The Eloquence of Desire is talked about in ‘ex-pat news’

Tom Sykes

Gu Hongming, Arena Wati, Usman Awung, Abdullah Hussain, Tash Aw, Preeta Samarasan, Rani Manicka, Shamini Flint. The roll call says it all: over the last few decades, Malaysian fiction has well and truly arrived on the world stage. Many critics have identified its unique tropes, sentiments and imagery. But fewer critics have examined those Western novelists who have taken Malaysia – and especially its political, military and colonial history – as subject matter.

The earliest books had a fixation with piracy. G.A. Henty’s In the Hands of the Malays (1905) tells of a dashing Dutch lieutenant who escapes from the clutches of a bloodthirsty buccaneer known only as ‘The Sea Tiger’. Although he sold 25 million books in his lifetime, Henty has since been castigated for his pro-imperialist stance and racist depictions of pretty much anyone not English. By contrast, in The Tigers of Mompracem (1900) by the Italian writer…

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