Saturday, August 22, 2009

Review: Body2Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology

On the day of the book signing of Body2Body I was flanked in between two illustrious authors who were no stranger to the writing circuit in and out of Malaysia. Lauded for their previous works that were well received by their readers I sat timidly listening to an elderly man congratulating Shih-Li Kow for Ripples and other stories, which is shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor award, and praising Brian Gomez for his excellent Devil's Place. After Shih-Li, sitting on my left, finished signing her page the man looked at me and I could imagine him asking me telepathically 'You want to sign ah?' but he said instead, "Where is your page?", which is also a nicer way to say 'I don't really know who you are'. I smiled at him and whispered, "I am page 165" and went on to scribble an artistic signature anticipating some form of fame in the future.

Of course I had my own fan-based friends who made a little rumpus when they came to me just to spice up the moment. I hadn't realized the Pilot marker pen I borrowed, used and forgot to return soaked through and made a mess of the back page. So if I am not remembered for my writing, well at least I will be remembered as the writer who messed up that wonderful book.

I am such a slow reader I may only be able to review this book by early next year if I read the way I do. So what I did instead was to pick and choose the stories from authors I knew as well as those for their semi-celebrity status (this is Malaysia, the only celebrities are the politicians).

Brian Gomez's What do Gay People eat? is an amusing tale of food, acceptance and similarity. It's a real laugh if you have had the chance to experience such an event in your life because it could really happen. I had the privilege to hear Cheryl Leong's sharing a few nights before hearing her read Breathing Pure Oxygen which is a wonderful heart-warming confessional, testimonial and outing of her sexuality. Her self-denying self-discovery journey will be felt most by people who live in closets and who are fighting the worst enemy which is themselves.

How can anyone not love Shannon Shah? He sings like an angel, he writes like an artist and he hugs like a teddy bear. Muslim 2 Muslim is his biographical contribution of his childhood days that shaped and determine the man that he is today who is everything from an activist, a journalist, a playwright, a scriptwriter and a singer-songwriter.

Pang's story Cream of the Crop reminds me so much of my own unpublished novel where it is set in a boy's school and to add even more to the coincidence (which I don't believe anything is a coincidence but I can't find a better word to describe it) I have a character by the name of Larry and there was a death of a friend that changed my life as well. While reading his story I kept wondering if we both travelled on parallel worlds.

In Harry is Dead you have no idea where the story is going until it's gone. If you are like me, sometimes I wonder if I am reading too much into something that's not there, I am dying to ask Shih-Li Kow 'Is Harry..?' but I am too embarrassed because you don't ask writers what their story is all about. You either get it or you don't. So in my case I'm not sure.

Then I went on to Jerome's Alvin about sexual encounters and relationships, looking for love in all the wrong places. If Jerome had spent more time on this little story and extends it into a full length book it might actually read like a good erotica (or so I wish). We're all adults here so don't give me that look.

That's as far as I got and of course my own story Friends of Everyone, which was initially called A Straight Man's Closet, is a satire, a parody and a paronomasia on all things gay and wonderful. Basically, it's about a man who believes that he is cured from this lifestyle but then again is he really?

One of the funnier anecdotes was shared by Amir about how he approached the printer to get this anthology published. If you didn't catch it during the book launch probably you can hear it again when he launches this book in Singapore, I believe, or you could ask him when you see him.

So far, my favorite page would remain at page 5 for obvious reasons. This is the side of Malaysia Boleh that only a few would know but if you have a chance to pick this up you'll also know that Malaysia also Got Talent wat.

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