Malaysian Writer Wins 2022 Regional Fiction Prize In 1st Attempt At Writing A Novel

One of the judges hailed Karina's novel as "an intelligent, well-crafted, and significant work".

Cover image via Epigram Books (Facebook) & Epigram Books (YouTube)

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A Malaysian writer bested three other finalists from Singapore to emerge winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2022

Announcing the win on Facebook, Epigram Books congratulated Karina Robles Bahrin for taking first place with her manuscript titled The Accidental Malay, and for earning SGD25,000 (RM77,800) in prize money.

The 52-year-old's novel beat the works of student Ng Ziqin, 20; private tutor Nisha Mehraj, 37; and general practitioner Tan Lip Hong, 58 — who are all Singaporean.

Speaking during the virtual ceremony livestream on Facebook and YouTube, Karina said the win was an unexpected one, as it was her first attempt at writing a novel.

She is the second Malaysian to win the Singapore-based literary award that is open to all writers in Southeast Asia after Joshua Kam in 2020, with his novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

The Accidental Malay tells the story of Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who aims to become the next chief executive officer (CEO) of her wealthy family clan's bak kwa company.

But one day, she discovers that she is actually Malay.

Her newfound identity threatens to upend life as she knows it and her CEO ambitions. Set in Malaysia, Karina's novel examines the impact of the country's racial policies on a woman unwilling to accept the fate that history has designated her.

According to The Star, one of the judges, Nanyang Technological University professor Shirley Chew, hailed Karina's novel as "an intelligent, well-crafted, and significant work".

"The narrative movement and the structure of the novel are constructed with a sharp sense of the dramatic. This is ably helped by a prose that is lively with flashes of wit," she said.

The other judges were Malaysian publisher Buku Fixi founder Amir Muhammad, Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore co-founder and director T Sasitharan, Association of Women for Action and Research president Margaret Thomas, and Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee.

Karina's novel will be published in the second half of this year

The other three finalists — each taking home SGD5,000 (RM16,000) — will also have their shortlisted works published in the next half of the year.

"I'd like to firstly congratulate all the other shortlisted finalists. I think their books sound fantastic and I'm really looking forward to reading them," said Karina during the virtual ceremony.

"And to Epigram, a big thank you to them for continuing to push on and still have this award available to Southeast Asian writers despite challenges of the current times."

"Last but not least of course, thank you to the judges for selecting my story," said the winner, who also runs a hotel, restaurant, farm, and a community storytelling initiative in Langkawi.

In 2020, Joshua Kam became the youngest person to win the award with his novel on Malaysian folklore:

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