Oct 4, 2008

Rain and Penang

The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng - I was shopping with Mum, Dad, my sister, who took a liking to leaving comments on my blog recently, as well as my cousin in Ikano when I bumped into this book. Browsing a bookstore with Mum and Dad means buying books for free (that is, if you're still 4-years old and yakking "Mum I want this coloring book! Mum I want the Calvin and Hobbes comic book! I want I want I want!")
It wasn't until when I'm back to Taiwan when I have time and motivation to start the read (a very bad habit, many of my books were bought and put away, totally unread).

The story was set in Penang in 1939. Young Philip Hutton was seventeen years old and detached from his family, for being a Chinese-English in a complete English family. He met Endo-san, a Japanese who rented his father's island, and they forged a teacher-student relationship - a sequel to their relationship forged lifetimes ago - which destined them to suffer. Philip was the rain-bringer - his life will be full of wealth (water is wealth for the Chinese), but too much water brings disaster - the eternal identity seeking (his half-Chinese, half-English background) and recognition challenges.

December 1941, the Japanese landed in Penang. By February of the following year Singapore surrended, and the Japanese occupation begun. Unwilling to see his father suffer for losing their company, when both his brothers had became victims of the war, Philip offered himself to the Japanese government as their interpreter, with Endo-san as his superior. He is now the 'running dog' to Penang and its people, but do they know how much he sacrificed and how he struggled to keep himself sane?
Placing himself in between Penang and the Japs, he mellowed the Japanese exploitation and subdued the locals, though without consequences. The relationship between him and Endo-san was constantly placed on the balance as Penang continue to bleed in the war.

Tan Twan Eng was a Penangnite, who described Penang to such intricate detail even a Penangnite finds it flawless - Weld Quay, Pulau Tikus market, the coast along Tanjung Tokong, Beach Street etc. I liked the book for its straightforwardness, compact emotional descriptions and the fact that it is based on a real-life yet almost forgotten part of Malaysian history.
Just as Tan himself explained: "Malaysians are a forgetful (or forgiving) lot. They quickly forget bad things about others. Unlike foreigners who return to Malaysia and produce writings about the war, we see very little remembrances of the war and its devastating effects - and the lessons it bring - from the locals."