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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

Judith Misrahi-Barak
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Negotiations and Passages

Transnational Negotiations of Memory and Space in New Malaysian Diasporic Writings1

Shanthini Pillai


The focal point of this paper is the concept of the transnational and the blurred and fluctuating boundaries of ties with the nation that was once home as depicted in the works of the emerging community of new Malaysian diasporic writers. New Malaysian diasporic writers in the context of this paper are taken to refer to writers who were born in Malaysia and who are now settled elsewhere in the globe, and yet are recognisably transnational in that their writings focus on the older country and memories of family, community and a nation that once was home. Notably this transnational community of writers exists within the intersections of an outsider-insider perspective of the nation and their writings draw largely from recollections that are often rooted in folk memory and most significantly in the stories inherited from family. This paper will present a discussion of the dialectics of this perspective by interspersing concepts of ’fort/da’ (Bhabha), the ’synchronic warehouse’ (Appadurai) and various theories of re-memory. It ultimately argues that memory and material culture undergo various transformative shifts through transnational voyages, multiple passages through immeasurable borders and portals until ultimately the creative space becomes the space where both the voices of the past and the present intersperse, much like the notes from Keat’s darkling thrush rising above the straggling branches of its perch. Within that single space, the writer is both insider and outsider, included yet excluded, with every ordained arrival and departure of migration, emigration or trans-movement.

Texte intégral

  • 1 This paper is based on the research project Transnational Malaysian Fiction: Outsider-Insider Persp (...)

1Transnational writings often radiate from a plethora of intertwining networks of relationships, between two or more homes. The varied experiences often come to the fore, collated in the form of memories of the present and the past, both in turn intertwined with the vivid recollections of ancestral legacies, geophysical space and national milestones. When identities and subjectivities emerge from such a kaleidoscope of experience, memory itself is most likely to be refracted in different hues. This paper will discuss these refractions as they emerge from a Malaysian frame, focusing on the transnational negotiations of memory and space in two novels by contemporary diasporic Malaysian writers, Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan and Love and Vertigo by Hsu Ming Teo. The history of Malaysian diasporic writing can be envisioned in two generational communities. The first group consists of the classical or pioneering group of writers who felt compelled to leave the country in the wake of the riots of 1969 and the affirmative policy that placed a certain ethnic community over the rest. The second group of writers is those who are either descendants of the families that left Malaysia during the infamous riots or those who left the country to pursue their studies and subsequently stayed abroad. As the racial riots remain a common thread across the two generations, it is necessary to locate the context of this meta-narrative.

2The story of the start of the riots is to this very day shrouded by its multiple versions, but one of the most common narratives is that one of the political parties, having learnt that they had managed to secure the majority of parliamentary seats in the elections of 1969 proceeded to parade their victory through Kuala Lumpur. Members of the defeated political party also gathered at the same time in a show of support to their leaders. However, because the parading crowd was predominantly from the Malaysian Chinese community and the counter demonstration was predominantly from the Malay community, conflicts took on a racial sentiment resulting in ethnic riots with horrendously bloody consequences. Soon after a state of emergency was declared. When normalcy finally returned the ruling government adopted a number of measures to safeguard national security in the future. Among the most significant governmental reforms was an affirmative policy that sanctified the position of the Malay community within the national fabric, fortified their economic status through the National Economic Policy and elevated the Malay language to the undisputed status of the National Language. More details on this can gleaned from Gagliano (1970), Ross-Larson (1978), Wan Hashim (1983), Clutterbuck (1985) and Ooi (2006) to name but a few of scholarly discussions on the subject of the Malaysian ethnic riots of 1969. Of the three reforms, the elevation of the Malay Language had the most significant impact on the history of Malaysian writings in English, with many leaving the country. Amongst notable figures are Shirley Lim, Hilary Tham, Ee Tiang Hong and Beth Yahp. Bruce Bennet for instance, on the subject of Ee Tiang Hong’s leavetaking, writes that the Malaysian Chinese poet ’saw himself as a political émigré from Malaysia, where the anti-Chinese race riots of 13 May 1969 had led to humiliating reductions in freedom and authority for Chinese Malaysians including himself’ (Ee 1994: xiii). Hence the regular refrains of rejection in Ee’s poems such as the following from ’Tranquerah Road’: ’I had no choice but to go/to leave all I loved’ (Ee 1985: 65), or this other one from ’Heeren Street’: ’Departures are those consequences you set out... the consequences of a decision/taken elsewhere/to which we were no party’ (57). His departure, like many of the others who left for the same reasons, can in all probability be contextualized within the following scenario that Vijay Mishra speaks of:

Whenever the nation-state is perceived as racist or imperialist [..] and the therapy of self-representation is denied to diasporic people, a state of melancholy sets in since the primal loss (of the homeland) cannot be replaced by the ’new object of love’. (36)

3The pages of the creative fiction produced by these writers of the first generation of Malaysian diasporic writers seem to permeate with such melancholy. As each writer partakes in some form of therapy of self-representation of both self and (former) country, alongside are intimations of both the sting of expulsion from, and the poignancy of, a remembered home. Bruce Bennet’s observation of Ee presented above ends with his reflection that: ’as a seventh generation Straits-born Chinese whose family had assimilated many aspects of Malay and Western cultures while retaining their own, Ee had a powerful sense of the town of Malacca and its surrounding as “home”’ (Ee 1994: xiii). Many of Ee’s poems reveal this close affinity, rendering forth images that show an inextricable link with the lost homeland, evoking poignant memories of his ’eternal city’ Melaka (18). The same sense of place is echoed by Shirley Lim, in a recent interview:

Much of my imagination has been and continues to be located in my earlier experiences as a Malaysian. After all, not only was I 24 years old when I left Kuala Lumpur for Boston but I return home frequently to visit my numerous brothers, relatives and friends. The prospect of spending a good part of my later years in Malaysia is very much a possibility. (Quayum 2007: 294)

4Hence though literatures written in English were denied a place in the inner circle of national literature which was sanctioned only if written in the National Language, the Malay language, these works by the pioneer group of writers, both those who stayed on and those who left like Ee and Shirley, revealed their adeptness in making the language that they wrote in reflect the homeland that they grew up in. If, as M. A. Quayum notes, the challenge for English Language writers from countries that have a legacy of colonialism is to ’infuse “local blood” into the language and attune it to the local context’ and ’to intermittently negotiate between his soul, the language and his society, and seek to suit the medium to the native colour, verve, spirit, shades and consciousness’ (39), then these writers proved their ability in taking up that challenge rather successfully. It thus is not surprising the frustration at the turn of events that suddenly made them alien and outsider appears to be a strong thematic thread within their narratives.

5This aspect however is not the case with the second group of writers, which consists of either descendants of the families that left Malaysia during the infamous riots or those who left the country to pursue their studies and subsequently stayed abroad. Amongst this latter generation are writers such as Rani Manicka, Tash Aw, Preeta Samarasan, Hsu Ming Teo and Tan Twan Eng. The immediacy of the poignant loss that characterized the first group of writers appears to be missing at the heart of this second group, the new diasporic Malaysian writings. This might be due to the fact that the sense of attachment to and sense of affinity with the homeland may not be as strong as it was with the first group, perhaps due to the fact that memories of the homeland grew distant over time. The ensuing discussion will show how the transnational creative imaginary of two new diasporic Malaysian writers reveal in many senses disorientating visualizations of the homeland held together by the gossamer threads of memory and space. The first is Preeta Samarasan, who lives in France, while the second is Hsu Ming Teo, who lives in Australia. Both were born in Malaysia. Central to their narratives is the image of the estranged mother, a distant figure, unapproachable like the motherland that has been left behind.

6Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day chronicles the lives of an upper-middle class diasporic Indian family in Malaysia, tracing its background from the early nineteenth century to the late eighties. The text is set in the northern town of Ipoh and recounts the difficulties, secrets and prejudices within this family, events of which are intricately intertwined with the unfurling of the emerging nation state of Malaysia. These events come to the fore through memories of the various characters who occupy the narrative space and as we follow the sequence of events, we encounter common signifiers of the diasporic experience.

7As the stories and the images gather momentum through the performative poetics of the imagination of each generation, they appear to take on a life of their own especially when grounded within the female space. This can best be viewed against Marlene Nourbese Philip’s image of memory personified as ’blowing words-her words, / Her mother’s words, Those of her mother’s mother, and / All their mothers before-into her daughters mouth’ (58). Central to this image is not only the notion of inherited memories, of the stories told, retained and reminisced to generations of the diaspora but also the notion of language and creativity, of modification and transformation. It also denotes the notion of the ’mother tongue’ and the culturally significant role that women have in becoming the vessel of stories and memories.

8However, whilst Nourbese Philip’s discussion engages with the mother-daughter relationship grounded in channels of nurturing intergenerational communication, the mother daughter (and we might add, grandmother-grandaughter) relationship that we see in the novel appears to be one that is spiked with severe dysfunction and silence. In Nourbese Philip the flow of memories is visualized as smoothly wafting from mother to daughter, giving life to a continuity of transgenerational narratives. In Samarasan’s novel, this very relationship with the past appears embodied in figures of ghosts and former selves that emerge from the imagination of the youngest Rajashekar, the little girl Aasha. This becomes the threshold to a pathway to the past, especially amongst the women. Foremost is the relationship between the older Mrs Rajashekar or Paati, the younger Mrs Rajashekar or Amma, and Aasha and Uma, the third generation of Rajashekar women. The flow of memory between each generation seems to be embodied within ethereal figurations, caught in the realm of the beyond. Take the following excerpt for instance:

There’ll be new ghosts in the house: the ghost of dead Paati, growing younger and older and younger again, wrinkles melting into dimples and dimples into hollows, now a toddler, now a bride, now an old lady with a back as curved as a coconut shell; the ghost of Uma Past, suspended in time and forever eighteen years old.

9And also the following: ’When Aasha trails the new Uma around the house, the old one walks behind them both, soft-footed, humming under her breath’ (29). These two scenes, as well as other similar episodes, encapsulate Homi Bhabha’s vision of fin de siècle and fort/da in relation to memory and representation:

The ’beyond’ is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past... Beginnings and endings may be the sustaining myths of the middle years; but in the fin de siecle, we find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. For there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction, in the ’beyond’: an exploratory, restless movement caught...-here and there, on all sides, fort/da, hither and thither, back and forth. (1)

10The ghosts that drift across the narrative space are such complex figures, caught in transit between the here and the hereafter, included in the narrating vision yet ephemeral in nature and as such reflect the disorientation that Bhabha speaks of, moving hither and thither within the grasp of memory, embodied only in impermanence.

11Furthermore, the fact that all the ghosts that appear in the novel are female can be read as a subliminal metaphor for the estranged motherland, Malaysia, seen within the context of a hauntingly restless relationship of maternal disengagement. Even the visions of mother-daughter encounters that are located outside the ghostly realm reveal such disjunctures of communication. We are presented with Amma’s view of Aasha as a ’child grabbing at her life with its sticky fingers, a child that had crawled out of her only six years ago, transformed in eight difficult hours from an internal parasite to an external one’ (186). We are also told of pictures of ’Uma and Amma standing exactly a foot apart’ and when Uma leaves for the US, the recollection is that ’Amma grabs the stiff scarecrowness of Uma by the shoulders and gives it an arm’s-length hug’ (333). While at one level, these images point to the disjunctured maternal relationship and will certainly engender multiple readings according to a feminist praxis, within the transnational context of this paper and of the creative imaginary of the novelist, these might also be viewed according to the pattern of the various images of estrangement noted from the outset of the discussion of this section.

12 Language is also another indicator of the breakdown and dysfunctional relationship that tether both mother and daughter. In a particular scene at the train station, Amma and a young Uma are waiting for the arrival of a train to take them to Amma’s sister, Valli’s, home. It is important to also note that the train station is one among the few spaces where characters from other religious and ethnic groups seep into the narrative and encounter the main characters. It is also a space that indicates the racial tension and clashes that churn at the bustling surface of the busy train station. It is both foreign culture and people that Uma encounters there for the first time since leaving her secluded and predominantly Europeanised life in the Big House. At the train station, Uma, baffled by the alienating space, ask her mother what the meaning of a specific word in Malay meant, “’What does it mean, Amma?” Uma asked. “Carry-tuppy Tanah Me-lay-oo?”’. Her mother however is unable to translate the word and briskly replies, ’ Uma, don’t start... You know I don’t know all that. I didn’t study their wonderful Malay language in school’ (115). This interaction that is abruptly halted, hinders the transference of knowledge about the national language. Drawing on the image that Marlene Nourbese puts forth of mothers blowing words into the child’s mouth, thus opening channels of communication and passing cultural knowledge and language into the female vessel, as discussed in the previous section, when this illustration of transmission is situated within the context of this particular scene, it underlines the fragmented and estranged relationship between mother and daughter. Amma’s inability to comprehend the Malay language indicates the disturbance of the flow of knowledge, stunting the maternal relationship.

13The space of the motherland, or homeland then emerges as alienating, and impenetrable because of the lack of knowledge to comprehend it, further disrupting the matrilineal relationship within the narrative. The estranged mother-daughter relationship epitomises an almost disoriented transnational creative vision, from the visualisation of the disembodied birdlike peninsular, the palimpsest of the Malaysian geographical landscape reinscribed as moorlands and the equally strange monotony of its climate. Such resonances of matrilineal estrangement can also be detected, in fact in more full bodied form in the work of Hsu-Ming Teo, another new diasporic Malaysian writer, as the ensuing discussion will show.

14The narrative space of Love and Vertigo spans across three countries: Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, thus situating it within a transnational context. The novel begins in present day Singapore, where Grace Tay, the protagonist of the text, has arrived from Sydney to attend a wake held for her late mother. She spends a portion of her time walking through the city of Singapore seeking respite or some form of emotion, yet all she can manage is a strong sense of emptiness that she feels on the eve of her mother’s funeral. We soon learn that Grace’s mother had committed suicide by jumping to her death from a high rise apartment building in the island state. The memories that Grace reveals to the reader throughout the narrative are located primarily in the aspects of a number of dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships.

15We subsequently learn that Grace’s homeland is not that of her mother’s, Singapore but rather Malaysia, the homeland of her father, Jonah Tay, a further accentuation of the transnational context that tails Grace. Jonah Tay we are told, moved to Singapore during the height of the communist era in Malaya as his mother was afraid for the safety of her son. While in Singapore, Jonah meets and marries Pandora. However, Pandora at a later stage, induces Jonah to relocate to Malaysia, a concerted effort to waylay the domineering influence of his mother. A few years into their life in Malaysia, they become caught in the middle of the racial riots of May 1969. It is amidst this very volatile incident that their eldest child, Sonny is born. Pandora then demands that Jonah move the family to Australia, vehemently voicing her aversion to remaining in Malaysia: ’If you love me, you make damn sure my son grows up in a country where he never has to worry about something like this happening... If you won’t emigrate, then you won’t have a family either’ (138). Jonah succumbs to the pressure but the process of immigration takes a significant amount of time and red tape and the family only migrates six years later. It was during those 6 years that Grace is born, a conception that takes place amidst the unstable grounds of Pandora’s dreams of an Australian life and her aversion to what she has to endure in Malaysia. These dreams of Australia are built on the fragments of popular images, such as the ’Sydney Harbor, the serrated arcs of the Opera House pricking the fluid iron bend of the Bridge’ (173). However, as this fictional landscape of Australia envelops her, it distracts her from the child growing in her womb. As Grace notes:

Pandora was the one who decided that we should live in Sydney. I was conceived in her anxious anticipation, in that limbo space-time when her hopes hovered between two cultures, two lifestyles, two possibilities. When she had left Singapore and Malaysia behind in her imagination but had yet to set foot in Sydney... Engrossed in glossy tourist photographs of Sydney, she barely noticed my weight in her belly. Her body light with hot hopes. I was born in her distraction. (173)

16Emerging into the gossamer threads of these transnational desires, the bond between Grace and her mother is shaped in similar form, fragile and unstable in foundation.

17When the Tay family finally migrates to Australia however, they do so in two stages. Jonah Tay leaves first to set up a dental practice in Sydney and secure a place of residence before arranging for the rest of the family to join him. In one of Grace’s recollections, we are presented with a photograph of the Tay family. In it is captured the moment of the arrival of Pandora, Grace and her brother Sonny at the Sydney airport. Jonah is absent in that picture, presumably the one taking the photograph. This is already one symbolic indication of a fragmented Tay family. The second symbolic circumstance lies in the setting of that photograph, an airport, the icon of transnationalism, the site of arrivals and departures, sojourners and settlers. It is also a site of transit, of the momentary groundings of passing travelers. If we go further afield, we encounter the figures captured within the photograph, presented (through Grace’s memories) as a fractious and dispirited family. Pandora, as Grace tells us, ’stared out at the world through those flat, blank eyes that reflected you back to yourself. Those same eyes that stare out of the pewter-framed photograph as she held me (Grace), a wrinkled, grumpy seven-year-old, by the hand’ (142). As Grace is taken back into that moment the lack of attachment between mother and daughter is foregrounded in forceful detail:

I wanted to know her. I wanted to crack that black glass, to rip apart the opacity and find the person within. Like everyone else intimately related to her in her life, I wanted to do violence to her, to force her to surrender up herself to me... For so much of my life, she looked at me with those vacant eyes that made me rage and cry.

18The maternal figure is here perceived as impenetrable, an alien space that remains beyond the comprehension of the daughter. This is further magnified by the fact that Grace alludes to her mother’s eyes as ’black glass’, conjuring brittleness, and opacity, symbolic of the relationship between mother and daughter. The strands of relation between mother and daughter bear important significance as symbols of the transnational relationships to the multiple nations that the Tay family journey to and inhabit. These bonds, especially noted between female figures are rich in their metaphorical allusions to the discourse on transnational identity and the relationship with homes or what is commonly noted as the motherland (s). It must also be noted that Grace has a recurrent dream in which she sees her mother standing on the opposite end of a red wooden bridge. As she attempts to cross the bridge and reach Pandora, the red slats on the bridge keep multiplying thus hampering her every effort until ultimately mother disappears from the sight of daughter. This symbolically represents the maternal relationship between Grace and her mother that is steeped in unlinkable spaces of filial love that even as they multiply to form a bridge can never reach the fortress of the unfulfilled dreams of Pandora, forever caught in the whimsical transnational land of her own making.

I see you watching me from the other side of the red wooden bridge you crossed to reach the other world. In my dreams I step onto the bridge and run towards you but the span lengthens as I run. My feet pound the red slats, but the faster I run, the more slats appear like the railway sleepers barreling endlessly before me... Mum do you love me, I ask over and over again in my dreams each night. Each time you answer yes, yet I’m right back where I started. I run onto the red bridge and the span yawns wider than ever before.

19The doubling of slats in Grace’s dream indicates the large chasm that had developed between mother and daughter and grew over time. The receding figure of Pandora, and Grace’s desperate need to reach her also alludes to the severe absence and longing for a maternal figure. Although Grace tries to reach her mother in that dreamspace, she finds herself always back in the same position, never quite having left or arrived. The dreams that Grace has of her mother are an indication of the latent fear and desperate desire she has to attain her mother’s love and approval. Significant also in this dream are a number of metaphors of journeys and crossings. Firstly, we have the presence of the railway sleepers, signifiers of trains and journeys. Next, it might also be possible to read the ever- increasing slats as symbolic of ever-increasing railroad tracks, indicators of escalating transnational movements across borders and spaces. Seen along these lines, the dream becomes a subliminal manifestation of the transnational creative imaginary of Grace, especially given the context of her conception. The bridge, similarly, is a signifier of migration and crossings, and also of the points of transit from one space to another that ultimately sometimes leave one standing beyond the borders of familiar terrain.

20To return to the subject of the family photo, another important transnational signifier in that particular scene is the photo frame within which this photograph is placed. Described as a ’tarnished Selangor pewter’ (140) it alludes to two significant facts. The first relates to the Malaysian links of the Tay family and more specifically the Malaysian Chinese experience. The Royal Selangor Pewter Company is recognized as Malaysia’s premier House of Pewter. As relayed by the company profile on the website of The Royal Selangor Pewter Company, the founder of the company was a fledgling Chinese immigrant to the country, part of the pioneering community of Chinese migrants who sailed to Malaya to toil at the tin mines and the industry that arose as a result. Tinsmiths played an important role within this context (Royal Selangor). This background is pertinent to the symbolic overtures of that particular Tay family photograph. In this way, the photo frame, the photograph within it and the setting of the scene captured become immediately recognizable as transnational signifiers, alluding to a moment of arrival across the threshold of what would soon become their new national identity, while marking the departure from another nation and the shrugging off of the cloak of that earlier national identity. This last point is particularly driven home by the fact that the physical manifestation of the material signifier of the Malaysian heritage, the Selangor Pewter photo frame, is recalled as being in a tarnished state, blemished and unattended to over the years, symbolic of the status of Malaysia within the Tay family’s memory, which is most times disOrienting, with similar hints of colonialist echoes, much like those encountered in Samarasan’s novel.

21Take the following representation of the racial riots of 1969:

While Chinese and Indians were being sliced with sharp-bladed parangs in the streets of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, my mother was screaming from the pain of childbirth, safe under the Sultan’s protection, while my father hunted durians. (12)

22In it we can detect the Orientalised image of the amok Malay figure in colonial novels like Henri Fauconnier’s Soul of Malaya and Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. The same can also be noted in this next excerpt:

The patriarch and his wife were living in the one state in Malaysia where the Sultan forbade violence against any ethnic group. This may have been because his dentist and tennis partner-the Patriarch-was Chinese, while his physician and golf partner was Indian. The Patriarch was especially favoured because he was in possession of a rusty tub of a boat in which he would chug upstream to the various kampong villages along the river, tending to tooth-aches, enduring halitosis, extracting teeth and plopping them into a small Kraft peanut butter jar he kept for that purpose.

23The image of the boat travelling upriver is reminiscent of Conrad’s The Lagoon as is the figure of the venerated sultan. The patriarch is the term Grace uses to refer to her father Jonah Tay. Also, the word kampong that is used in the passage is the Malay word for village and when Malay words are used in the English text as Grace does above, one can glean the sense of estrangement from the linguistic landscape of the Malaysian world. Grace remembers that her brother, Sonny hated school in Malaysia and memories of the schoolyard abound in images of authoritarianism, of teachers who ’barked angry orders’ and ’smacked... bony knuckles’ (143). There is also an interesting caricature of the culture of singing the national anthem in Malaysian schools and of her brother being reported for not standing at attention (143). Images of fragmentation and dismemberment abound whenever Malaysia is recalled in Grace’s memories. As I have argued in another article on the role of Malaysia in this novel, ’because the migration is induced by the trauma of the Malaysian 1969 race riots on the psyche of Grace’s mother, its legacy in the mind of her daughter appears with the stain of distrust and censure’ (7). The Malay community especially emerges in disparaging contexts. Throughout the text, the image of the parang is an attendant fixture to the sporadic Malay characters that appear in the novel, and interestingly enough with unvarying references to their tendency to whip out the weapon with a downward slash, from the durian seller who uses the parang to reveal the succulent seeds of the fruit (135) to the peanut seller who hacks at a python to reveal the dismembered remains of a missing rubber tapper (86). When the racial riots of 1969 are recollected they are portrayed as viciously carrying out ’a jihad against Malaysian Chinese and Indians, murdering some, maiming others’ (11).

24Malaysia thus becomes a site of dismemberment and fragmentation in Grace’s memory. She recalls that they ’never ate together in Malaysia’ and the migration to Australia ’brought with it the novelty of shared family meals’ as (147). These are merely some of the indicators of the space occupied by Malaysia in Teo’s novel. As we progress through the novel, Grace seems to find some form of reconciliation with the spaces of Australia and Singapore. However, the same cannot be said of Malaysia. It is a space that is left behind yet never returned to, physically and memories of it reveal a dismembered reality. It is then possible to conclude that the geophysical representation of the Malaysian homeland is caught within the webbings of essentialism (Pillai 2010). The space of Malaysia is thus ultimately a space of prejudicial violence and racialised conflict.

25 If we compare the patterns of the representations of Malaysia in Samarasan and Teo and we will ultimately find that the nation emerges in a rather different trajectory from the texts of previous diasporic writers. Where before there appeared a haunting loss at the core of the narrative, here we encounter hollowed out and oftimes disorienting cadences of Malaysia. Given the fact that most of the memories of Malaysia are situated in a distant past, when ties to the nation had not been fully formed, this might then not be surprising. What we see are the gossamer threads of what appears to be a distanced and disappearing motherland, accentuated especially in the various allusions to alienating mother-daughter relationships in both texts. Be this as it may, these can stand too as testimony of the ever increasing heterogeneity of the transnational creative imaginary, that leads not to ONE distinct imaginary of Malaysia from afar but rather to the imaginaries that arise, out of the ties that do not bind when one stands across a bridge of transnational boards and boarding passes, more than a foot away from an estranged mother-land.


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1 This paper is based on the research project Transnational Malaysian Fiction: Outsider-Insider Perspectives led by the lead author and funded by the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) of the National University of Malaysia (UKM), project code UKM-SK-04-FRGS0108-2010. The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of Sharenee Philomena Paramasivam as the research assistant for a portion of the material used in this paper.


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