A Tash Aw Guardian Blurb & A Book in the Post


by Suzan Abrams

A book post may fuel an  exhilaration akin to a Christmas stocking.

All these years and I still haven’t shed that animated childlike thrill when expecting something grand from the postman. Even better than London, Dublin features a sprinkling of post offices everywhere I turn.

Of course this drives home the notion  that with concerted efforts for the old-fashioned passion of letter writing, fast returning to me and then too, the scribble of a thoughtful card or  fiction manuscript to send out, I could always hope to expect something good in the post.

For instance, I just have to slip round the corner to the smaller offices on the right or left of the street on where I live, depending on my enthusiasm for a stroll. However, my favourite venue stays the General Post Office, on Upper O’Connell Street. Built in 1814, the grand old building represents a historical symbol for the 1916 Easter Uprising.

O’Connell Street is also a colourful thoroughfare and a popular platform for many weekend carnivals and protest marches. It lies in the heart of Dublin City and measures a mere 15 minute drive from my home, on a day of heavy traffic.

Last Thursday, I ordered Handpicked, a fat 342-page trade paperback, by Malaysian debut novelist Siew Siang Tay, who works at the University of South Australia. Siew whose heritage is Chinese, emigrated to Adelaide in the Nineties, from her historical hometown of Malacca.

Siew’s place of birth still stays famous among tourists for its ancient Portugese and Dutch rule stretching back to the 16th century. Antiques and heirlooms are always in demand. The quaint city also owns the legacy of a famous and flamboyant Sultanate era.
The package arrived on my doorstep after just 5 days.

Siew who recently participated with Tash Aw at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, is an exciting new novelist I’d not heard of before. After publishing a series of short stories for magazines, the writer with her pleasing countenance, was finally signed up  by HarperCollins Australia  without the help of an agent. Handpicked was  launched at the start of April this year.

The unusual plot sounds promising enough with its inquisitive probe into the world of a mail-order bride.

Laila grabs her air ticket to Australia as a desperate escapade from mundane life in a longhouse, situated in rural heartland Malaysia. In my country – I am Malaysian – the longhouse is often associated with indigenous tribes – whose children are now professionally educated and some living abroad in the West – . This especially evident in Borneo, East Malaysia and also interior regions in the depths of Pahang in the Peninsular.

Laila travels alone Down Under to marry Jim, a fruit-picker in a hotter South Australia. Jim hasn’t had much luck with women so he pins all his hopes on Laila. When they finally meet, realistic expectations and observations shape the pin that will burst a bubble moulded rather unwisely on idealism.

The novel opens with a splendid line… “The pig liver never lies…”  The yell signals the impatient shout of Laila’s father about to drum up a lecture. The first page is immediately captivating for its family drama.

Interestingly enough, although published by the Fourth Estate imprint in Australia, with the exception of Amazon, you can’t possibly purchase this book from Europe not even from the UK’s HarperCollins offices. Neither is the title tucked away in any major bookstore’s database.

Decent world distribution would still mean publishing a work of fiction in either New York, Los Angeles or London. In London, if you self-publish a piece of work using  digital print-on-demand technology or stay published by a small independent press, which means your title will most likely not be a stockist’s item in stores, then the publisher would need to link up to a good distributor like Gardners to make your lesser known book easily available in different European cities.