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Monday, 7 May 2012

A Shared Destiny by A. Shukor Rahman (Review)

Random Reviews - 2

A Shared Destiny – A. Shukor Rahman
(Published by the author – 2011)

I decided to read this book not only because it was given to me by the author but also because, being the son of a journalist, I’m usually interested in how other journalists practice their craft.

The book is a collection of short essays mainly about the changes that have taken place in various parts of the country over the last 60 years or so. These are the best parts of the book. The author’s native Penang, Langkawi, Ipoh, Alor Setar, Kelantan, Sungai Petani, Kota Kinabalu (Jessleton) and others get the same fascinating treatment. What I liked best were not only the anecdotes picked up presumably during his career as a writer but also the fact that Shukor tells the stories of former times without much judgement. It’s all too tempting for nostalgia writers to hark back to ‘golden times,’  but he manages to avoid this. Instead Shukor just gives us the facts as he sees them.

Naturally Penang gets pride of place amongst the places the author chooses. There are lots of interesting stories of characters of the past. I felt it was a pity in his descriptions of the physical changes in Penang and Alor Setar that he wasn’t able to add a map or two which might have brought the transformations to life a bit more. However this is compensated for to some extent by a wide range of mainly black and white photographs throughout the book. There’s also a collection of colour photos in the middle of the book.

When Shukor  was not dealing with history of changed places and customs of the people who lived there, the book became weaker. At this stage he seemed to forget that he was the impartial observer and became the polemicist .  The most notable example is his article on whether or not Chin Peng, the guerrilla leader during World War II and the subsequent Communist insurrection, contributed to Malaysia’s independence or not. Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t. The trouble is that when someone tells me that someone’s a rascal or someone’s a saint, my life experience tells me that something doesn’t ring true. We’re all a complicated mix that cannot be described in a series of black or white statements with no shades of grey in between.

There are other chapters on, amongst others, the state of football, sports, craftsmen and on the late P. Ramlee. All these had interesting anecdotes, but again were not as strong as the articles on the changing nature of Malaysia’s towns and their inhabitants. This was probably because this time Shukor was not wielding his black pen, but his gold one. As a result he fell into the same trap as when he was describing Chin Peng. All these people were just too brilliant to make me feel comfortable with them.

The book is well written and readable throughout. You realise you’re being entertained by a skilled journalist. All that was missing was a sharp editor who would have cut out the two or three small repetitions I noticed and probably made a slight re-arrangement of the chapters. The book would be a useful companion to The Streets of George Town , as it deals  with the non-‘heritage’ parts of the city in a lively fashion, and also to Ipoh, My Home Town .  I certainly intend to take the book with me when I’m out and about in Penang and visit other places mentioned in the book. I hope Shukor’s next book well share more of his store of knowledge as a journalist and his grounded knowledge of the country’s history.

Oh I almost forgot  - Shukor also passed my ‘true Malaysian’ test. I couldn’t spot any occasion when he unnecessarily added an ethnic label to any of the wide range of the characters who pop up in the book.  The people described were just people – plain and simple.

Copies of the book have yet to reach The Penang Bookshelf, but you can order copies by contacting me. The retail price is RM25.


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