strong premise. It is not a historical novel but based loosely on a historical event which the author dwells.

Even for the Melayu readers in Malaysia, he will surely have a bit of problem to fully appreciate and understand the story in the novel and its intended premise.

The English edition would fare even worse, more so to the international readers, who are not Malaysians and who did not know much about the early history of the country when it was under British rule for so long.

‘Tree of Sorrow’ takes place mostly in the state of Perak in Semenanjung Tanah Melayu or Peninsula Malaya, as the English call it.

And there is no real introduction to the story, so one is lost right from the beginning and not knowing why the story is developing with the characters also not fully developed.

Malaysian authors writing in Melayu or English cannot assume everybody knows the history of the country especially if the stories deal with issues which are too localized as those that had happened in Perak which even those people in Perak may not understand.

I have seen many novels written by American authors that are set in other countries and they and their editors took great pains by showing some maps of the countries and region the novels are set in, to give a good idea to the readers the background of the stories.

This does not happen in either versions of this particular novel which even does not have a cover design which reflects the core issue of the story.

The version I have shows a silhouette of a tree which looks like it is almost denuded and below it is a shadow or silhouette of a man sitting on its base and looking in front at an empty space or valley.

Even if there is the Union Jack flying in the tree, the image can become more powerful.

And the front page also does not have a one or two-line description of the story which can lead the readers to better understand and appreciate it as they go along.

But most of all, the author does not make any attempt to allow the characters to develop by themselves and he creates the characters and put them at places where they are convenient for him to develop the story.

There is also too much verbalizing of the inner thoughts of the main character Haji the Nering Tree or Haji Pokok Nering as much as the other characters.

So the readers are led or misled by the author to agree with what he says most of the time.

When he wants to show someone is going bonkers, he says so, when it would be much better for him to just show how the person is going on to being bonkers so the readers can decide how much he is losing is faculties to become sick in the head or bonkers.    


Buka Panggung said...

Salam, Tuan.

Adakah tuan masih lagi mempunyai simpanan buku kritikan filem tuan dan mahu menjualnya?

Saya berminat untuk membelinya.

Anonymous said...

But well, this book has been shortlisted for Dublin Literature Award, hence your argument is void.