Here's a list of Malaysian-flavoured books paying tribute to mothers


  • Books
  • Saturday, 09 May 2020

This Mother's Day, give your mother the gift of a good book.

Mother’s Day is around the corner again: a day where we appreciate our mothers for all the wonderful things they’ve done for us.

With the movement control order (MCO) still in place, the celebrations this year won't be involving dinner at a favourite restaurant or a big family outing.

Low-key might be the order of the day. But giving your mother the gift of a good book is always a fantastic idea.

Here are six Malaysian-flavoured books focused around motherhood themes:

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds (2016)

Author: Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Young Chye Hoon is struggling to embrace her identity as a mixed Chinese-Malayan nyonya. She also has to come to terms with the fact that she has to work as a cook, instead of attending school like her brother. As time passes, Chye Hoon begins to accept both her heritage and her position. She marries a local man, and they have 10 children. Chye Hoon longs to pass on her culture and what she knows to them.

However, she sees her children preferring modern Western ideals. Here is a tale of culture, identity and family, centred around a brave woman who wants what is best for her children.

The Rice Mother (2002)

Author: Rani Manicka

This multi-generational story introduces readers to Lakshmi, a young and carefree girl from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1920s. At 14, she is married to a stranger across the ocean in a land called Malaya. Thinking her husband is wealthy, Lakshmi discovers this is not the case, and ends up struggling to raise a family.

She gives birth to a child every year until she is 19. Later on, Lakshmi becomes a formidable matriach, determined to make a better life for her daughters and sons. Her family, however, has to withstand many challenges, including the Japanese occupation and World War II.

This first novel by Rani Manicka won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2003 for the South-East Asia and South Pacific Region.

Once We Were There (2017)

Author: Bernice Chauly

If you’re looking for a less conventional tale of motherhood, this book may be for you. Delonix Regia is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist. She meets the cultured and irresistible Omar amidst the upheaval of the Reformasi movement in the city. The two eventually fall in love, and have a child called Alba. Tragedy strikes, however, after Alba is kidnapped, and Delonia must confront the terrible secrets of Kuala Lumpur, where babies are sold and girls trafficked.

Among other things, this book explores themes such as the intensity of motherhood, and how it affects other aspects of a woman’s life, such as her career. It also also packs in themes surrounding politics, sex, race and loss, and may be best enjoyed by readers who like their stories a little gritty.

What Our Mothers Could Have Told Us (2019)

Author: Haemala Thanasegaran

Being a mother is one of the hardest, but most rewarding roles in life. Just ask Ipoh-born author Haemala Thanasegaran, who had triplets 17 years ago. As she raised her children, Haemala wished she had some sort of guidance on motherhood. That inspired her to write this book. What Our Mothers Could Have Told Us is a light-hearted, yet heartfelt memoir of self-discovery. It tells of Haemala’s experiences of conceiving, delivering and raising a set of triplets while undertaking a PhD at the same time.

The Separation (2013)

Author: Dinah Jefferies

Take a trip back to Malaya in 1955. The Cartwright family is about to leave the country and return to England. Eleven year old Emma, however, doesn’t know why they are leaving without her mother, and why her father is refusing to answer her questions.

When Emma’s mother returns to her house after visiting her friend, she finds it completely empty. Even the servants are gone. She soon embarks on a dangerous journey across the Malayan Emergency national landscape to find her family.

This historical fiction novel by British novelist Dinah Jefferies takes place in both 1950s Malaya and post-war England. It asks what happens when a mother and daughter are separated, and who they become when they believe it might be forever?

Mommy Sayang (2019)

Author: Rosana Sullivan

Little Aleeya lives a peaceful life in her kampung with her mother. The two do everything together, and in Aleeya’s dreams, they dance around enormous hibiscus flowers. One day, however, her mother falls sick, and Aleeya does not know how to help her.

This is a sweet and charming little tale that highlights rural Malaysian life. This children’s picture book is part of the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase. This is a series of children’s books created by animators and storytellers from both Disney and Pixar.

Author Rosana Sullivan, who was born in the United States, says she wrote this book to pay homage to her mother’s Malaysian roots.

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