I have been procrastinating to read this book since early this year due to my commitment to Master’s Degree as well as finishing up other books prior to this, such as :-
The novel’s cover, lent by my senior-teacher colleague Kak Rozita Kasmin. Shahnon Ahmad’s first novel “Rentong” or in English dubbed as “Rope Of Ash”. – From my Instagram.
- “Salina” by A. Samad Said (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/a-retrospective-artisticliterature-social-responsibility-a-malay-geisha-in-the-hedonistic-world-of-taboos-salina-by-a-samad-said/)’
- “Thing Of Beauty : The Tragedy Of Supermodel Gia” by Stephen Fried (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/the-tragic-tale-of-an-untamed-tigress-in-cage-thing-of-beauty-the-tragedy-of-supermodel-gia-by-stephen-fried/);
- “The Malay Dilemma” by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/a-sine-qua-non-for-the-malays-a-paradigm-shifting-disclosure-tun-dr-mahathir-mohamads-1970-the-malay-dilemma/);
- “Almayer’s Folly” by Joseph Conrad (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/a-tragic-estuary-of-race-raucous-a-caucasian-fathers-love-to-a-half-malay-daughter-almayers-folly-by-joseph-conrad/);
- “The Devil Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/enslaved-by-anna-wintour-the-roman-a-clef-of-vogue-fashion-magazines-assistant-the-devil-wears-prada-by-lauren-weisberger/);
- “The Diary Of A Young Girl” by Anne Frank (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/is-being-a-jewish-a-crime-fromthe-eyes-of-a-holocaust-victim-the-diary-of-a-young-girl-by-anne-frank-1929-1945/); and
- “The Fellowship Of The Ring” by J.R.R. Tolkien (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-home-of-ainulindale-maiar-children-of-iluvatar-the-mythical-world-of-middle-earth-the-fellowship-of-the-ring-by-j-r-r-tolkien/).
Professor Emeritus Dato’ Haji Shahnon Ahmad, our 2nd Malaysian National Laureate.
My senior-teacher colleague, Kak Rozita Kasmin lent me the book because she knew I love book and I have read the English version of Salina. In addition to that, I am also curious to know the style of Shahnon Ahmad’s writing; being one of the respectable Malaysian National Laureate.
The old facade of the Malay version that I found in Goodreads.
Of course these days, people associated Shahnon Ahmad with his infamous political satire namely “SHIT @ P***M**” (which so happened that I do have it back in Jitra but only to have the courage to read until page 6 due to the revolting description of faeces – metaphor of the disgusting political scenes) BUT one must not forget his predecessor prominent writing before the infamous masterpiece.
“Rentong” or in English version by Melbourne University Press, “Rope of Ash” is Shahnon Ahmad’s first novel. It is short (only consists of 106 pages) and I managed to finish reading it within 2 days while waiting for someone to get the usual treatment at Darussyifa’. Basically, the storyline is simple but what I want to share is the gist of the novel.
The setting of the novel centres at a remote village named Banggul Derdap (which happened to be the name of Shahnon Ahmad’s own village where he was born and bred). The villagers headed by Pak Senik lived typical rural Malay Moslems environment. The people supported their lives by planting paddy – a common scenario for those who dwell in Kedah, the Malaysian state dubbed as The Rice Bowl of The Nation. Nevertheless, the villagers hated the hot-blood Semaun and his family, accusing him to be the heart of all chaotic messes that ever happen in the village. The hatred was fueled by rumour-mongering and slandering of a man who hated Semaun so much namely Dogol.
Paddy fields. The heart of the lives of people in Kedah, especially during the 1950s.
I am no going to write the whole synopsis (I bet you can find it online) but what intrigued me is the reflection of Malay culture and society depicted by Shahnon Ahmad in “Ropes of Ash”. Although I am a Penangite city boy but I’ve heard stories from my mother and grandmother about a few ‘kampung dramas’ whenever I go back to Jitra, Kedah (my mother’s hometown) and I can vouch that arguments pertaining paddy-fields or quantity of cows used to plow the paddy are BIG ISSUES in the village and REALLY HAPPEN.
During those time, cows are valuable animals for the villages. Owing them means having a goldmine.
Other than that, the itsy-bitsy of Malay cultures such as :-
- washing the feet before ascending someone’s house;
- using torch when electricity was scarce (this novel was written in the 1950s, so you can imagine the hardship the Malays had during that time!); or;
- the younger ones being meek and polite in the presence of the older ones
; – are portrayed effortlessly in the novel and beautifully translated into English by the translator Harry Aveling. I have to say I fully agree with what the publisher wrote at the back of the novel’s cover about South East Asian writers :-
“Outside South East Asia but even within the area itself, contemporary South East Asian writers have been largely neglected either because their work is not usually available in English translation or, if written in English, is generally inaccessible outside the country in which it is published. Thus these writers, some of whom obviously deserve a wider audience, have gained neither the regional nor international recognition they deserve.”
You know, I am not someone who likes to condemn anyone’s writing or anything else because I have utmost respect to those who can write full length stories. I know I am quite good with words BUT NOT REALLY THAT GOOD to make up stories with characters and climaxes. So, I do genuinely respect those who profess themselves as authors.
This was an obsolete list. I got this from http://klikweb.dbp.my/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/sn.jpg. You guys can browse for an updated list of our Malaysian National Laureate.
Nevertheless with no pun intended, I am not a fan of all the recently abundant Malay lovey-dovey stories and novels which thronged our local bookshelves these days!. I am sorry but I don’t think I am a fan. I remembered that when I was in primary school (oopsie!), I did read a few (much courtesy of my sister who is four years older than me! Well, women mature faster than man!) of such novels in the 90s such as “Cinderella 94” by Ahadiat Akashah and “Tiada Indah” by Ras Adiba Radzi – but after that, I realized I just can’t go with that. It is not my cup of tea. I think I am more attracted to masterpieces which have ‘less soap opera dramas’. Haha.
Insya ALLAH, one day, I shall read this renowned masterpiece by Shahnon Ahmad. I love his realistic projection of Malays in his writing. I guess being a Middle Class Malay Moslems, I feel connected to whatever polemics he aspired and transpired via the writings.
On whole, I do look forward to read more of Shahnon Ahmad’s masterpieces especially the highly-acclaimed ‘Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan’. I heard that it was translated into English by our renowned English maestro Adibah Amin as “No Harvest Bu A Thorn”. I don’t mind reading in English if I couldn’t get it in Bahasa Malaysia. Oh, my! There are so many good books in the world I have not read yet! I love books! Don’t you?