“Modern Malaysian fiction either looks back at its colonial past, or tries to mock Western genres. I’d like to see a bit more of self-reflection and more powerful, exciting writing.”
In the second part of our interview with Marco Ferrarese, we discuss the shock and surprise when after two years of being published, Nazi Goreng was banned for sale in Malaysia. For further background details about the book please visit the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ngorengbook
All photos courtesy of Marco Ferrarese.
Monsoon: How did you feel when the book was banned in Malaysia?
Of course I was shocked and upset, especially as it happened two and a half years after it came out, and especially as it had earned quite a number of reviews in the mainstream media. I was kind of worried for myself, too, but luckily nothing serious happened.
Monsoon: Since the book was released in 2013, the Malaysian ‘establishment’ has been rocked by many scandals, and Malaysians are voicing their concerns about issues of corruption even more than ever, yet there is still no change at the top – what do you see for the future of Malaysia in the short term and long term?
Not much, I’m afraid. There’s an endemic condition in this country, that’s not just political, but social. Malaysians like convenience. Like it or not, they are very convenient, and I don’t think that by changing the ethnicity of those in power the country will be freed from endemic political corruption. This said, it’s remarkable that some artists like Fahmi Reza and Zunar have been able to use their art to shake the waters a bit, but the revolution is not made by wearing T-shirts with slogans. Maybe Malaysians – like other Southeast Asians – should finally take their discontent to the streets …
Monsoon: Your book was one of the more visible literary attacks on the establishment in Malaysia, but is fiction a genre that can work for social change in Malaysia? Are there any other such books? Can an English-language book ever reach the masses in Malaysia? Are Malaysians generally open to reading self-critical books?
I don’t think so. Nazi Goreng was a wasted opportunity, because the book, judging from the reviews and conversations I had, was not really understood. Everyone thinks it’s a “punk” book. But even politically correct punks have complained about it being too over the top, even sexist. Especially in Malaysia, nobody has ever walked to me saying “I appreciated your attempt to describe the racial situation of this crazy country, especially as you touch on many social categories like immigrant workers that are usually left out of official Malaysian narratives”. This would have been good enough to understand that the message was understood. But I believe it wasn’t.
I’m not sure whether or not English books serve any purpose here. What is shocking is that the Malay translation of Nazi Goreng, a BANNED book, is still available in stores. And even if the success of publishers like FIXI demonstrates that Malaysians, and especially young Malay women, do read fiction, I still think that reading is hard work. Malaysians prefer images they can share on facebook or wear on their T-shirts, like in most other parts of the world. Reading takes time that we think we don’t have … and we are constantly connected to our smartphones 🙂
Monsoon: Two political cartoonists were arrested in Malaysia last year and one independent online news platform was forced to close, are you afraid for your freedom? Are authors in Malaysia generally afraid of criticising the establishment in their work?
No. I’m quite free to write what I want, I believe. But yes, there are some limits that authors must be aware of here, not much for themselves, but for their publishers, who are obviously in need of making sales and won’t publish very controversial stuff. There are many pieces of flamboyant fiction published by FIXI, Lejen Press, DuBook, but I believe that besides the sex and drugs, there’s not much that really tries to get to the root of the social problem is, which is racial disintegration. Modern Malaysian fiction either looks back at its colonial past, or tries to mock Western genres. I’d like to see a bit more of self-reflection and more powerful, exciting writing.
Monsoon: Monsoon has made all their ebooks DRM free in the hope that this will make considered banned books like your own, more available. Do you feel that the internet and social media are key tools for releasing new ‘controversial’ material?
Yes, that can be a good idea to get around official blockages. Still, people love physical books they can hold in their hands and treasure, and no eBook can do that. Don’t get me wrong: I like eBooks and I do have a Kindle. I love it when travelling as it allows me to save so much space and be much lighter, but I have been lucky enough to grow up during “analog” years, and nothing beats the feel and smell of a paperback. Especially when it’s a good book.
Monsoon: Have you experienced any personal feedback about the book? Is there a thirst for more?
Nazi Goreng is like India, you love it or hate it, and I received both kinds of feedback … Sometimes from the most unexpected people. There may be a thirst for more and I do have an idea for a potential sequel, but I’m honestly not the kind of guy who likes to capitalize on the success of something he did in the past … I don’t think the world needs a part II. Unless readers will convince me that part 1 has really made them think differently somehow …
Monsoon: What have you been working on since the book’s release?
Besides having submitted a PhD in anthropology investigating the relationship between pre-existing ethnic identity, globalization and extreme music performance in Malaysia, I have become a full time freelance writer specializing in Southeast Asian travel and culture. I write many articles for many publications and spend my time travelling, which is what I was doing before the novel. My first collection of travel stories will come out later this year under Gerak Budaya.
I also wrote a Malaysian metal-punk memoir, Banana Punk Rawk Trails, published by SIRD in 2015. I have a semi-finished second novel tentatively titled Apocalypse Lu that needs some serious beating to come into shape, and have ideas for two more. The problem is each day has only 24 hours, and I tend to sleep for 7.