'Virginia Hooker's study of the construction---and continual reconstruction---of Malay identity and society in the modern Malay novel is a notable contribution to modern literary studies. It will certainly prove to be one of the few essential books in the study of modern Malay society.'
---Professor Clive S. Kessler, School of Sociology, University of New South Wales
Writing a New Society is the first extended study of the novel in Malay and is a groundbreaking study of the relationship between social change and literary practice. The book traces the emergence of the genre from the 1920s and, drawing on 26 of Malaysia's best-known novels, argues that the form was developed as a vehicle for transforming Malay ideas about themselves and their society. Virginia Hooker focuses on the underlying anxiety about racial identity, which underpins much of Malay writing and examines how ethnic identity is constructed and expressed.
In a radical break with the traditional notion of Malay society as being totally dependent on the Sultan, the book shows how the novelists centre their writings on descriptions of 'ordinary' Malays, and present the home and household as the primary sites of change. In this way the novels develop and describe a 'private' sphere where Malays who previously had no rights begin to exercise their initiative. The ideologies of social equality that inspire the novelists subvert many of the established themes of modern Malay politics.
Virginia Matheson Hooker draws on both literary theory and the latest historigraphical trends to present the novels in their own terms and in their historical context. By analysing the novelists' own literary techniques she highlights their skill and inventiveness, emphasising the continual interaction between the artists and their milieu.
Virginia Matheson Hooker is an internationally recognised authority on traditional Malay literature and historiography. This is her first book-length study of modern Malay literature and society, and follows her edited collection on contemporary Indonesia: Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia. She is Professor of Indonesian and Malay in the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University.
Table of Contents
Titles and short titles of Malay novels
A note on Malay spelling
Glossary and abbreviations
Preface and acknowledgments
Introduction: Texts and contexts
1. Love and Change: the book and reason
2. Society and writing in the 1920s and 1930s
3. The 'New Hikayat'
4. The power of parody: responding to western technology and rationalism
5. War and suffering: Islam, society and renewal
6. Writers and Rakyat: 'Intellectuals who have the spirit of the people'
7. Salina: A world of characters and 'Aware Human Beings'
8. 'Literature is the instrument for development'
9. The New Malay (as seen by the Old Malay)
10. Conclusion: society and genre
Appendix: biographical details of authors
Virginia Hooker is the author of Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia, Perceptions of the Haj and the forthcoming A Short History of Malaysia (May 2000). She is Reader in Indonesian in the Faculty of Asian Studies at the ANU. Her edition of The Precious Gift is to be republished in a Malay Classics series edited by Anwar Ibrahim, the Deputy PM of Malaysia.