Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Howsy Reviews Ioannis Gatsiounis' 'Beyond The Veneer: Malaysia's Struggle For Dignity and Direction'

Jeff Ooi did it. Jacky Surin did it. Hisham Rais did it. Natty and Johnny did it. And so did Ioannis. What do they have in common? They compiled and re-published their previously free-access opinion articles (mainly anti-establishment) written for the mainstream/alternative media or for syndicated press agencies, charge people for them in the form of a book flooding the market, but not yet get banned. Not a bad phenomenon at all actually, in this so-called pseudo-open Abdullah Badawi administration. These books help to increase the pool of English-language Malaysiana collection, which was almost non-existence at all - well, at least during M's era (correct me if I'm wrong).

I received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago from Monsoon Books, the Singaporean publisher for 'Beyond The Veneer' (why not a choice of a Malaysian publisher, one would wonder), offering to send a complimentary copy for 'prominent bloggers and politicians' (which I am neither one) to review. I gladly accepted the offer and sacrificed to be traced by revealing my mailing address.

Published as a paperback with 272 pages, one would wonder what does the word 'veneer' mean. According to the Freedictionary:

ve·neer (v-nîr)
1. A thin surface layer, as of finely grained wood, glued to a base of inferior material.
2. Any of the thin layers glued together to make plywood.
3. A decorative facing, as of brick.
4. A deceptive, superficial show; a façade: a veneer of friendliness.

Very apt title indeed. The Federal Constitution - we have. Democracy - we have. Rights and freedom - we have. 'Malaysia, Truly Asia' - we have. But is this what we are portraying to the world? 'Beyond The Veneer' attempts to unveil this 'harmonious, multi-racial, model Islamic country' veneer of ours for the eyes of the world; although more of a US-centric type of readers.

Speaking of which, US' blue-eyed boy, Anwar Ibrahim, was of course given a lot of emphasis in the earlier parts of the book. Divided into 9 parts - Before and After The 2008 Election, Human Rights, Accountability, Reviewsand Profiles, Race and Religion, Geopolitics, Grand Plans and The World Beyond, the articles trace back as far as 2003, circa the transition period from Mahathir to Abdullah (or some say to KJ), to when the March 8 political tsunami happened. You might have came across some of the C&P articles in this blog, for example the most memorable ones are "Malaysia's Leader-In-Waiting: Kinda Scary To Think About It" and MSC: "It's Who You Know, Not What You Know".

Although some might not comprehend the particular word of the title initially, articles written are all in an easy-to-understand type of English sans jargons. From Abdullah to Zam, every article would be very familiar if you have been following the socio-political events of Malaysia very closely. Updated forenotes are also included for articles that were published 5 years ago.

Last but not least, the author ends with an epilogue offering some advice for Malaysians as follows:

Ethnic minorities can help minimize the impact of these manipulations by less stridently calling for an end to the Malay-centred affirmative action program, while reaching out across race lines to find an alternative system that accommodates all the races. Indeed some of the program's critics are as racially motivated as its defenders, and political opportunists on both sides of the divide will twist the tension to their advantage at the expense of national progress.

The RRP is RM39.90 (kinda pricey - normally the Malaysiana genre would be around RM30, but hey, look how Malaysiakini is milking your letters from this RM32 book!) and is available from all major bookstores in Malaysia from 1 July 2008.

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