Book Review: Kebaya Tales by Lee Su Kim…

i am half Peranakan.

What’s Peranakan? That’s a culture which came about when Chinese traders settled down in Malaysia and Singapore. It is a unique culture with all its quirks, fab traditions, different language (Baba Malay) and sometimes outlandish Nyonyas and Babas (that’s what the womenfolk and menfolk are known as respectively). And i am proud to be a part of this rich culture.

However, it is a dying culture, with the younger generation (me included) knowing only a little about the old traditions and stories. Which is why i love it when a book like Kebaya Tales comes along.

Kebaya Tales is a collection of short stories which Lee has collated and written capturing the essence of the Peranakan culture. And the beautiful pictures of the exquisite sarong kebaya with its beaded slippers and golden kerosang (pins which hold the kebaya blouse together), and the lovely pictures of her family, all make the book a joy to read.

The 13 stories give you a glimpse into a world of laughs, sorrows and unexpected twists; all of which show different aspects of a mentality so special, the world would be lesser without it. There is a touch of the very personal as she re-tells some of these stories which she has heard over the years, simply because it is truly her people, her culture she is talking about.

i also enjoy very much the poems which are slotted in between the stories. i never knew that Peranakan poems existed and even though these took me a couple of readings to really understand their meanings, it was worth the effort.

So i highly recommend this book for anyone who would like a taste of the Peranakan culture and life in this remarkable group of people. Also great for anyone, like me, wishing to re-connect to your roots.


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