Taking a break from novels, I’ve decided to indulge in a book of Malaysian and Asian short stories written by creative writing lecturer, Robert Raymer. Lovers and Strangers Revisited was recently voted most popular in the fiction category of the Popular – The Star Readers’ Choice Awards 2009. I’ve also gotten to know about Raymer when he contributed an article for my campus newspaper.
The title itself is captivating and I can definitely say the same about the stories compiled in the book. There are 17 stories altogether and 16 of them have been published 65 times in 10 countries. Incredible, isn’t it?
Malaysia is a multiracial country where the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Punjabis, Kadazans, Ibans and other races live together in harmony and tolerance. Each group has their own customs and traditions and it’s fascinating to learn about them in addition to learning about ourselves.
I’m impressed with how Raymer managed to write so well about the real essence of being a Malaysian. He certainly knows and understands the various races in the country along with their customs and beliefs. Well, he has lived in Penang for over 20 years and also married a local woman. So he had time to get to know the country. Some of the stories are based on his previous experiences here.
My favourite story is The Future Barrister where a young Indian man who looks like Clark Gable gets drunk in a local bar and starts telling shocking things to a new American friend. The ending of that story made my jaw drop literally. Haha!
The story Smooth Stones also had an ironic and yet predictable ending. A Malay woman buys three “magical” stones from a stranger who claimed that the stones had healing powers. Thinking that the stones could heal her dying husband, the woman paid a large sum of money for them, which looked like they were picked up from the nearby river.
Meanwhile, in The Watcher, a grumpy great-grandfather waits for his great-grandchildren to arrive for Chinese New Year. Sitting on an old wooden bench, he recalls the Japanese invasion into the country while watching the neighbourhood children play with firecrackers. He’ll also occasionally shout out warnings to the children.
In Lovers and Strangers, a writer meets a young woman who looks and talks the same as his former lover who committed suicide. I was waiting for something creepy to happen but then the entire story spells out CREEPY!
I enjoyed reading all the stories in the book. I enjoyed reading about typical Malaysians and our habits that we overlook every day. Raymer must have spent a lot of time writing, editing, and re-writing them. I know because it’s not easy to produce a good short story that wouldn’t let the reader get bored.
This book is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in getting to know Malaysians and also Thailand (Transactions in Thai is set there). If you also need great short story samples, then Lovers and Strangers Revisited is certainly one of the best ones.