This blog-post is rather special since it’s the first I’m writing from within Malaysia itself – the land in which my story unfolds. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d provide a short excerpt from the novel itself.
My novel tells the story of a Nyonya (mixed heritage) woman as she struggles for some of the fundamental things in life: survival – her own as well as her family’s – and a meaningful identity. For my main character, whose name is Chye Hoon, the struggle for survival and the struggle for identity are linked; to find out how, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the book!
Set in the multi-cultural Malaya of roughly 1880 to 1940, the narrative is rich in descriptions of food and places in Malaya, with historical events being alluded to as they happen. In addition, I have woven Chinese and South East Asian mythology into the narrative where possible, usually in the form of stories passed from mothers to children.
The following passages are one such example. They appear relatively early on, when the main character Chye Hoon, also the narrator, has just borne her second child. She’s up early one morning to feed him when she recalls a story her own mother once told her.
© Copyright Siak Chin Yoke 2012
As I dragged myself up to feed the latest child, cradling the little one to my breast, watching him suckle greedily with the stillness of morning all around us, I finally understood the heroic efforts Mother had made, and the toll which raising us must have taken on her life.
I felt so close to her then – because I knew that I too, was doing exactly what she had done.
I had also begun to tell my children stories, just as Mother used to. It’s probably because I was thinking so much about her while feeding Weng Koon one night that I suddenly recalled a tale she had told. For no obvious reason at all, it jumped into my mind and refused to go away. It was a fable so long forgotten that at first, I struggled to recollect even its bare outline.
It was the name which came back first. Nu Kua. I couldn’t recall who she was, one of the goddesses perhaps. Or maybe she was more than a goddess? I tried to cast my memory back to the day when Mother had first told us her story. Slowly, the haze of years lifted, and details started to come, bit by bit; once more, I could hear Mother’s lilting voice as she told us the fable, carefully enunciating every word. I remember watching the movement of her lips that day, when all of us children were sitting on the floor, looking up at her, rapt with attention.
Mother had called Nu Kua the divine mother of all humans. She said Nu Kua had come down to repair the sky a long time ago, after a great battle in which the monster Kung Kung had wreaked havoc. During this terrible battle, the earth started falling into itself, mountains were flattened, the oceans overran many lands and everywhere, there were fires which burnt night and day, raging out of control. The chaos caused the earth’s points to be misaligned, and a large hole was ripped right across the sky. On seeing the destruction, Nu Kua became very sad. She knew she would have to repair the damage, for the sake of the earth’s children. Holding five coloured stones in her hand, she calmed the waters, put out the fires, and repaired the sky. Then she said, ‘The sky will now be blue, as an eternal symbol of hope for the children.’
I smiled as I recalled this story, because I had immediately shouted out, “But where is the hole Mother?” in a loud voice.
“It’s not there anymore, Nu Kua repaired the sky.”
“But where was it before she repaired the sky? Can you show me?” I asked insistently. “Maybe we can see where the sky was torn,” I had added in a voice full of hope. For many weeks, I remained fascinated by the idea of a hole in the heavens; with a hand shielding my eyes from the glare, I would survey the Malayan skies, constantly disappointed that all I could see were the fluffy white clouds that floated freely above.
© Copyright Siak Chin Yoke 2012