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Southeast Asian Anthologies That Will Keep You Awake at the Airport

Photography: Aaron Chung

Fortunately, its trilogy of Southeast Asian urban anthologies Heat, Flesh and Trash prove that Fixi Novo has all the elements to be what it aspires to be. Now everyone can read the region in  these page turners. Titled after Andy Warhol’s Paul Morrissey films, this pulp fiction collection offers varying degrees of morbidity, escapism and realism, mainly in short stories and reimagined histories revolving around family, relationships, tradition, and even tourism.

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It should come as no surprise that former colonies of English-speaking rulers are the most prolific–the majority of the works are by Malaysian and Filipino authors. But what a revelation they have in store. I could not help but play favourites. The gems here inhabit the realms of fantasy and science fiction. Not that life in ASEAN is boring, but the speculative dimension easily wins over poetic narratives.  

Heat is preoccupied with the way people play with fire, literally and figuratively. “Method” by Zed Adam Idris initially seems indulgent, but it’s a slow burner that brilliantly illuminates a junkie’s downfall. A hilarious event turns out to be life-changing in Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Different Ways to Burn”. On the speculative side, Nikki Alfar pens a humorous account of man and his devices in “Appliances”, while Alexander Marcos Osias brings “The New Teacher” to a grisly end.

Madness and its physical manifestations surface in Flesh, leaving the strongest and most visceral experience amongst the three books. There were times when I had to close the book to catch my breath, shudder for a moment, or mouth “WTF?” Food is the beginning of the sensory assault cooked up by three authors: Simon Rowe in the hearsay-driven “Tuna Steak”, Terence Toh in his crime story “The Whole Hog”, and Ari Abraham in the strangely sensual “Tempoyak”. Justine Anjenique P. Jordan paints a portrait of suburbian psychosis in “Dr Domingo”. Two disparate tales of (not) love and obsession play out in “He Loves Me… Not” by Yeyet Soriano and “Thorax of a Blowfly” by Danyanti Biswas.

Trash is rife with social commentary. The anthology opens with Zedeck Siew’s “Mrs. Chandra’s War Against Dust”, about a losing battle against dementia. Timothy L. Marsh spins a Balinese local’s destiny in “How to Make White People Happy”. A futuristic thread ties together “And the Heavens Your Canopy” by Ted Mahsun and “Panopticon” by Victor Fernando Ocampo, both of which elevate the reader to imagined dimensions of real locations.

heat, flesh, trash, buku fixi, fixi novo, books, southeast asia, asean

As in other Fixi Novo anthologies, there are no attempts at italicising words in the local languages. This works fine for a single-country anthology but becomes problematic when it assumes that the reader is familiar with all the languages without context clues. But this is more of a character tic than a distraction, and I found myself finishing each book in a day.

Overall, the trilogy is not so much of a durian with a thorny flesh and creamy fruit, having nothing pungent and unpleasant to peel off. Each anthology is instantly accessible and exhilaratingly delicious, and left me with a craving for unforgettable worlds and characters. This is Southeast Asia on a gritty shoestring. And boy does that shoestring fly.

Heat, Flesh and Trash are available at Kedai Fixi (Jaya Shopping Centre) and online at fixi.com.my.

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