Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa'at illustrations by Shahril Nizam front cover
Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa'at illustrations by Shahril Nizam back cover

Malay Sketches

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by Alfian Sa'at
illustrations by Shahril Nizam

Also available as an audiobook on Storytel here.

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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!

About the Author

Alfian Sa’at is the Resident Playwright of W!LD RICE. His plays have been translated into German, Swedish and Danish, and they have been read and performed in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London, Berlin, Hamburg, Zurich, Munich, Copenhagen and Stockholm. He has been nominated for the Life! Theatre Awards for Best Original Script seven times, and has received the award twice. Alfian was the winner of the SPH-NAC Golden Point Award for Poetry and the Singapore Young Artist Award for Literature in 2001. His other publications include Collected Plays One, Collected Plays Two, Cooling-Off Day, the poetry collections One Fierce Hour, A History of Amnesia, and the short story collection Corridor which is in the midst of a second reprint.

About The Illustrator

Shahril Nizam Ahmad is a visual artist based in Kuala Lumpur. He majored in Painting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia. His work has been exhibited in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Yogyakarta and Melbourne and featured in KLue, August Man and Esquire Malaysia. He has designed several book covers and illustrated for Malaysian Politicians Say The Darndest Things Vol. 1 by Amir Muhammad, Heart & Soul by Bibsy Soenharjo and Malaysian & German Folk Tales and Legends. He periodically dabbles in poetry and has published a book of poems and illustrations titled If Only. Two of his poems from the aforementioned collection were translated into German and included in Tautan, an anthology of Malaysian and German poetry.


“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

“These lingering vignettes, told in Alfian Sa’at’s characteristically poetic cadence, disclose a hidden history unlikely to find space in the panegyrics of a state sanctioned, ascriptive multiculturalism. Alfian records a truer account of an anxious settler community’s efforts to relocate an indigenous people to the margins (and then rebuke their marginalisation). It is the narrative of displaced native peoples the world over.”
- Vincent Wijeysingha, lecturer, SIM University

"...a provocatively powerful and brutally honest work that speaks about the subject of race..."
- Laremy Lee, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore

"Although Malay Sketches can be seen as a peephole into the Malay psyche, the stories will be relatable to readers, no matter their country or ethnicity. Stories of love, sadness, betrayal and success and failure make this collection accessible and, most importantly, human.”
- Goh Cheng Fai Zach, Cha, Asian Literary Journal

"Through his vivid sketches of a spectrum of characters, readers will gain rare insights into the Malay psyche as an ethnic minority in Chinese-dominated Singapore... Like an artist who could capture an evocative scene or a haunting portrait with just a few bold strokes of the pen or pencil, Alfian only needs a handful of words and phrases to make his characters and their dilemmas, leap out of the pages to entertain and more important - to illumine delicate issues.
- Ismail Kassim, former senior correspondent at The Straits Times

• • •

ISBN: 978-981-07-1801-5 
Published: 2012
Dimension: 130mm x 200mm
Extent: 232
Finish: Paperback



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