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Sunday, 30 August 2009

Lentera Mustika


Ini adalah buku Puan Nisah Haron saya yang pertama. Selalunya saya jarang mencapai buku sebegini, tetapi rasa ingin tahu saya timbul selepas saya berkunjung ke blog beliau.

Lentera Mustika bermula sebagai sebuah novel bersiri yang disiarkan dalam majalah Aniqah. Novel ini juga merupakan prekuel kepada novel Puan Nisah yang lebih awal, Mencari Locus Standi. Saya rasa sesiapa yang pernah membaca novel tadi mungkin akan lebih menjiwai perjalanan plot Lentera Mustika. Membaca Lentera Mustika adalah umpama pertemuan semula dengan watak-watak yang mereka kenali dahulu seperti E-Jay dan Ibu Mustika.

Novel ini berpontensi untuk menjadi novel yang melonjakkan nama Puan Nisah, atau karya breakthrough beliau. Antara sebabnya ialah penampilan novel ini. Berbanding novel-novel beliau yang sebelum ini, kulit hadapan Lentera Mustika nampak lebih segar dan menarik. Apabila Puan Nisah menulis di blog yang beliau sangat gembira dengan rekaan kulit hadapan novel ini, saya dalam hati tumpang gembira. Saya tak pasti sejauh mana seorang penulis boleh terlibat (campur tangan?) dalam proses rekaan, tetapi apabila sebuah buku yang baik muncul dengan rekaan yang hambar, saya rasa ini adalah satu bentuk... kezaliman.

Tumpuan novel ini ialah Dr. Ainur Mustika, seorang pendidik dan pengkaji persuratan Melayu. Beliau dilanda satu dilemma yang lazim lagi bagi sesiapa yang usianya dengannya. Soal jodoh. Dan lebih merumitkan keadaan ialah calon-calonnya muncul pada masa yang agak sama. Ainur sendiri masih menyimpan perasaan terhadap salah seorang daripada mereka, tetapi perhubungan ini tidak mendapat restu daripada pihak keluarga lelaki. Rakan sependeritaan Ainur dalam cerita ini ialah sepupunya Jasmarina. Kisah perjalanan jodoh mereka diceritakan secara seiring.

Daripada apa yang saya kutip melalui ulasan pembaca lain, mereka kurang gemar cara novel ini ditamatkan. Saya sendiri tak mempunyai masalah dengan kesudahan novel ini. Agaknya saya sudah terbiasa dengan filem/animasi/komik Jepun yang selalu berakhir dengan keadaan yang boleh dikatakan tergantung. Namun saya faham apa yang mereka maksudkan. Mungkin ini taktik Puan Nisah untuk mengumpan pembaca Lentera Mustika supaya mendapatkan Mencari Locus Standi.

(Puan Nisah, saya cuma bergurau, tapi kalau betul sekali pun apa salahnya, kan?)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Fugitive


The Fugitive (Perburuan) adalah di antara novel terawal Allahyarham Pramoedya Ananta Toer. Kisahnya berlaku pada satu masa yang penting dalam sejarah Indonesia, iaitu detk-detik terakhir penguasaan kerajaan Jepun ke atas kawasan-kawasan jajahannya.

Seperti rakyat Tanah Melayu, rakyat Indonesia juga telah termakan dengan janji "Asia untuk Asia" yang dibawa oleh Jepun. Pada mulanya kehadiran tentera Jepun dilihat sebagai bantuan yang dinanti-nanti selama ini dalam usaha untuk menumbangkan pentadbiran British dan Belanda. Tetapi kita pun tahu apa yang berlaku selepas itu. Walaupun British dan Belanda berjaya dihalau, keadaan tidak bertukar seperti yang dijangka. Apa yang berlaku bolehlah diibaratkan sebagai lepas dari mulut harimau masuk ke mulut buaya. Jika rakyat dahulunya ditindas secara halus oleh penjajah Barat, penjajah Timur pula lebih suka pendekatan secara terang-terang. Rakyat diherdik supaya tunduk dan patuh. Kesalahan dihukum dengan keras, seksaan atau hukuman pancung bagi yang berat.

Kezaliman ini telah membawa kepada kebangkitan gerakan anti-Jepun. Salah satu daripada gerakan ini dipimpin oleh Hardo. Perancangan mereka untuk berhadapan dengan tentera Jepun gagal di saat-saat apabila salah seorang daripada pemimpin kanan gerakan ini belot. Hardo dan lain-lain diberkas, tetapi mereka berjaya melepaskan diri. Untuk mengelak daripada dikesan, Hardo dan rakan-rakannya menyamar sebagai pengemis.

Novel ini terbahagi kepada empat bab. Setiap bab adalah mengenai pertemuan Hardo dan insan-insan penting dalam hidupnya. Orang yang paling dicari-cari oleh Hardo ialah tunangnya Ningsih. Tetapi sebelum itu Hardo terpaksa bersemuka dengan orang lain termasuk bapanya sendiri dan mereka yang pernah mengkhianatinya.

Jika kita cuba untuk menyelami pemikiran rakyat ketika itu, kita akan sedar yang mereka tidak lansung menjangka yang Jepun boleh dikalahkan. Tiada siapa yang menyangka bahawa kerajaan Jepun akan menyerah kalah. Ini berlaku akibat pengeboman bandar Hiroshima dan Nagasaki oleh Amerika.

Pemerintahan Jepun telah membawa kejutan kepada rakyat sekurang-kurangnya dua kali. Kali pertama apabila mereka yang mendakwa diri mereka sebagai penyelamat kepada rakyat berubah menjadi penjajah yang baru. Kali kedua pula apabila mereka yang selama ini sebuah kerajaan agung akhirnya terpaksa melutut di hadapan Barat.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Tears of the Giraffe


Time to return to Botswana, to see what the No.1 female private detective, Precious Ramotswe, is up to. In the first book of this series, so far there are 10, Mma Ramotswe said yes to Mr. J. L. B. Maketoni's proposal. Love is definitely in the air. The two 40-something lovebirds are busy preparing for their upcoming matrimonial union.

Over at the office, things have slow down a bit. With the exception of the case of a missing American youth, Mma Ramotswe is more occupied with planning and thinking about her future life. This calls for a bit of delegation. And who better to fill the shoes of 'assistant detective' than the secretary, Mma Makutsi.

Tear of the Giraffe is very much as spirited as the first book. Mma Ramotswe looks into a suspicious death, Mr. Maketoni becomes an accidental parent and Mma Makutsi learns what it takes to be an ethical detective. McCall Smith appears to enjoy landing his characters in confounding and sometimes comical circumstances.

He also uses witticism to draw the readers' attention to issues affecting society both in Botswana and everywhere else. Here is Mma Makutsi discussing with her friend about women's career prospect during an economic recession.

'It is men who gives out these jobs, am I right?' she had said.

'I suppose so,' said Mma Makutsi. 'Men run these businesses. They choose the secretaries.'

'Well,' said her friend, smiling wryly, 'I can tell you do think that... Men choose women for jobs on the basis of their looks. They choose the beautiful ones and give them jobs. To the others, they say: We are very sorry. All the jobs have gone. We are very sorry. There is a world recession, in a world recession there are only enough jobs for beautiful girls. That is the effect of a world recession. It is all economics.'

Sure. Blame it on the economy.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Life in El Valero


What can make a person pack up everything he owns and his whole family, travel for many kilometers, leaving friends, neighbours, family and a comfortable life behind, in order to settle in a foreign land?

It didn't take long for Chris Stewart to decide that this place somewhere in Alpujarra, Spain will be their new home. After series of negotiations and being £25,000 poorer, the young couple from England became proud owners of a farm named El Valero.

Stewart's main claim to fame is the fact that he was a founding member of the band Genesis. The only thing I know about Genesis is that Phil Collin's in it. Stewart played drums for them for a while but didn't hang around long enough to see their first album released. He went on to pursue other things like joining the circus, travelling through China, learned sailing and flying, among other things. He also picked sheep-shearing skill, which is a very needed skill in the new neighbourhood.

If you're imagining that the El Valero is some kind of a country paradise, you might be half right. One undeniable thing about the place is its scenery. It's a beautiful farm by a river, a perfect place to rear sheep, chickens and goat, and to grow olives, vegetable and other crops. Stewart himself is an organic farmer. On the other hand, the road required some work, and a bridge. And there's the local wildlife, some of which seem have a taste for sheep's meat and chickens.

Years have past since then the Stewarts first arrived. Their daughter Chloƫ was born here. And she can't possibly imagine life somewhere else. The Stewarts clan have very much now rooted themselves in this scenic valley. Their story is told in a three-books series: Driving over Lemons, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society.

I've just finished the last book. I read them in sequence with other books in between. It took me some time to appreciate them. I read in order to figure out why would Stewart decide on moving to the Alpujarra, but never found the reason. I suppose it's one of those answers, the one that can be very difficult to explain. Or perhaps it's as simple as fate.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Tourist Map of Korea

Last week I went through some old things. They were papers and etceteras from my early undergrad student years. I found them in an old bag under the bed. Most of it ended up in the dustbin.

Among the old things that didn't end up in the dustbin was a map of Korea. It was a gift from someone named Michael. He's a law student and a (Muslim) South Korean, a combination I found strange. Normally foreign student who study law in Malaysia are from countries formerly colonised by the British, because they, like Malaysia, inherit the British law system. I don't think Korea falls into this category.

Michael was my friend's room mate. I hung out there sometimes because we were in the same group for an assignment. Michael wasn't around very often then. My friend mentioned Michael a few times, but I didn't meet until later in the semester. He said Michael was always busy with some projects. He is a very talented artist.

I know it's wrong to go snooping around other people's room, especially when they aren't around. But I was so impressed by the artwork Michael had put up on his room's wall. He drew mostly sceneries and objects. I remember studying a drawing of a boat he did, trying to figure out whether it was computer drawn or hand drawn.

The first time I met Michael, I was looking for my friend at his room. It turned out that he wasn't there. Michael was on his way out but he politely greeted me and introduced himself. As usual he was on his way to some project. I saw him as a person with a lot of ideas, always in the middle of doing something. A classic Type A personality.

I was delighted to meet an actual Korean. I don't know much about the country. This was a few years before the Korean wave started. Almost nobody had heard of Bae Yong Joon or have any idea what kimchi is.

My friendship with my Korean friend was a brief one. We rarely sit down together. We ran into each other, exchanged greetings and updates on our own personal live. Our topic usually was drawing, something we both are passionate about.

A few weeks went on without Michael and I crossing each other's path. I don't see him in his room, at the canteen or anywhere else. I was worried that I might have annoyed or offended him in any way.

Not too long after that, I saw Michael at the canteen. He was having lunch and I asked if I could join him. I immediately asked where were him this past few weeks. I'm leaving, he said. He got a job offer as an illustrator in KL. It's a small company that's just starting out. I wasn't really surprised actually by his decision to leave, considering that Korea probably has a different law system altogether. He gave me his business card and told me that within a year or so he would be return to Korea. He then reached into his bag and handed me a folded piece of paper. It was the Tourist Map of Korea, published by the Korea National Tourism Organization.

Use it to find me when come there some day, said Michael with a smile. We finished our meal, and also our last conversation. We wished each other success and a good future.

Till this day I haven't been able to contact Michael. I emailed him once but I didn't get any reply. I think now he's back in Korea. Wherever he is, I wish him the best. I hope that someday I can use map to find him, just as he suggested.
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