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Lit Revew: ‘Impractical Uses of Cake’ by Yeoh Jo-Ann

Friends know that I’m a sucker for cake. I am also a sucker for books with interesting titles. And so, when I came across Yeoh Jo-Ann’s debut novel, Impractical Uses of Cake, winner of Singaporean publisher Epigram’s Fiction Prize 2018, I had to bite. And what a treat it turned out to be.

Like a good lemon pound cake (a personal favourite of mine), this story has substance but isn’t dense. It strikes the perfect balance between sweetness and tartness, and it is tender and charming without being maudlin. The story gives you plenty to chew on but doesn’t sit heavy on the stomach. (Okay, that’s it for the cake imagery.)

Different types of cake – yuzu coconut cream, lemon sponge, sugee, coffee pound, and orange chiffon, to name a few – feature throughout the novel, as the main character, 35-year-old English literature teacher Sukhin, is something of a cake fiend. He loves eating them, baking them, and sharing them; it is very much part of his identity. In one hilarious and all too relatable scene (to me, at least), Sukhin is out on a date with a woman who chooses an organic soy latte over cake for dessert, and he spirals into an internal monologue where the love of cake is a criterion to be considered “his people”.

One person who does share his fondness for cake is Jinn, his former secondary school sweetheart. Sukhin stumbles on Jinn one afternoon in Chinatown, and she, to his astonishment, is now living as a homeless person in cardboard boxes in an alleyway. She disappeared several years ago and he had taken her for dead. Seeing her again shakes him to the core.

As Sukhin slowly unravels the mystery surrounding her initial disappearance and present situation, he becomes attuned to the homeless, an invisible segment of Singapore society that he had previously not given much thought. Present-day going-ons – juggling teaching, his family, and meeting up with Jinn – is juxtaposed with Sukhin’s recollections of what he and Jinn were before. Sukhin eventually comes to terms with the new reality, and along the way, finds himself fashioning ever more elaborate “shelter” out of cardboard boxes for Jinn. The whole experience changes him in subtle but profound ways.

Yeoh’s writing sparkles with wit and empathy in this poignant, quirky novel. Told in an unhurried pace that’s part of its charm, the story is a beautiful portrayal of a gentle friendship. It deftly explores how life isn’t just what happens to you but what you make of it, and how the only way to live is according to one’s authentic self.

Verdict: A sensitive, heart-warming tale (8/10)

Availability: Paperback, RM45

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Lit Review: ‘The Mercies’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

After having conquered the world of children’s fiction, British novelist Kiran Millwood Hargrave sets out to make her mark in adult fiction with The Mercies, a historical novel that throws into sharp relief the struggles of women forced to live their lives dictated by men, and the perils of self-righteousness.

The novel is based on the witch trials that took place in 1621 in Vardø, Norway, where more than 91 women as well as Sámi men were found guilty of witchcraft and put to death. At the site today stands a memorial by Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor to mark the tragedy which itself is the the main catalyst of Hargrave’s novel.

At its heart, The Mercies is about the complex lives of women told through the lens of two very different women, Maren and Ursula, or Ursa. The novel begins on Christmas eve, 1617, in the remote fishing village of Vardø, where a sudden, ferocious storm claims the lives of 40 fishermen out at sea, leaving the women of this tight-knit community reeling in shock and horror. Among them is Maren, whose betrothed, brother, and father all perished in the storm. In the following months, led by the feisty Kirsten, Maren and the women take on tasks that are usually the purview of men, such as going out to sea to fish. Even though it is a matter of survival, Pastor Kurtsson (who was sent to shepherd the community after the tragedy) and a few of the women disapprove and deem it improper for a woman to do. Kirsten, Maren and et al carry on, regardless, and the women thrive in their new reality without their men.

The narrative then switches to Ursa, a well-bred young woman from the city of Bergen in the south who is made to marry a man chosen by her father, the sanctimonious Absalom Cornet. He has just been appointed the new commissioner of Vardø, and the couple set off for the north soon after the nuptials. Ursa is ill-prepared for her new life as wife to a man who has little regard for her other than in the bedroom, and is also helpless at keeping house having grown up with servants. She turns to Maren for help, and Maren on her part finds herself irresistibly drawn to Ursa. The two soon become inseparable.

Meanwhile, the commissioner’s true purpose for being appointed to Vardø is made chillingly clear: he is to root out witchcraft and all who practise it. Some of the women in the community, namely those who were opposed to Kirsten and her taking charge, are only too eager to help Cornet along and take it upon themselves to condemn the other group of women, leading to devastating outcomes.

“[Maren] had thought she had seen the worst from this harbour, thought nothing could rival the viciousness of the storm. But now she knows she was foolish to believe that evil existed only out there. It was here, among them, walking on two legs, passing judgment with a human tongue.”

Parallels can certainly be drawn with what we see in today’s “witch hunts” that often take place on social media. With a fervour fuelled by self-righteousness, keyboard warriors draw conclusions based on suspicion and scant knowledge, and proceed to hang the accused out to dry, confident of their judgment. The Mercies is a timely caution against this treacherous path that is all too easy to tread, and the harm it causes.

Hargrave has written a surefooted novel that, while a bit draggy in parts, makes for an absorbing, if sobering read. In an interview with Kirkus, the author reveals that she did not want to focus on the violence of the trials but on the lives of women. She says, “I’m always quite queasy when I read a witch trial book because it does feel voyeuristic, and it does feel like you’re luxuriating in the violence being done to women. I’m also interested in how you get to that stage and I wanted the propulsion to come not through these kind of unimaginable acts [of violence], but through very imaginable acts.”

Verdict: The ending feels a bit rushed but the solid main characters and intriguing story more than make up for it. (7/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM79.90

Special thanks to Pansing Distribution for an advance review copy of the book.

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Lit Review: ‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ by Isabel Allende

Gripped by the plight of thousands of Spanish Republicans who fled the country at the end of the Spanish Civil War only to be interned in horrid concentration camps in France, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in 1939 chartered the cargo ship SS Winnipeg to ship 2,200 Republican refugees to Chile where they were welcomed with open arms.

This incredible humanitarian feat is the platform for the new historical novel by acclaimed Chilean author Isabel Allende titled A Long Petal of the Sea. Although Allende had grown up with direct, first-hand knowledge of the great rescue — her grandfather was amongst those who welcomed the refugees when they docked — it was only after she met Victor, one of the last surviving refugees who made the trip, and learnt about his story that the desire to write A Long Petal was sparked.

And what a glorious novel it is: expansive in scope — the novel’s timeline spans more than 50 years — and rich in historical detail. A Long Petal of the Sea, Neruda’s description of Chile, is a complex tapestry comprising myriad characters and narrative strands, but at its heart is the story of a young medical student, Victor Dalmau, and his dead brother’s expectant girlfriend and gifted pianist, Roser Bruguera. With the noose tightening around them in Francoist Spain, the desperate pair agrees to a marriage of convenience that would enable them passage on the SS Winnipeg and a new life in Chile.

Once there, the wealthy del Solar family take the Dalmaus under their wing. Victor returns to medical school and becomes a sought-after cardiologist while Roser becomes a successful musician. Together, they raise Marcel, Roser’s son from her relationship with Victor’s brother. The arrangement is a pragmatic one for the couple who essentially live separate lives: Victor has a brief but deeply consequential affair with Ofelia del Solar, while Roser pursues her own love interests as well. Nonetheless, as the years go by, the two find that their affection for each other has blossomed into something more than mere platonic love. But it doesn’t end there, for, when the Pinochet dictatorship unseats Chile’s democratically elected president in 1973, the Dalmaus once again find themselves in danger because of their political allegiances.

Allende has written an engrossing tale that sweeps one back to the turbulent times of the Spanish civil war, and yet it is a tale that feels perfectly on pulse with today. It is a beautiful story of family, loss, survival, hope and belonging. But it is also a story of love and its many guises: familial and patriotic; love for your fellow humankind, for art, music and poetry, and also carnal love and the kind borne out of shared adversity that results in deep mutual respect and trust for one another.

Above all, the book is a tender homage to Neruda, his poetry, and his extraordinary deed of kindness — an urgent reminder of our shared humanity, and that the refugee crisis around the world today needs to be met with courage and compassion, with political will and direct action.

Verdict: A captivating drama anchored by a wonderful cast of characters and imbued with humanity and a lot of heart. This story will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. (8/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM79.90

Special thanks to Bloomsbury for the advance review copy of the book.

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Lit Review: ‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age is Kiley Reid’s debut novel which has drawn much admiration for its witty and sharp observations of modern life couched in fluent and pacey prose. The novel’s protagonist is Emira Tucker, a 20-something black babysitter fresh out of college with little direction and limited means to orient herself. Unlike her group of more successful friends—one of whom is a medical professional and another an upwardly-mobile business executive—Emira depends on her babysitting gig to make ends meet. While her well-off white employers, Alix and Peter, are generous enough to remunerate her above scale, Emira is aware that her situation is neither sustainable nor desirable (although that doesn’t stop her from buying a leather jacket when she comes into some money unexpectedly later on).

Events are set into motion when she is accosted one evening at an upscale grocery store by a security guard caught in the throes of white paranoia. Tasked by Alix to take two-year old Briar out from the house late one evening, Emira is accused by the security guard, on the word of a too-good Samaritan, of kidnapping her young ward. After a brief but heated confrontation reminiscent of the many #WhileBlack episodes that made the rounds on the internet this past year, Peter, the girl’s father, arrives to defuse the situation but the damage is done.

The Grocery Store Incident (GSI) will be a pivotal moment for several characters in the novel (incidentally all white) but, and this is not without a little irony, not for Emira who’s too busy trying to make rent and eat. Characters notably affected by the GSI are:

  1. Mrs Alix Chamberlain, Emira’s employer and go-getter who’s lost her groove after leaving New York City. A social media type who initially got famous by writing polite letters to brands and corporations for freebies (and subsequently changed her name from Alex to Alix) and founder of the #LetHerSpeak woman’s movement, Alix is equally troubled by the GSI and her apperception of the stagnation in her professional and personal lives. Following a conference call with her inner circle of friends, all of whom are highly accomplished and of the “I’m being a good friend right now and asking how much weight you’ve gained” variety, Alix decides that she needs to put her life in order, which in her world means first keeping hold of Emira as her sitter whatever the cost. Ostensibly to keep her precocious two-year old Briar company, but, more importantly, as a project that would somehow be equally validating for both her and Emira.
  2. Kelley Copeland, a seemingly well-intentioned witness to the GSI who video-records the exchange between Emira and the security guard (as a precaution in the event that things went south). It turns out that Kelley is a successful IT-type and both he and Emira eventually start dating. However, it becomes quickly apparent that Kelley has a type: all his friends are black, he is completely immersed in black culture and casually dips into black lexicon in both speech and manner. Kelley is super-woke, which brings with it all the baggage such enlightenment implies. Additionally, it turns out that Kelley may have had a run-in with Alix in the past.

Alix and Kelley become increasingly involved in Emira’s life, constructing a narrative for her that becomes stifling and unwelcome particularly when Alix resorts to cunning means to manipulate her sitter. Emira, who has no interest in being a martyr and is bound to Alix only by her affection for Briar, finds the growing attention and the high-handed approaches of both Alix and Kelley unbearable, and things come to a head. Neither Alix nor Kelley are malicious, of course, and they both demonstrate genuine concern for Emira’s well-being. However, it becomes problematic when the two of them start seeing Emira as an extension of themselves rather than who she really is.

Gushing reviewers have compared Reid’s Such a Fun Age to the novels of the other young, virtuoso writer, Sally Rooney. Central to the two writers is the way they impute meaning to millennial life which is often unfairly depicted as shallow and trivial. But Reid, as with Rooney, writes sympathetically of the unique challenges of modern life, which in her case is the hyper-aware, hyper-polarised sociopolitical landscape (read “fun” age—see what she did there?). Reid also has a sterling ear for writing dialogue, be it in describing the lively exchanges between Emira and her friends in black vernacular, or the kid-friendly tone when Emira is dealing with Briar (Reid was a babysitter before she became a writer and that experience probably came in handy).

On the whole, the novel is charming and skirts the edges of cliché but pulls back from the brink to provide a refreshing take on the rather well-used life-as-a-minority trope. There is a verve to her writing style that can be aggressive and tender in equal measure, and she expertly weaves in nuanced observations of race and modern life that are alternately funny, cutting and wry. There is a concern that the subject matter of the novel may be too localised to be relatable to readers who are neither young nor American, but Reid is talented enough of a writer to spin a compelling yarn all the same. The characters, especially the white ones, also seemed a little one-dimensional with little self-awareness, but perhaps that depiction is also a deliberate one.

Verdict: Good, and will likely be one of those massively talked about books in 2020. (7/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM65.90

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The Lit Rewind Ep 04 – Bob Holmes

Welcome to the fourth episode of the Lit Rewind.

Every now and then, our bookshop hosts events that brings together writers and readers to discuss all things literary. So when The Edge Options approached us to jointly launch a book by one of their columnists, Bob Holmes, we jumped at the opportunity. Further sweetening the deal was the fact that Bob’s book, Shanks, Yanks and Jurgen, concerned the history and revival of the best football team in the world, Liverpool FC.

While the launch did not rival the famed European nights at Anfield, it came pretty close thanks in part to The Edge’s kind sponsorship of the refreshments for the evening. The event was kicked off by The Edge’s CEO and Publisher Ho Kay Tat who is a life-long Chelsea fan. But we won’t hold that against him… much.

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The Lit Rewind Ep 03 – Tunku Halim

This is the third episode of the Lit Rewind.

Every now and then, we get interesting bookish people into our shop to discuss all things literary — be they their books, their thoughts on a book, or on the craft of writing in general.

On Sept 28, a hazy Saturday afternoon, we held an intimate discussion session with one of Malaysia’s most prolific writers Tunku Halim, who is the first Malaysian author to have been picked up by Penguin’s new Southeast Asia imprint. Joining us to discuss his collection of short fiction, Scream to the Shadows, was Sharmilla Ganesan, radio journalist and writer. 

We started the discussion by asking Tunku Halim how this new collection of stories came about. Tunku Halim’s Scream to the Shadows is available in-store, as are several of his other books including his children’s history book and his biography of Tunku Abdullah.

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Lit Review: ‘Quichotte’ by Salman Rushdie

Who: Sir Salman Rushdie is an award-winning British Indian writer who needs no introduction. The winner of multiple awards and honours, Rushdie’s vast body of work include Midnight’s Children, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Joseph Anton, and the controversial Satanic Verses. He has also written a children’s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, as well as multiple works of non-fiction.

What: Quichotte is both a homage to Cervantes’ Don Quixote and to the maximalist form of writing. Hubris and bombast is de rigeur — or perhaps more pertinently, de Rushdie — and the scope of the narrative is once again mind-bogglingly wide. Rushdie borrows heavily from popular culture, science fiction, fantasy, and of course, from Cervantes, to put together Quichotte which can be regarded as a return to form after the stilted Golden House effort of 2017.

In a nutshell — if that is at all possible — Quichotte follows the quest of an Indian-American salesman who has fallen in true love with the Oprah-esque Salma R., a shrewd Indian actress who has become the new diva of afternoon talk TV. With his clasically-trained brain rotted on a steady diet of primetime television, the eponymous Quichotte believes he must embark on a quest to prove his worthiness of Ms. Salma R., interpreting the signs and omens along the way as only a pop culture fanatic (or David Foster-Wallace) can:

“As I plan my quest,” Quichotte said, “I ponder the contemporary period as well as the classical. And by the contemporary I mean, of course, The Bachelorette…[t]he searcher for love must understand immediately, at the outset of his search, that the quantity of love available is far too small to satisfy the number of searchers.”

But quests are not all created equal. While Quixote had his windmills and dragons — imaginary dangers that are in actuality quite innocuous — Quichotte’s challenges are quite the opposite. Together with his dreamed up son/squire Sancho, our knight errant must deal with the challenges of a bigoted Trumpian America, the opioid crisis (topical!), estrangement from a sibling known only as the Human Trampoline (HT for short) and a physical development that may or may not herald the literal end of the world.

But wait! It doesn’t end there.

It turns out that Quichotte may very well just be the figment of the imagination — the last gasp of effort by a third-rate Indian American spy novelist who is making for one last grasp at respectability with his retelling of Don Quixote! Not coincidentally, the author of Quichotte grapples with much of the same issues faced by his addled protagonist and thus intertwine the threads of fact and fiction, which incidentally feeds nicely into Rushdie’s penchant for multiverse theory (see Ground Beneath Her Feet).

The author, allusively known (or perhaps not), only as Author or Brother has sibling issues with the enigmatic Sister, who has come good in her clamber up the ladder of ambition, but nevertheless finds her otherwise fabulous life interrupted by an unseen foe. Like Quichotte, Brother needs to reconcile with his fragmented family before he can complete his own quest, which in this case is finishing his book before an irritating heart murmur finishes him.

Why: Why does anyone read Rushdie? Is there room for bombast and hyperbole in this modern age where everyone is Marie Kondo-ing the hell out of everything, including prose? Can sleek Swedish furniture design not cohabitate with baroque and gilded rooms? One suspects that Quichotte makes the argument that it can, and it should.

In many ways, Quichotte is an exemplary Best of Rushdie, with the New York Times reviewer complaining that one could check off all the boxes in a Rushdie Trope Bingo Card, just as one could with Murakami’s card with Killing Commendatore. Multiverses? Check. Multitudinous references to popular culture characters and/or tropes? Check. Homages to literary classics? Check. Cheeky insertion of the self into the narrative? Check, check, and check.

Indeed, Rushdie dips into kitsch so often throughout the book that it almost feels as though one were watching a Wes Anderson movie with Alec Baldwin as the narrator. And just as Anderson makes entertaining movies, Rushdie writes entertaining, if not always “meaningful”, books. Of course, he brandishes his own get-out-of-jail free card when he reminds us, through his description of Salma R., that, “A woman whose life was lived on the surface, who had chosen superficiality, had no right to complain about the absence of depth”.

But it would be wrong to dismiss Quichotte as pure camp as Rushdie can still be a master of lucid prose when he chooses to be — although perhaps not when he is channeling the inner-monologue of a teenager trying to sound hip. Structure wise, there does seem to be a significant imbalance in the overall feel of the book, almost as though the author was forced to chop out vast sections by a less compassionate editor. But we can only speculate.

Verdict: Unlikely to win the Booker, I’m afraid. (8/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM84.95; UK hardback, RM109.90; US hardback, RM119.90

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Lit Review: ‘She Said’ by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Who: Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are both New York Times journalists. Kantor started at the paper in 2004 as editor of the arts section before moving on to cover politics and investigative pieces. Twohey spent a decade uncovering sex crimes and sexual misconduct in Chicago and elsewhere before joining the Times in 2016. The duo broke the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual harassment and abuse against actresses and female employees, which the Times published on Oct 5, 2017. The two women tell how they did it in She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement.

What: Prior to the Times’ exposé, at least two other newspapers attempted to write about Weinstein’s years of alleged sexual misconduct but their efforts were foiled, no thanks to the former film producer’s underhanded manoeuvrings. It was no different when Weinstein got wind of the Times doing a piece on him. On top of the legal threats that his team of defenders used to intimidate the journalists, Weinstein also hired an organisation of professional manipulators called Black Cube (made up of ex-Mossad intelligence agents!) “to prove he was a victim of a negative campaign”. That the Times managed to successfully and credibly publish the story despite all that is a credit to the paper’s prowess. Kantor and Twohey recounts all this with transcripts of interviews, emails and other primary documents reprinted in the book and give a scintillating play-by-play of the months they spent tracking down Weinstein’s victims, verifying their stories, and, most crucially, convincing them to go on the record. The tail-end of the book shines a spotlight on how and why psychology professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford chose to reveal a decades-old sexual assault incident involving the US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh just weeks before his confirmation.

Why: This is investigative journalism at its finest, and it offers a behind-the-scenes look into the journalistic process, the ups and downs, and moments filled with suspense and uncertainty but which ultimately ends in sweet triumph. From the less than promising start with actress Rose McGowan — an early Weinstein accuser — initially refusing to get on the phone with Kantor to uncovering a host of other women aside from actresses who had suffered similar incidents and were persuaded to break their silence, the book paints a clear picture of the monumental effort and journalistic rigour Kantor and Twohey employed in gathering a solid body of evidence of wrongdoing to write a water-tight exposé.

One couldn’t help but became emotional reading the part where they describe actress Ashley Judd finally consenting to go on the record after weeks of deliberating:

“Standing amid the neat lines of glass wall and grey carpet, Jodi lost it, like a marathoner collapsing at the finish line. She and Megan had spent months living in a state of suspense and responsibility. They would land the story or they would blow it; they would get actresses on the record of they would not. Weeping, Jodi searched for something to say to Judd that was equal to the moment but still professional. The best she could muster was, ‘This means the world to me as a journalist.’”

That Weinstein would employ the kind of dirty tactics he did to prevent the Times from publishing is almost unbelievable if not for the transcripts of correspondence and documents made available. But what is even more eyebrow-raising and infuriating is the revelation that the US has a system for muting sexual harassment claims, giving harassers the ability to commit the same offences time and again.

The publication of Kantor and Twohey’s investigative piece turned out to be a watershed moment:

“The name Harvey Weinstein came to mean an argument for addressing misconduct, lest it go unchecked for decades, an example of how less-severe transgressions could lead to more serious ones. An emerging consensus that speaking up about sexual harassment and abuse was admirable, not shameful or disloyal. A cautionary tale about how that kind of behaviour could become a grave risk for employers. Most of all, it marked an emerging agreement that Weinstein-like conduct was unequivocally wrong and should not be tolerated.”

The impact of the Weinstein story is still felt today (for better or worse, depending), and it is something that Kantor and Twohey grapple with in the book.

“The old rules of sex and power had been partly swept away, but it was not clear what the new ones would or should be. There was little agreement and rancorous debate over what behaviours were under scrutiny, how to know what to believe, and what accountability should look like. Years before, Tarana Burke had started the #MeToo movement to promote empathy and healing for victims of sexual violence, but now that label was being used as a catchall for a huge range of complaints, from verbal abuse to uncomfortable dates, many of which lacked the clarity of workplace or criminal violations.”

Despite there being a central and consistent thrust to the entire book, perhaps what is most refreshing is the cautionary note that it strikes with regards to reverting to mob rule. Yes, it is important that gender biases and abuses be exposed. Yes, women need to be brave and courageous and band together to make their voice heard. But no, this is not license to adopt every complaint as a battle-cry to steamroll over the opposite sex.

Verdict: A riveting, inspiring and empowering read that gives a better understanding of the #MeToo movement and its implications. (9/10)

Availability: Trade paperback, RM69.90

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The Lit Rewind Ep 02 – Bernice Chauly

Welcome to the second episode of Lit Rewind.

Every now and then, our shop holds events where we invite authors, readers, and basically anyone interested in books to talk about all things literature.

On the evening of Aug 23, we were pleased and honoured to launch Bernice Chauly’s new poetry collection Incantantions/Incarcerations. Bernice is one of Malaysia’s leading poets, novelists and all-round literary activist, and she was in top form as she opened up about her work, her life and her poetry in conversation with poet and lecturer Lawrence Ypil.

We kicked off the evening with Bernice reading from her latest poetry collection. The book is available in-store at RM28.

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The Lit Rewind: Ep 01 – Tash Aw

UPDATE 31 AUG 2019, 1.29PM: The podcast is back up and running! We’re now hosting the recording via Soundcloud and the player and link is visible in the top-right corner of our homepage. We’ve also posted the link below. Send us a message on FB or Insta if the link doesn’t work for you.

UPDATE 31 AUG 2019, 11.31AM: Dear friends, we did not expect the recording to be as popular as it turned out to be and the sheer number of downloads and streams crashed our website. We are now seeking an alternative solution to hosting the website and will make an announcement here when we have done so. We apologise for the inconvenience!

Welcome to the first episode of Lit Rewind, our very own podcast.

Every now and then, we invite authors and other guests to our shop to discuss books, their work, and answer questions from our very enthusiastic crowd of readers. 

On a stormy Thursday evening in August, our shop was filled to capacity with about 100 eager fans waiting to talk to and meet Malaysian author Tash Aw. Tash’s novel, We, the Survivors, was published earlier this year. We began our interview with him by asking him to describe the novel.