An interesting and racy novel, say Monideepa Sahu
Marco Ferrarese’ exciting and engrossing novel explores racial animosity and urban crime. Steeped in local colour, this very Malaysian story has wider relevance in today’s world of the global village. Urban conglomerates the world over are rapidly becoming cultural melting pots. People are migrating to far corners of their country and abroad in search of a better job and life. This trend can heighten the insecurity of indigenous populations, who feel threatened as they perceive outsiders to be vying with them for finite resources and jobs. Urban crime and racial tensions are the inevitable result.
Foreigners migrate to Malaysia in search of a better life. Even educated people like Ngoc and her friends leave their home in Vietnam. The math is simple but compelling. In a corporate office in Vietnam, Ngoc ‘s university degree in Economics will fetch her only half the pay that she earns as a waitress in Malaysia. The author perceives Malaysia’s multi-racial and multicultural society as akin to the wholesome local dish, nasi goreng, which is a delicious mix of varied and nutritious ingredients. The book’s title is a play on this, and the racial bigotry which can ruin the beautiful cultural symphony.
In Nazi Goreng, the author skilfully draws us into the story of small-town boy Asrul’s metamorphosis from innocent victim of street violence, to a neo-Nazi skinhead out to brutalize foreign immigrants, who is sucked into Malaysia’s underworld of drug trafficking and crime. Asrul is attacked by muggers of Indian origin, setting in a sense of fear and inadequacy. He is persuaded by his domineering friend Malik, that “This is the way to be. This is our land, we are entitled to it, and we have been put here by God himself. The others are all threatening scum… Asrul realised soon enough that Malik had an incredible gift. He could make someone believe he really was important, he could attract passive people, induce them to do exactly what he wanted, yet make it seem as if it was out of their own will.” The charismatic Malik announces the Nazi mission to new recruits. “You have been appointed directly from the hand of God to help me go through with my mission, to help free our land from the massive import of scum that Immigration freely allows to get by.” Joining the Nazis frees Asrul from the terror induced by being mugged. “This time he was among the winners. And he was ready to enjoy every minute of it.”
The characters of Asrul and Malik are skilfully portrayed. The malignant edge to Malik’s charisma and Asrul’s internal dilemmas emerge early on, leading to the final climax. “Was he really doing this, Asrul wondered, attacking a couple of Chinese lovers, in the park, at night? Was this really Malik, the man who had pounced on the thin Chinese guy, had dragged him down to the ground and was now punching him in the face?”
The human side of victims of racism is well-depicted. The foreign immigrants are caught between the need to eke out an honest living, threats from skinheads like Malik, and corrupt cops who openly support the racist cause. The many facets of racism are also explored. “This is our country,” Asrul says to the Persian drug lord who employs him. “It belongs to us. Those Chinese and Indians, they came here! We are born here!”
The Persian drug lord replies, “Please spare me the bullshit propaganda, Asrul… To me, you are just small, stupid, ignorant delinquents… You just happen to be on the lucky side of the game.”
As an ironic twist to their skewed racism, Malik suggests migrating to England and working for a white power organisation there. He wants to work for them and rid their country of immigrant scum, forgetting that he and Asrul would also be considered foreign scum once they arrive in England.
The author brings the setting to life. From the underground heavy metal music movements to the criminal underworld, to the world of poor working class immigrants, the details and descriptions are vivid. At some places though, the descriptions are overdone. “Mr Porthaksh came closer and they could see his face more clearly as the shadows were erased by the lamp’s rays, forced to retract into his pores like mad vampires escaping the sun’s light.” Elsewhere in the same overdone vein, “ his Adam’s apple rock(ed) up and down like a horse with rabies.”
The plot is well-crafted, tracing Asrul’s metamorphosis into a hardened criminal, and the exciting climax. There are a few parts though, which could have been smoothened out. For example, it is implausible and awkward that drug dealer Tan Moe and his moll Siti take several pages to explain their operations to the captive Asrul.
On the whole, this is an interesting and racy read, which will appeal to readers everywhere.
Kitaab’s fiction editor, Monideepa Sahu is a former banker, who had a whale of a time writing her fantasy adventure novel, Riddle of the Seventh Stone. She has since authored a biography of Tagore for young people, and hopes readers and publishers will indulge her if she writes more. Her short fiction for both adults and children have been widely anthologized. She’s shot off her opinions on deathly serious subjects, and sometimes raised chuckles. She lives in Bangalore with a vintage PC, countless arthropods and people. She blogs at http://www.monideepa.blogspot.com/.