Food for the soul: Malaysian short stories by 19 writers selected for pandemic anthology

An image from the lockdown in Kuala Lumpur featuring Civil Defence personnel delivering food for quarantined guests at a hotel. Photo: The Star/Azhar Mahfof

Conspiracy theories, frontliners and marginalised communities. The healing power of a garden. A trek through the mystical Sarawak highlands. And a nine-year old’s first encounter with death.

These may all seem like very disparate topics, but they are all united by one theme. They are all pandemic-era stories in The Lockdown Chronicles, an anthology of 19 fictional works in Malaysia.

The book, edited by Shireen Zainudin and Viji Krishnamoorthy, offers a glimpse into new Malaysian realities in the past year.

Viji says one reason for publishing the book was that she had seen many personal narratives about Covid-19, but not as much fiction.

“We were inspired by the knowledge that in the world over, everything had come to a standstill. People were under lockdown but everyone’s experience was very different. We invited writers to submit stories based on their different Malaysian perspectives. All of the stories are very interesting and unique, ” says Viji.

This book, published by Ipoh-based Media Masters Publishing Sdn Bhd, features stories from an interesting crop of writers, including Clarice Chan, Pauline Fan, Marc de Faoite, Mwaffaq Al-Hajjar, Ranjit Singh, Pete Teo and Hartini Zainudin. Both editors also contribute a story each.

The Lockdown Chronicles also features a foreword written by Jahabar Sadiq, with two illustrations Life With The Anurendras by Anurendra Jegadeva and Food For Thought by Maya Ranjit Singh respectively.

Shireen adds this book project strived to collect stories from a diverse range of voices and backgrounds. The collection was also an opportunity to let younger writers express themselves.

She says that this pandemic had affected many businesses, including the local publishing industry. It was important, however, that people kept on writing and supporting local writing even through these troubled times.

“From writers, proof-readers and editors, to book-binders and our favourite bookshops, we have all felt the cold reach of Covid-19. By continuing to write, publish, buy and read books, we play an integral role in keeping this wonderful trade and all of its people flourishing, ” she says.

Viji describes the book as “fictitious chronicles of these very strange times”, and hopes that readers will be able to connect with the stories.

“We hope that the reading public will enjoy this offering; that the Lockdown Chronicles resonates with them, ” she says.

The Lockdown Chronicles is available as selected bookstores nationwide.

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