Thu, Mar 06, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Book review: NAZI GORENG

In a remarkable debut novel, Marco Ferrarese writes about Malaysia’s skinheads, the country’s ethnic tensions and drug smuggling

By Bradley Winterton

He also recalls that he used to sell CDs, and remembers that white-supremacist music sold well everywhere. Malay supremacists aren’t white, of course, and Ferrarese also notes a contrast between his native Italy (ruled over by the fascist leader Benito Mussolini from 1922 to 1943) and modern Malaysia. Italy has always had one main race, one religion and a unified culture, whereas Malaysia is by contrast multi-ethnic and diverse.

There’s no sympathy for fascism in any form in this book, and Ferrarese is clearly an educated thinker of a liberal persuasion. Even so, he ended his radio interview by saying he had been in Malaysia long enough to know that there were certain things that couldn’t be said there.

What he’s perhaps referring to here is the government policy of ketuanan melayu, or Malay supremacy, that reserves a special position for Malays (bumiputra, or sons of the soil), notably in education, allowing them to enter into universities, for instance, with lower qualifications than are required from the Chinese or Indian minorities. This policy of positive discrimination for the majority was supposed to be in place for only a limited time, but has to date remained unaltered.

Nazi Goreng — a title that plays on the popular local dish nasi goreng, or fried rice — is a welcome addition to the literature on the region. Maybe it took a foreigner living in the country to shine a flashlight on the racial tensions, police corruption and adolescent fascist sympathies that characterize some areas of Malaysian life. The novel certainly appears to have been well-received by the Malaysian middle-classes, many of whom, of course, owe their position in society to the favoring of Malays enshrined in government policy, a state of affairs of which punk-rock neo-fascism is at best a grotesque parody.

I found this novel easy to read and engrossing. It contains a Chinese character, a “mule” who carries drugs over borders (including into Taiwan) tied up in condoms deep within her digestive system. Both Asrul and, you feel, the author are disgusted by this, but it’s a part of the world Ferrarese seeks to portray, and the novel as a whole presents that world with no holds barred. He’s to be congratulated for balking at nothing in doing so. My only reservation is that it would have been nice to have had more evocations of punk music in the text. It is, after all, obviously something Ferrarese knows a good deal about.

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