The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy

Set in postwar Malaya at the time when people and governments alike are bemused and dazzled by the turmoil of independence, this three-part novel is rich in hilarious comedy and razor-sharp in observation. The protagonist of the work is Victor Crabbe, a teacher in a multiracial school in a squalid village, who moves upward in position as he and his wife maintain a steady d

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    Whitaker

    Those measly two stars don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy reading this. I did, rather. It’s just that I find that the novel undermines its own intent.

    The novel’s dislike of racism is apparent, and Burgess skewers it in all its forms: the colonisers’ contempt for the colonised and vice versa, the various inter-ethnic hatreds among the Malayans, the overweening love of certain Malayans for their colonisers… This makes for much hilarity.

    Burgess said of Malaya that it was “the most remarkable multi-

    The novel’s dislike of racism is apparent, and Burgess skewers it in all its forms: the colonisers’ contempt for the colonised and vice versa, the various inter-ethnic hatreds among the Malayans, the overweening love of certain Malayans for their colonisers… This makes for much hilarity.

    Burgess said of Malaya that it was “the most remarkable multi-racial society in the world”. And he certainly covers that vibrant mixing of the different ethnic groups with relish. Here he describes the difficulties of grafting an English house system in multi-ethnic Malayan society:

    The difficulties of organising a house-system in a school of this kind had been partly solved through weak compromise. At first it had been proposed to call the houses after major prophets – Nabi Adam, Nabi Idris, Nabi Isa, Nabi Mohammed – but everyone except the Muslims protested… The pupils themselves, through their prefects, pressed the advantages of a racial division. The Chinese feared that the Malays would run amok in the dormitories and use knives; the Malays said that they did not like the smell of the Indians; the various Indian races preferred to conduct vendettas only among themselves. Besides, there was the question of food. The Chinese cried out for pork which, to the Muslims, was haram and disgusting; the Hindus would not eat meat at all, despite the persuasions of the British matron; other Indians demanded burning curries and could not stomach the insipid lauk of the Malays.

    So, it was all the more disconcerting to find that all the Malayans are represented only by stock caricatures: We have Ibrahim, Crabbe’s house boy, an effeminate Malay pondan (the Malay derogatory term for an effeminate homosexual, roughly akin to saying “faggot”); Alladad Khan, a Punjabi Indian Muslim policeman, choleric, adulterous, and lustful; Che’ Normah, the oversexed husband killer; Ah Wing, the rat and cat eating Chinese cook… and so on and so on.

    One could argue that the English do not come off in a much better light, and there is something to be said for that. This is Burgess on the Headmaster at Crabbe’s school:

    Boothby yawned with great vigour. He was fond of yawning. He would yawn at dinner-parties, at staff-meetings, at debates, elocution competitions, sports days. He probably yawned in bed with his wife…. “Look here,” said Boothby, “I know the facts and you don’t. Their clothes were disarranged. It’s obvious what was going to happen. You haven’t been here as long as I have. These Wogs are hot-blooded. There was a very bad case in Gill’s time. Gill himself was nearly thrown out.”

    Nevertheless, Burgess imbues a certain tragic dignity to his key English characters, whatever their faults: the ineffectual Victor Crabbe and his wife, Fenella; the grasping English lawyer, Rupert Hardman, who marries Che’ Normah for her money (view spoiler); and Anne Talbot, the Englishwoman despairingly married to an older man throwing herself at any Englishman who crosses her path. Indeed, the contrast between Anne and her equally promiscuous Indian counterpart, Rosemary Michael, is telling. Anne is a figure who gains a measure of pathos and sympathy as the novel progresses; Rosemary Michael remains forever a bathetic bimbo.

    So that’s my problem. An equivalent division of characters is that of the lovers and the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, only here, the lovers are the English and the rude mechanicals are the Malayans. Regardless of how the humour skewers them all, the English become rounded characters while the Malayans remain only figures of fun. If such a drama were to be shown now with that type of ethic division there would be outraged cries, not wholly unjustified, of racism.

    So, there we have it: as much as the novel decries racism, it seems itself unable to achieve sufficient velocity to escape its pull either, and so ultimately falls flat.

    Still, that’s only my view. Here’s a different one from a fellow South-East Asian who liked it much more.
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