There are now more Malaysian books than ever, so it's the best time to start adding some local authors to your reading list. To help you out, we've picked ten books by Malaysian writers ranging from fiction, non-fiction and poetry in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. While this isn't a 'best of' list, we highly recommend these books for beginners.
RECOMMENDED: KL's local publishing scene
There are two interwoven journeys: the author’s literal and physical one upon his return home and reacquaintance with Malaysia, and the other a history of Malaysia: the events leading up to Malaya’s independence in 1957, the birth of Malaysia in 1963, and the nation’s coming-of-age during the terms of Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister. Ng Su Ann
Ridhwan Saidi’s second novel tells the story of Murshid Merican, and is set in both Malaysia and America. The novel is peppered with symbolism and psychedelic undertones, which naturally means that at times, it will be illogical. Linear storylines in ‘Amerika’ however are secondary – pay attention to the little things, like cockroaches, strawberries, broccoli soup and the characters Ramlee and Awang. Nadia Rosli
Artist, poet and writer Latiff Mohidin is an elusive figure in the industry. ‘Catatan’ is essentially, catatan: notes, memos and journal entries sometimes written like a tweet or a status update. The book is divided according to topics such as art and theatre and spans from his early days in the '50s to the '70s. Nadia Rosli
A Malay bar owner-and-bouncer; a Chinese taxi driver; a washed-up Indian musician; plus Malay, Cantonese, and Tamil swear words in print. Brian Gomez’s ‘Devil’s Place’ was 1Malaysia before 1Malaysia was ever an official national campaign. Bolehland! Ng Su Ann
‘I Am Muslim’ is a collection of essays by writer and regular columnist Dina Zaman. This particular book compiles her writings from her Malaysiakini column and touches on the subject of the female Malay Muslim identity. At times it’s cynical, but the best part is that it’s relatable. Nadia Rosli
Sufian Abas’s compilation of short stories came out at a time when indie books were truly indie – unlike how the scene is now. Keeping true to its indie roots, the book isn’t perfect but it has nonetheless garnered fans – including the likes of Dina Zaman and Farish Noor – and has inspired many indie writers of today. Nadia Rosli
Indie book lovers have always celebrated Wani Ardy as a sort of 'mother' of the scene. Her first collection of poems and prose has been lauded as comforting, honest and relatable, as a mother should. The title poem was also turned into a song. Nadia Rosli
Muhammad Haji Salleh, who was National Laureate when Salleh Ben Joned's bilingual ‘Sajak Sajak Salleh: Poems Sacred and Profane’ was published, declared it ‘the most traumatic experience for the Malay literary scene.’
Not only did he disagree with the state’s decision to elevate the status of the Malay language in the late ’70s to national language (he was one of the few Malay writers to do so), Salleh Ben Joned is also infamous for his deliberate, explicit use of graphic sexuality, perversion, and profanity in his works. ‘Sacred and Profane’ says it all. Ng Su Ann
In a small Malay community in Kampung Kambing, Salina is driven by poverty to work as an escort in post-WWII 1950s Singapore. Part social commentary, part social drama, ‘Salina’ delves deep into the suffering and struggle for survival after the brief spell of Japanese rule and the wars. Ng Su Ann
Any lover of Malaysian history will fall for Farish A Noor’s ‘What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You’ – and your teacher didn’t tell you about the keris being of a Hindu-Buddhist origin, about homosexuality in Southeast Asia, and about ‘Hang Tuah The Pacifist’. Ng Su Ann
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