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Awang Goneng’s magnificent follow-up to Growing Up In Trengganu finds
UMAPAGAN AMPIKAIPAKAN completely and utterly enthralled, even giddy like a schoolgirl
A Map of Trengganu
by Awang Goneng
“you’ll find both Trengganu and Terengganu in the pages that follow. Trengganu as it was, dusty and moving so laggardly, with trishaw bells clanging and starched bajus gleaming white in the Friday sun at noon-time. This Trengganu had cycling men crowned with creepers painted on fading head cloths, trundling to afternoon markets with baskets of fish in their rear, chasing time and traffic before the ice melted and the eyes if the fish turned red. And then there’s Terengganu that stands over the remains of Trengganu past, displaced communities and decaying bones of the dragon, toothless now in all but name.”
My greatest fear, as a reader, as a lover, of Malaysian literature, is that Awang Goneng will one day stop writing about Trengganu, that there will be no more of these episodic memoirs of his.
I comprehend that it is an entirely irrational apprehension. I understand that he will, eventually, run out of stories. That there are, after all, only a finite set of experiences that one life can encounter. And from that, even fewer that are worth writing about. I know all of this, and yet, each and every time I read his words, I am overwhelmed by that same feeling of anxiety.
It is a consciousness that is all too familiar to anyone who has read Growing Up In Trengganu. To anyone who has turned to that last page only to immediately return to the first. To keep reading it again, and again, to keep going until he finishes writing the next one.
Growing Up In Trengganu, Awang Goneng’s last book, was about all of those moments — both crucial and quirky — what coloured the author’s youthful years in Trengganu. It was as free in form as it was generous in spirit.
An indispensable chronicle of experiences long lost to history. A series of short-short stories. Not Scheherazade mind you. For they were neither made up nor fantastical. They were, in fact, its very opposite. Memories.
Recollections. They were more than just kecek-kecek. They were more than just a diary to one man’s past, they were a document to our history.
Where Growing Up In Trengganu was about people, A Map Of Trengganu is about places instead. It concerns itself with topography, with terrain, with territory. Where Growing Up In Trengganu was to be told stories while sitting in a circle around a lamplight, A Map Of Trengganu is to take a long saunter alongside the storyteller instead.
The best thing I have to say about A Map Of Trengganu is that it is just more of the same. Which is, in itself, the highest compliment. It contains more of those brief and evocative scenes of Trengganu life.
Unembellished and unadorned. It contains more of that quiet and redolent prose. It is, once again, taking a journey, travelling through time, to that place that features too prominently in all of our nostalgias.
In A Map Of Trengganu, Awang Goneng once again regales us. He writes about sultans and servants. He writes about keropok lekor and mmaing karut. He writes about ggayong ota-ota. He tells us quickies about Pak Kor who grew up in the small village of Mappilaikuppam, about Haji Chik the Unhinged and his daily diatribes in hand-written Jawi. He explains to us the game of gomok. He teaches us how to nneter.
And he does so in the most delightfully meandering manner. With sentences that are to be read slowly, to be savoured. He does so with prose only possible from the pen of a life well lived.
Now, you will be filled with an overwhelming — even uncontrollable — urge to just power through these pages. To not stop reading until you are done, until the book is finished. Fight this urge. Pace yourself. Sit back. Reflect.
For it is a book so densely packed with vivid detail of place, and time, and event and character that it’s virtually impossible to take them all in in one sitting.
In fact, this is a book to return to, over and over again. It is a book to take with you as you wander along the streets of Terengganu in search for Awang Goneng’s Trengganu.
This book is like a long warm bath on a Friday evening. This book is like the New York Times on a Sunday. This book is like waking up next to a beautiful woman day after day after day. There is nothing simple about its pleasures. It is a deep and complex joy. It provides an unparalleled gratification.