Malay Sketches

Longlisted for the 2013 Frank O'connor International Short Story Award

Malay Sketches is a collection of stories that borrows its name from a book of anecdotes by colonial governor Frank Swettenham, describing Malay life on the Peninsula. In Alfian Sa’at’s hands, these sketches are reimagined as flash fictions that record the lives of members of the Malay community in Singapore. With precise and incisive prose, Malay Sketches offers the reader profound insights into the realities of life as an ethnic minority.

Postcards featuring illustrations from the book are also available!

View Sample Pages

Also available as an audiobook on Storytel here.



Malay Sketches

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“Malay Sketches is a refreshingly honest and insightful depiction of the less savoury realities of life in Singapore, an ostensibly multiracial and meritocratic city-state uncomfortable with its historical Malay core. The stories serve as a stark reminder of a complex and contradictory society that is at once dynamic and dastardly, progressive and oppressive, glittery and ghoulish.” —Associate Professor Lily Zubaidah Rahim, University of Sydney, author of 'The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community'

“Alfian’s vignettes of Singapore Malay life are touching and funny, at once full of pathos and nostalgia. They illuminate a life that once was, and now, inevitably, with ‘progress’, what is. But ultimately they speak of dignity, quiet and undiminished.” —Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, columnist,activist, author of 'In Liberal Doses'

“The title is the key. Alfian Sa’at uses the name of a late-nineteenth-century colonialist project to frame a body of vignettes exposing the systematic politicisation of race, the socialisation of the Malays, and the individual Malay’s struggle to preserve a knowledge of community in modern Singapore. Cognitively exacting books – with such fragile themes – come once in a lifetime. Shahril Nizam’s beautiful drawings recognise the fact and rise confidently to meet this challenge. Malay Sketches is an unambiguous trailblazer.” —Gwee Li Sui, literary critic, poet, and graphic artist

“Subtle, delicate, elliptical, these elegiac sketches are shot through with yearning and brightness. Alongside modern parables of hantu kumkum, hantu tetek, pontianak and toyol, there are stories of separation and reunion, of love and conversion, of nation, class, childhood, gods, angels, death and prayer. There is humour and pathos but above all a longing for something forgotten, something lost.” —Jo Kukathas, Artistic Director of The Instant Café Theatre


Alfian Sa’at


Shahril Nizam