Six of the Best, a new series published by Andrew Barber & Associates, highlights topics that reflect the diversity and complexity of Malaysia. Each book has six self-contained chapters, with pictures, illustrations, maps and artwork that enhance the text, written in a conversational style. Themes vary from history and sport to trains, and how living and working in the region influenced the work of various English authors.
The first three titles released under the series are Train Journeys in Malaysia by David Bowden, Mat Salleh Authors on Malaysia by Mark Disney and Malaysian Sporting Icons by Bob Holmes.
Bowden, a freelance photojournalist-cum-travel writer, journeys via rail in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia. He hops on board the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express from Singapore to Bangkok, traces the West Coast Line that extends from Johor Baru to Padang Besar on the Thai border, and checks out the North Borneo Railway that runs from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom in Sabah, the East Coast Local Train (from Gua Musang to Tumpat, Kelantan), the East Coast Line, also known as the “Jungle Railway” that travels through the night and links Johor and Kelantan, and the Penang Funicular, which transports visitors up to Penang Hill.
Disney, who came to Malaysia in 1992 and now teaches literature and language at Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar, tells of pirates, planters and pedagogues, characters and subjects that fascinated Western writers living and working in the country during colonial times. Joseph Conrad wrote about dreamers and desperadoes, Henri Fauconnier was taken by planters and prophets and Agnes Keith’s Borneo trilogy set in Malaya had memsahibs, macaques and mangroves. Brandy and betrayal, and dipsomania and disillusionment were themes that figured in Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess’ works respectively, while James Kirkup’s Tropic Temper: A Memoir of Malaya featured Kuala L’Iumpure and the University of Malaya, among other things.
UK-born Holmes’ “gap decade” to see the world eventually led him to write about sport for a living. Then wanderlust and a Malaysian wife lured him to settle down in Kuala Lumpur, where he wrote a newspaper column on English football for 23 years. His book focuses on six individuals who have “made our sporting journey more successful than is often appreciated”. They are Mokhtar (SuperMokh) Dahari, the Asian Maradona; golfer Nellan Vellasamy, who was told he had golf balls for brains; squash queen Nicol David, named the Greatest Athlete of All Time in 2021; badminton’s Lee Chong Wei, still a legend despite missing the Olympic gold thrice; “Flying Doctor” Manikavasagam Jegathesan, whose 1968 national record of 20.92 seconds in the 200m survived until 2017; and Pocket Rocket scientist Azizulhasni Awang, who won the country’s first Olympic cycling medal — bronze in Rio 2016 — and a silver at Tokyo 2020.
This article first appeared on Feb 13, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.