Review

Suffian Hakim's The Minorities takes on topics such as ethnicity and injects salt-of-the-earth humour

The Minorities is the second full-length feature of Singaporean writer Suffian Hakim (left).
The Minorities is the second full-length feature of Singaporean writer Suffian Hakim (left). PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SUFFIAN HAKIM

FICTION

THE MINORITIES

By Suffian Hakim

Suffian Hakim/Paperback/328 pages/ $26.75/Books Kinokuniya and BooksActually/ 4 stars

Even as Singapore's literary scene is flourishing, with local writers gaining global recognition and becoming more prolific, it is still generally - and quite unfairly - regarded as staid, prosaic or even highbrow.

Suffian Hakim will come as a refreshing breath of fresh air to these detractors, for he is undoubtedly one of the most whimsical, creative and unpretentious young voices in Singapore literature.

He first raised eyebrows with his zany parody of the popular Harry Potter series with his 2015 debut, Harris Bin Potter And The Stoned Philosopher, about the escapades of a Singaporean Malay boy wizard.

And he brings his brand of salt-of-the-earth humour and wordplay to his second full-length feature, The Minorities, with chapters such as Gula Melaka Dreamsicle, The Long Arm Of The Coleslaw and Anarchy Lime Pie.

This is even as he takes on weighty issues such as ethnicity, immigration and assimilation in the novel's underlying social commentary.

"Who brewed the primordial soup?" Suffian ponders in a witty prologue that considers how humans have a "debilitating ability to set themselves apart from one another".

There are other Singaporean elements in the book, with political conspiracies and racial stereotypes intertwined with a whole host of Asian supernatural beings from pontianaks to toyols led by a ring leader who is a renowned figure in the history of modern Singapore.

The Minorities is the second full-length feature of Singaporean writer Suffian Hakim (left).

It is - surprise, surprise - set in Yishun for the most part, the neighbourhood so notorious for a series of weird happenings that streaming giant Netflix featured it in promotional videos for its sci-fi horror hit series Stranger Things (2016 to present).

The story is told from the perspective of the Narrator, an unnamed Malay wannabe inventor who is struggling to cope with his father's death - to the point he does things to instigate his late father to return as a ghost.

He also invents a device known as the SoundLoft that converts dreams into music.

He has three housemates, who are all on the run.

There is Shanti, a talented laboratory technician hiding from her abusive husband, and Cantona, a Bangladeshi construction worker who escaped from his company for workplace maltreatment and harbours dreams of becoming an artist.

Completing the motley crew is Tights, a Chinese illegal immigrant with such a fascination for Hollywood culture that he named himself after what he believes is the common thread among superheroes.

One of them takes a dump in a clump of banana trees, leading a good-natured pontianak named Diyanah to haunt them. The four humans vow to help her home, in the process antagonising a mob of bloodthirsty ghosts.

Suffian's brimming enthusiasm carries the story with its universal themes of friendship and loyalty, even as the tale descends from slightly offbeat to absurdist towards its somewhat farcical conclusion.

If you like this, read: Harris Bin Potter And The Stoned Philosopher by Suffian Hakim (Suffian Hakim, 2015, $29.90, BooksActually). Harris Bin Potter - an orphan like his British counterpart Harry Potter - is a student at the Ministry-of-Education-sanctioned Hog-Tak-Halal-What School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in this satire.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2018, with the headline Suffian Hakim's The Minorities takes on topics such as ethnicity and injects salt-of-the-earth humour. Subscribe