At the end of 2013, the annual George Town Literary Festival will come about. The theme of this year’s festival is The Ties that Bind, which will look at how writers deal with writing and hope, love, land, loss, memory and history.

In this list, we are not here to tell you which books are the best. However, to best engage with the authors who will be a part of the festival, you do need to know what their work is about. Here’s a list of five books for your  GTLF bucket list:

Stranger in the Forest

by Eric Hansen

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“At once a modern classic of travel literature and a gripping adventure story, Stranger in the Forest provides a rare and intimate look at the vanishing way of life of one of the last surviving groups of rain forest dwellers. Hansen’s absorbing, and often chilling, account of his exploits is tempered with the humor and humanity that prompted the Penan to take him into their world and to share their secrets.”

Eric Hansen is the first Westerner to trek 4,000km across the Borneo and write about it. Travelling with the Penan can be challenging, and this man did that for over half a year. So for all the self-proclaimed “traveller, not a tourist” people out there, Eric Hansen is the author for you. Interested? His book is listed as available in Kinokuniya.

Map of the Invisible World

by Tash Aw

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“From the author of the internationally acclaimed The Harmony Silk Factory comes an enthralling novel that evokes an exotic yet turbulent place and time—1960s Indonesia during President Sukarno’s drive to purge the country of its colonial past. A page-turning story, Map of the Invisible World follows the journeys of two brothers and an American woman who are indelibly marked by the past—and swept up in the tides of history.”

Let’s face it: the detractors of Tash’s first book, The Harmony Silk Factory, were brutal. Who knew how attached Malaysians were to facts about geography until Tash wielded his artistic license over them? Kampar and Cameron Highlands, down the road from each other? Pandering to omputeh, pengkhianat!

Tash’s second novel, Map of the Invisible World, is predominantly set in Indonesia. Perhaps Tash can do better writing about this region without having to worry about the scrutiny of defensive Malaysians.

Little Hut of Leaping Fishes

by Chiew-Siah Tei

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“Mingzhi is born to be a mandarin: as the formidable Master Chai’s first grandson, his life is mapped from the moment of his birth. But times are changing in China, and as Mingzhi grows, he begins to question his privileged heritage and the secrets and shadows that lurk in the corners of the Chai mansion. Eager to flee from the corruption, treachery and rivalries of his family — Master Chai, who farms opium poppies and beats out orders with his dragon stick; the jealousy of his second mother and half brother; and his opium-addict father – Mingzhi soon realises his only path to freedom is through learning. But as the foreign devils begin to encroach on China, Mingzhi is torn between two cultures; he must make his choice between the past and the future.”

Not all Malaysian writers tell stories of Malaysia (nor should they be expected to). Enter bilingual author Chiew-Siah Tei, whose historical saga begins in Little Plum Blossom Village, during the late 1800s of China .

Chiew-Siah Tei also has two other books — It’s Snowing (prose) and Secrets and Lies (essays on film), for the Chinese-literate amongst us.

Evening Is the Whole Day

by Preeta Samarasan

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“When the Rajasekharan family’s rubber-plantation servant girl is dismissed for unnamed crimes, it is only the latest in a series of precipitous losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha’s life. In the space of several weeks her grandmother passed away under mysterious circumstances, and Uma, her older sister, left for Columbia University, forever. Aasha is left stranded in a family, and a country, slowly going to pieces.”

Preeta Samarasan’s writing has been compared to Arundhati Roy, for obvious reasons. This is how her novel begins:

There is, stretching delicate as a bird’s head from the thin neck of the Kra Isthmus, a land that makes up half of the country called Malaysia. Where it dips its beak into the South China Sea, Singapore hovers like a bubble escaped from its throat. This bird’s head is a springless summerless autumnless winterless land.

When an author goes all out into purple prose territory this way, you get a love-it-or-hate-it audience. Which camp are you on? Either way, you have about five more months to make up your mind.

The House with a Thousand Stories

by Aruni Kashyap

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When young Pablo goes to his ancestral village in Assam for his aunt s wedding, he encounters twin tragedies that will change his life forever. Set against the backdrop of secret killings and political upheaval, this is a debut to reckon with.

This book was published fairly recently, and is doing quite well in reviews, also drawing inevitable comparisons to Arundhati Roy’s work.


Special mention:

The Kampung Boy

by Lat

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“With masterful economy worthy of Charles Schultz, Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious study, and work on his family’s rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs gradually replacing family farms and rubber small-holders. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns. Kampung Boy is hilarious and affectionate, with brilliant, super-expressive artwork that opens a window into a world that has now nearly vanished.”

Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat, will be one of the creators speaking at GTLF. The Kampung Boy is the most well-known of his stories, but Datuk Lat’s ouevre is generally loved.