Malaysian writers pick their favourite Valentine's Day reads

Malaysian writers pick their favourite books to suit the mood for Valentine's Day. Photo: Filepic

Some of the greatest love stories of all time were birthed in the pages of books.

For centuries, writers have regaled readers with epic tales of desire and devotion. Whether it be the timeless romances in fairy tales, the unforgettable courtships in classic novels or the more unconventional displays of affection in contemporary works, prose tales of passion remind us that love truly comes in a variety of forms.

To add to the Valentine’s Day mood, we asked a few Malaysian literary personalities to recommend a book that celebrates romance.

Their choices are a truly diverse mix, with selections from all over the literary landscape.

Tunku Halim picks The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Would I recommend (the film) My Bloody Valentine for Valentine’s Day? You’d think I gleefully would if you’re aware of my writing. Sadly, not true, dear friend ... for give me The Remains Of The Day ... any day! It is one of my favourite novels and it is outstanding.

“Written by Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, this is a story that resonates deeply. Set in an English stately home mostly before the Second World War, this is a love story where such open raw emotions are never expressed, but always held firmly in check by the head butler who places the dignity of his profession above all else. It is more than a love story though for a conference on peace talks to prevent war with Germany is to take place at the stately home.

"If you’re a non-reader, not all is lost for you’ll be delighted by the Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson movie which was nominated for eight Academy Awards. I loved both the book and the movie and I know you will too.”

Tunku Halim has a new horror collection ‘My Lovely Skull And Other Skeletons’ out now.

Viji Krishnamoorthy picks Forty Rules Of Love by Elif Shafak

“I discovered this book by accident, fell in love and have since read every one of Elif Shalak’s books. Very simplistically, it is a beautiful story of love and spirituality that is set in two narratives – one in a contemporary American house where 40-year-old Ella is disillusioned with her mundane life and the other is set in 13th century Iran tracing the relationship between the Shams of Tabriz (a wandering Sufi dervish) and the poet Rumi.

“I love the journeying back and forth in these two diametrically different times and the lilting prose. Of course, there are the 40 rules of love that are thought provoking and left me ruminating about life, love and existence. There are so many rules that resonated but these are my favourites: rule 5, 9,16, 18, 26, 40. You will have to read the book to find out what these rules are!

“For me it was a weighty book that unpacked so many emotions that it sat with me long after I turned the last page. And it was one I gifted and paid forward to friends and family.”

Viji Krishnamoorthy’s book ‘912 Batu Road’ has been longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award 2023.

Karina Robles Bahrin picks Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“My favourite of Marquez’s work, this is a story of love in all its iterations. Epic in scale, it examines love through the lens of undying devotion juxtaposed against love in the real world, passion versus pragmatism, loyalty versus infidelity and all the shades in between.

“It challenges the idea of romantic love and remains relevant even in the modern age as a reference for all the things love can mean between two souls. This is a book that encompasses it all.

“Read it and get your heart broken, mended and broken all over again, only to realize that happy endings can come in all guises. This is no mere love story. It is bigger than that. It is love writ large and an examination of how it is such an essential and defining aspect of the human experience.”

Karina Robles Bahrin is the author of ‘The Accidental Malay’, winner of the 2022 Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

Lauren Ho picks Daughter Of The Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

“For Valentine’s Day I recommend this fantasy novel by fellow Malaysian author Sue Lynn Tan.

"It’s a lyrical, imaginative and pacey fantasy rooted in Chinese mythology and features a fantastic slow-burn romance. Sue Lynn’s prose is fluid and evocative, and her worldbuilding is top-notch. I was absolutely hooked from page 1. (Daughter Of The Moon Goddess also recently won an Alex Award courtesy of the American Library Association)

Lauren Ho is the author of ‘Last Tang Standing’ and ‘Lucie Yi Is Not A Romantic’.

Pauline Fan picks Correspondence: Ingeborg Bachmann And Paul Celan, translated by Wieland Hoban

“It was an improbable love born in the unnamed spaces between silence and shadow. It was a passion that defied the terrible burden of their origins.

“Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, two of the most outstanding post-World War II poets of the German language, first met in Vienna in May 1948. Soon after their first encounter, Bachmann described her room as a“field of poppies”, engulfed by the blood red flowers Celan had sent her.

“Their conversations in ink began in 1948 on Bachmann’s 22nd birthday, when Celan sent her a poem, inscribed, ‘For Ingeborg. To one who is painfully precise, 22 years after her birth, from one who is painfully imprecise.’

“The letters between Celan and Bachmann compiled and published in Correspondence is a testament to the deep and difficult love between the two great poets. The suspension between speech and silence remained a defining characteristic of Celan’s life and poetry. That he saw Bachmann as a reason and inspiration for both affirms the intensity of their connection.

“In one of his most iconic poems, Corona, Celan describes their love as ‘poppy and memory’ – the forgetting of the self that brought about by the opiate of love, the remembering of a more essential self reflected in the eyes of the lover. Yet for all the passion that drew them together, rupture seemed inevitable. Spells of exhilaration were often followed by periods of distance and doubt, each withdrawing further into their own cave of silence.

“While it is tempting to read the German motif of Liebestod (love and death) into Celan’s and Bachmann’s intense yet impossible relationship, nothing encapsulates the devastating power and tragedy of their love more aptly than a simple line Bachmann once wrote to Celan: ‘I love you and I do not want to love you, it is too much and too difficult’”.

Pauline Fan is Pusaka creative director, George Town Literary Festival director and also a translator.

Daryl Kho picks The Magic Strings Of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

“One of my all-time favourites. Narrated by ‘Music’ itself, Albom’s novel is the tale of Frankie Presto, a Spanish war orphan raised by a blind music teacher. Sent to America with just an old guitar and six magical strings, he ends up touching lives and reshaping the world’s musical landscape.

“A passionate love letter to music, and an epic story about love: of that found and lost and sometimes, found again. ‘Remember this, Francisco,’ he said. ‘The secret is not to make your music louder, but to make the world quieter.’ Let’s just say I’ve heard of this book making grown men weep.”

Daryl Kho is the author of ‘Mist-Bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa’.

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