One of the strongest economies of South East Asia, Malaysia is a cosmopolitan, vibrant country with a multicultural society that is a mix of ethnic Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous peoples. The strength of Malaysia’s economy, and its diverse society, are most evident in its capital city Kuala Lumpur, where the twin Petronas Towers dominate the skyline. Whilst generally politically stable, Malaysia has come under criticism for the detention of Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition party, and its internal security laws allowing for detention without charge or trial.
Aside from the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is also home to a wide array of wildlife and the thick forests of Borneo are home to a huge variety of animal and plant life, as well as being a sanctuary for the traditional, tribal life of rural Malaysians. The dichotomy between the cosmopolitan life on the Malay Peninsula and the traditional life of the Borneo jungles is expressed in the different cultural output of the two Malaysian regions, and is testament to the rich variety of Malay culture and society generally.
The literature from and about Malaysia is reflective of this diverse multicultural society, as well as evoking some of the complexities of Malaysian history and politics. Preeta Samarasan is a Malaysian writer who writes in English; her book Evening is the Whole Day focuses on a family of Malaysian Indians and utilises the distinctive dialect of this segment of Malaysian society to tell its story of dark family secrets. Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother also depicts the immigrant experience in Malaysia, this time through the story of a Sri Lankan immigrant who lives through the terrors of the Japanese occupation of Malaysia during World War II. Some other prominent works of fiction about Malaysia include Chan Ling Yap’s Sweet Offerings, Hugh Popham’s The Jungle Beat and Anthony Burgess’ The Malayan Trilogy.
Leonard Andaya’s A History of Malaysia reveals the way in which colonial influences, including that of the British, have shaped the way in which contemporary Malaysia views itself and the outside world. He also shows how immigration, especially from China, has changed the makeup of Malaysian society.