Malaysian writer wins the regional Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2022

The Epigram Books Fiction Prize, which is based in Singapore, was won by a Malaysian for the second time on Saturday (Jan 22).

Karina Robles Bahrin will receive S$25,000 (RM78,000) from the seventh edition of the prize, Singapore’s only award for unpublished English-language novels.

Her manuscript, The Accidental Malay, came in tops at a virtual ceremony live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

“This is really unexpected because it’s my first attempt at a novel,” said Robles Bahrin, 53, who runs a hotel, restaurant, farm and community storytelling initiative on the island of Langkawi in Kedah.

She is the second Malaysian to win the prize, after Joshua Kam in 2020 for his novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

The Accidental Malay follows Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who wants to be the next chief executive of a bak kwa company owned by the wealthy Leong clan, but discovers that she is actually Malay.

Her newfound identity threatens to up-end her life and her CEO ambitions. Set in Malaysia, Robles Bahrin’s novel examines the human cost of a country’s racial policies and paints the picture of a woman unwilling to accept the fate history has designated her.

Nanyang Technological University professor Shirley Chew, who was on the judging panel, hailed Robles Bahrin’s novel as “an intelligent, well-crafted and significant work”.

“The narrative movement and the structure of the novel are constructed with a sharp sense of the dramatic. This is ably helped by a prose that is lively with flashes of wit,” she said.

The other judges were author Amir Muhammad, publisher of Buku Fixi in Malaysia; T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore; Association of Women for Action and Research president Margaret Thomas; and Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee.

The other finalists, who are all Singaporean – student Ng Ziqin, 20; private tutor Nisha Mehraj, 37; and general practitioner Tan Lip Hong, 58 – will each get S$5,000 (RM16,000).

All four shortlisted novels will be published in the second half of this year.

The prize, which is a cash advance against future royalties, was started in 2015 for Singapore writers and opened to writers from other Asean countries in 2018. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network