7 Engrossing Malaysian Novels To Add To Your Reading List
It's always great to be reading about our Malaysian culture, history, and heritage written in fiction novels
There's nothing we know more than our own Malaysian culture, and the sentiment is the same when it comes to reading books that centre around our unique myths, folklore, heritage, and traditions. Some novels even revisit Malaysia's historical events with a twist.
Whether it's the familiar scenes and places where the stories are set, or the witty takes on modernising Malaysian folklore, it's always a breath of fresh air to read Malaysian-centric stories.
1. The Accidental Malay by Karina Robles Bahrin
The Accidental Malay by Karina Robles Bahrin tells the story of Jasmine Leong, a billion-ringgit bak kwa company heir in line to become its next CEO. However, an unexpected discovery of her hidden heritage takes her by surprise as she finds out that she is actually a Malay-Muslim.
Follow her story as she explores what it means to be a Malay-Muslim, the racial policies that come along with it, and the impact it has on her life and lifelong dream.
2. The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
The Girl and the Ghost by Hannal Alkaf follows the story of Suraya who inherits a pelesit (a spirit familiar usually in the form of a grasshopper) from her late witch grandmother. Delighted at first to have a new friend, she then discovers that pelesits have a dark side.
As she faces problems at school, she must figure out a way to keep the pelesit in control before everyone around her suffers the cost.
3. The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Set in the Malayan colonial era, The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke tells the story of Malayan-Chinese girl, Chye Hoon, who has to embrace her Nyonya heritage and let go of her dreams to go to school like her brother.
As she grows up and marries, she learns to appreciate her culture and works towards passing it down to her 10 children. However, she finds it difficult as the world begins to become modern and Westernised.
4. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Now a Netflix adaptation, The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is a story set in the colonial Malaya era, where the main character, Li Lan, is suddenly asked by her father to be a ghost bride to a wealthy family's deceased son.
Readers will follow along the story that's rich with Chinese folklore, love triangles, and the consequences of ancient customs.
5. Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
In Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho, the book is a compilation of short stories about Malaysian folklore. Follow along the stories of a Datin's past affair with an orang bunian, a teenage pontianak's struggles with daily life, an earth spirit's conflict with the landlord, and the Chinese goddess Chang'e's travels to outer space.
The novel's creative take on life, death, and the colourful Malaysian folklore makes for an interesting read. (I mean, a teenage pontianak? Totally looking for it on my next trip to the bookstore.)
6. Kebaya Tales: Of Matriarchs, Maidens, Mistresses, and Matchmakers by Lee Su Kim
Kebaya Tales: Of Matriarchs, Maidens, Mistresses and Matchmakers by Lee Su Kim is a compilation of stories about the Baba Nyonya culture.
The stories are inspired by the real life events of the author's family, from her Nyonya grandmother and mother. With witty and occassional satire elements, the novel dives into one of Malaysia's subculture that is still prospering today.
7. The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Set during the historic race riot in 1969, The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf tells the story of Melati, a high school girl and Beatles enthusiast, who struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and suddenly finds herself amidst the race riot.
The book depicts what it's like to struggle with a mental illness during one of the most devastating historical events in Malaysia to date. The novel has also been adapted into a Webtoon.