Sweet Offerings - A Book Review

Sweet Offerings by Chan Ling Yap is a novel published by Pen Press. This is one of those novels which doesn't say much to the readers by its humble cover but the moment they start reading it, it takes over them. It is a hard to put down novel with exquisite intricate details of cultural life in Malaya.

The story is basically about emancipation of the main character Mei Yin during the times in 1930s but the author has deftly taken this simple storyline to the next level by including an interesting trip through the history of Malaysia from colonialism, through the second World War, independence and up to the late sixties. 
Written from the point of view of various female members of an ethnic Chinese family living in Malaysia, it covers the transition from a poverty struck and traditional way of life to the formation of a modern state. 

Through the events happening within one family over three decades, the author takes the readers into a different world, the world that is now Malaysia that adapted to change and the way it was affected by world events.  The readers find out how difficult it was for women to have any control over their lives and how often they were treated as assets or bargaining counters.
An example of the kind of poverty could be seen in these lines where a mother bargains to get her daughter a play mate, "I mean, if the girl's get on well, I would like them to attend school together. I will pay Mei Yin's fees." 

Although the author highlights the evil traditions that a female in those days had to face in Malaya, in some ways the main character Mei Yin defies all that. So on one hand the readers learn about the horrid things happening to various female characters, on the other hand they learn to appreciate the silent strength of Mei Yin.
The novel is also about the enduring love story of two main characters Ming Kong and Mei Yin and it proves that love prevails even when the situations are impossible.

Some interesting excerpts,
"That's because the British made cricket popular in India. What's fashionable there still influences Indians here. Anyway, the Chinese are not interested in games, only gambling ones,"
"The British had only ships in these waters and the Japanese sank both of them," " Remember the British have the Germans to contend with. They are fighting many fronts, not only in Malaya. We should pray for all those who have lost their lives."

There are a few obvious editorial glitches in the book but the story pulls the readers away from them and takes them into its own world. Overall a much enjoyable read and would recommend it to everyone.

By Smita Singh

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