Sunday January 13, 2013
Review: One Day, Three Autumns
Review by S.B. TOH
One Day, Three Autumns
Author: Liew Suet Fun
Publisher: Liew Suet Fun, 207 pages
SOMETIMES a book stands out not because it reflects the mood of the moment but because it doesn’t. Liew Suet Fun’s One Day, Three Autumns is just such a book.
It’s not the usual tome favoured in this fair land of ours – neither an idiot’s-guide-to-what-have-you, nor a bunch of articles reincarnating as a book, nor an angry political pronouncement.
Nope, none of the above. (The divine be praised.)
Instead, here’s what the book’s proposes: that we set aside – for a while at least – the chatter and clatter of the world at large and turn our attention to the everyday things which surround us but which we too often fail to see, like your pet and its antics, that prized teapot, the very act of baking a loaf, or the sound and fury of a thunderstorm.
One Day, Three Autumns is an invitation to meditate on the things that we take for granted; not so much an admonishment that one is missing the forest for the trees as it is a reminder, if you will, to pay heed to such things as the insects and the birds, the quality of the air, the way the light is diffused by the canopy in that metaphorical wilderness.
In short: to be in the moment.
And why not, considering we are so caught up with the rat race, the political debate, the latest and greatest from the grapevine and the marketplace, our minds going round and round like a dog chasing its own tail, in that never-ending quest for something, we don’t quite know what, in this “wired” world of ours.
Gratification instant, contentment never. Loop the loop.
The book flits randomly from topic to topic as Liew writes – in a tone that’s personal and yet detached – of the enchantment of the mundane and the everyday, the nothings and everything. Essentially, hers is a journey inwards, of settling down to a long conversation with the self.
To take up this book, then, is to embrace silence and stillness, out of whose deep and vast expanse the memories of years gone by come flooding back, and inanimate objects take on life, and fleeting moments are frozen in time. It’s a kind of magic, is it not, when words are infused with imagination?
There is melancholy and yearning and nostalgia, but most of all there’s that keen sense of appreciation for the here and now, for the mysteries and delight that await discovery in the people and places and objects all around us, if only we would still our ever-spinning mind and see.
A song sung by a crew of Indonesian workmen, for instance, gives rise to thoughts on homesickness and the plight of the immigrant. An old Chinese tune conjures up in the mind of the writer a person not quite her, someone at once familiar and mysterious. Inanimate objects speak to her: the old metal trunk and its to-be-guessed-at story; the old teapot rich with history; a loaf of bread and its evocations and promises.
Such rich tapestry to be weaved from such simple pleasures ...
Liew’s prose is measured and lyrical, sometimes plain and profound (“How we all begin, and how we all end. And in between, our brief lives.”), sometimes soaring and beautiful in its cadence (as in The Things I Love, which begins thus: “Love. It’s a big word. It means more than like. It means your heart above your head. And your head over heels.”)
City folk will chuckle at her piece on the inexplicable act of cutting down shade trees for some exotic species of palm or other, where she wonders if this March of Man were not so “someone can ride a red-hot open top convertible down this boulevard of dreams.”
Occasionally, though, the writing stumbles on errant commas, a wrong word (“My mother would bode no sulky ... expression” – “brook” would the proper word), or one word too many. A more thorough editor would have helped smooth out such creases, but at the end of the day, these are mere quibbles.
All in all, One Day, Three Autumns is an enjoyable little book that marches to its own beat while speaking in an unmistakably Malaysian voice, casual and yet deep-rooted, as it should be.
One Day, Three Autumns author Liew Suet Fun will read excerpts from the book, share brief insights on each piece, and answer questions at 11am on Jan 19 at the Good Friends Cafe (G-G-8 Block G, Jalan PJU 1A/20E, Dataran Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya). Entrance is free but, as seating is limited to 30, please book your seat by Tuesday by sending an e-mail to email@example.com or calling/texting her at 012-239 5569.