Kam Raslan's right. In the preface for his new book, Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures he writes that we've known Dato' Hamid all our lives. Seeing as my own dad is an old boy of MCKK, the people I get to meet when he drags me to an Old Boy function and the people he tells me of, reflect the characters found in Kam's book. It really does feel like I've known Dato' Hamid all my life.
Dato' Hamid is a civil servant of the Tunku Abdul Rahman generation. He is the sort of person you rarely see nowadays, a fine example of the anachronistic Malay. This generation, groomed in the ways of the colonial British would be out of place not just in 21st century Malaysia, but in Britain too. And yet, Dato' Hamid, in all his snobbishness and patronising ways, is essentially a Malaysian. Without people like him, our country would probably never exist at all. At least not like we know it now.
I'm glad that Kam Raslan decided to capture this "Malaysian-ness" in the character of Dato' Hamid, because it is through his eyes that we are able to see Malaya as it was, Malaysia as it is and a Malaysia as it could be. Through his eyes, we see a bold satire of many Malaysian elements - royalty, civil service, idleness, corruption, idealism.
The novel itself is actually a collection of short stories and these stories cycle from short anecdotes to a murder mystery (very Agatha Christie) to a dialogue between old friends about what it means to be Malaysian. All of them are different in style from each other, but all of them are equally worth reading. I personally loved the one set in Switzerland where we learn how ruttish Dato' Hamid can be.
If there ever was a book that deserved to be called The Great Malaysian Novel, I think Kam Raslan's book deserves to at least be in the running. Confessions of an Old Boy is not only Malaysian, it is also a very great read. If you haven't picked it up already, you should.
I would like to thank the wonderful Chet for giving me a copy to read. Me and L both enjoyed it very much!