Enough: A Memoir of Mistakes, Mania, and Motherhood by Amelia Zachry

Enough: A Memoir of Mistakes, Mania, and Motherhood
by Amelia Zachry

This was an incredibly difficult memoir to read, but I am grateful that I did. Part of the hand-to-my-throat factor for me was how close Zachry’s experiences were to my own. Like her I am a Malaysian woman, one who entered the slipstream of migration and has become a transcultural, transnational creature with feet and hands in multiple worlds.

I also recognized the gaslighting and the gendered physical and psychological violence embedded in Malaysian culture. I recognized the gaslighting and gendered violence she experienced embedded in human society everywhere.

This was hard, so hard, to read at so many points. I had to put this book down multiple times. But the discomfort it caused was also what forced me to return to it. The kind of emotional disturbance Zachry’s memoir inflicts is that which can only be excised by pushing through all the way to the end.

I am glad I returned to it, acknowledged her pain my own (caused by reading it) and kept going in spite of all that. There is more than suffering in this memoir. Zachry illuminates a healing path too.

Zachry’s memoir is not a Malaysian one, although this is a cultural aspect of her experience that cannot be brushed aside. In this I recognized Zachry’s heritage as akin to my own; women told to swallow their pride, their pain, their voices. It is a world in which women remain — and are expected to remain — invisible. And this is true across Malaysia’s many cultures, ethnicities, and religious communities. For all the lovely tropical lushness of Malaysia, it is not a paradise for everyone; feminism is throttled by legal manipulations, feminists ostracized as social pariahs (even when Western-style feminism is eschewed in favor of local versions of feminism.)

But, I digress; Enough is not a memoir of a culture. Zachry’s experience is one that is all too familiar and common across cultures and in all societies. It is an extraordinary story of a crime that is horrendously ordinary. Hers was a life lived by many people; that’s what makes Enough so memorable, so relatable, so important to read.

Zachry’s memoir begins at her beginning, with childhood, then takes the reader into her teenage and early adult years. It is then that Zachry’s life is altered by an event that haunts her (even now after she has found ways to manage it). The bulk of this memoir is devoted to Zachry’s struggle with the trauma of this event, her path to a recovery, and it ends with a substantial section on her present life which shifts the focus to the traumas of migration and the development of her transcultural identity. Zachry’s journey to a happy place is not one filled with woo-woo cures or unattainable magic pills. Zachry documents how hard work, emotional work punctuated by slips and backslides is the tried and true path; one accessible to all of us, at least in theory.

This is a memoir for all women because this is a story we all know, first-hand, second-hand, or otherwise.

The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess

The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess

As I closed this book for the last time, I could not help but wonder how and why I had made it to my fourth decade as a Malaysian without having read this. I wondered why the existence of books about Malaya and Malaysia were not a part of my IGSCE or GCSE exams, part of my primary and secondary school education. We could have read this in English class, in History class, in Religion class, instead of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It would have made more sense, it would have been interesting, it would have given us a sense of who were were! No, we learnt about WWI and WWII, but never about the Malayan Emergency, never about Communism — except as a Soviet or Chinese or Cuban-Missile Crisis thing.

Such a misnomer, the “post colonial” world. There is nothing postcolonial about it. Burgess’s three intertwined novels prove that. Published in 1964 and reading them nearly six decades later, it’s clear nothing much has changed except the language: the racism remains, the ethnic conflict, the Malay calling the Indian lazy, the Chinese reviled for their share of the economy, the Malay condemned for their bumiputra entitlements. The primacy White Men still hold over those of darker fleshtones. Nothing is different except Chinese folks don’t say yam seng as much any more (Kam pai I think is the more popular term now. Not that I drink enough to know) and diluting whiskey with water and ice has become passé with the ubiquitous use of aircon. I recognized the sounds and smells and sweaty stickiness in Burgess’ Malaya, especially when I read the books while having a cup of steaming Horlicks. I laughed out when luncheon meat was mentioned, then counted how many tins I have in my pantry.

The novels are nothing spectacular plotwise; it’s the point that nothing happens. In the first book, Victor Crabbe and Fenella Crabbe drink and drink and drink, complain, complain, complain. Victor even complains that Fenella complains; for, in his view, he has purpose. Burgess does not name it but it is the White Savior Complex; Victor has it in buckets.

It is the characters which save the novels and make the trilogy worth reading. This is one of the few times I have read a book from this era that brought “native” characters to the forefront. Even Orwell’s Veraswami was a supporting character. Of course, we should not be too hasty; Victor Crabbe remains the central focus of the trilogy. But Rosemary, an Indian woman who has swallowed the White Mask — perhaps the whole bottle of white makeup — is prominent in the last novel, Beds in the East. Alladad Khan, a Muslim man is also given pride of place in the first one, Time for a Tiger. The second book, Enemy in the Blanket focuses more closely on the Crabbe’s marriage. I appreciated Fenella’s prominence here, even as a white character; she is a woman and it was pleasant to read a woman’s story, even if told by and from a man’s perspective. I enjoyed Anne Talbot a lot. Her spunk was refreshing.

But ugh, the racism threaded all the way through. I read it, recognized it, hated it, enjoyed it for its honest — if ugly — portrayal of Emergency era Malaya.

Malaysia 2010, 2011, 2013

I have so many hundreds of photos of Malaysia and all things Malaysian: people, food, places, sites, random pictures of stray cats. Here I’ve picked some of my favorites from the past three trips there. They’re from all over Malaysia, some from Penang, some from Melaka, one from Pahang when I was in Kuantan. And of course, Kuala Lumpur.

I visited these places in multiple capacities, as a tourist, as a local, as an anthropologist, as a student, as a photographer. Most of the photos are “found”, none of them were posed or premeditated.

Most of these photos were taken using a really cheap-O point and shoot, or my iPhone 4.

“Children of God” (25:17)

In the Summer of 2013 I did an anthropology pilot study that resulted in the making of “Children of God”, an ethnographic, observational film about a non-denominational Christian church group in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Every year they go on a retreat, as a way to build fellowship and for members of the church to renew their faith.

Here’s my blurb from my Vimeo site: “For a few days every year, the congregation of the Praise Sanctuary Church retreats from the city of Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to the nearby seaside resort town of Port Dickson. It is an event; its purposeful itinerary aims to foster fellowship amongst the church members and to allow each to individually convene with God. This short film is about their 2013 annual retreat and the way in which they experience being “God’s children”.”

And here’s the film. Again, comments and feedback are always welcome.