The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Isa Kamari

By Aminah Sheikh

isa kamari

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I write when I am disturbed by issues or ideas. I then do a bit of research on the subject matter. I begin to write if I have a sense of resolution and only if I can offer windows for readers to ponder upon the issues and form their own thoughts or opinions on them. In that sense I write to grow and validate my own existence.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it? 

In my next novel I am exploring the need for religion to grow naturally with cultural practices. This is to ensure that the practice of religion is relevant, meaningful and not alienated from the lives of the adherents. Much of what we see today is the opposite. Religion is very much an imposition or a borrowed phenomenon imported from peoples of different cultural backgrounds. This has resulted in unnecessary tension and alienation.

Describe your writing aesthetic. 

I try to write simply, yet offer layers of interpretation on my work.

Who are your favorite authors? 

I like the works of Hemingway, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Orhan Pamuk, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why. 

It must be Intercession in which I attempted to fuse religion, history, science and fantasy.

What’s your idea of bliss?

I enjoy walking alone.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad. 

Nothing to such an extent.

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks? 

The Event of the Quran by Kenneth Cragg, To Have or To Be by Erich Fromm and The Old Man and The Sea by Hemmingway. I see “fireflies” when I read and re-read them.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you? 

My favourite kris (dagger).

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.  

Art is Life, and Life is Art in an ever changing relationship between Man and God.



Isa Kamari has written nine novels in Malay: Satu Bumi, Kiswah, Tawassul, Menara, Atas Nama Cinta, Memeluk Gerhana, Rawa, Duka Tuan Bertakhta and Selendang Sukma. Eight of them, except Selendang Sukma were translated into English. Satu Bumi and Rawa have been translated into Mandarin, Tawassul has been translated into Hindi and Urdu, while Menara has also been translated into Turkish. Recently Isa has written his first novel in English, Tweet. He has also published two collections of poems, Sumur Usia and Munajat Sukma, a collection of short stories, Sketsa Minda, a collection of theatre scripts, Pintu and a book on Singapore Malay poetry, Potret Puisi Melayu Singapura. Isa was conferred the S.E.A. Write Award (2006), the Cultural Medallion (2007), and the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang (2009).


Aminah Sheikh is the Online Editor of Kitaab

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