Book Review: Slow Boat to China and Other Stories by Ng Kim Chew


Unlike his Malaysian-Chinese compatriots, Tash Aw and Tan Twan Eng who have become well-known for novels which fit pretty squarely into the English-language, Ng Kim Chew writes in Chinese from a base in Taiwan. Slow Boat to China is a collection of his short stories, the first book of his—as far as I can tell—to appear in English.

That the book was published by Columbia University Press is an indication of the academic uses to which the volume can be put. Malaysian-Chinese literature even has its own name: mahua literature, whose origins go back the better part of a century.

Several of Ng’s stories takes place within this literary community and which in a somewhat self-referential way are about a writer writing about writing and writers. The opening story, “The Disappearance of M”, tells of the search for the anonymous author of a critically-acclaimed avant-garde novel written in Chinese plus English, Malay, Sanskrit and other languages. Ng pokes fun at the affectations of the literary class, their conferences, papers and pretensions: Read more