Narrating the racial riots of 13 May 1969: gender and postmemory in Malaysian literature

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    The riots of 13 May 1969 are kept alive as social memory in Malaysia. As the government continues to ignore calls to declassify the documents on the racial riots, historical evidence of 13 May is scarce, and the ‘truth’ remains obscured. This article, however, moves away from the truth-seeking mission and studies three contemporary fictions by Malaysian women writers. They are Sinophone writer Li Zishu’s (2010) Gaobie de niandai (The Era of Farewell), Anglophone writer Preeta Samarasan’s (2008) Evening Is the Whole Day and Hanna Alkaf’s The Weight of Our Sky (2019). It seeks to discover a feminized territory to explore how women writers of the post-1969 generation narrate the 13 May riots and offers critiques of the entrenched male-dominated, racialized narrative. It uses Marianne Hirsch's 2008 concept of ‘postmemory’ to examine the ways they constitute memories in their own right and articulate a new identity, one that is different from their previous generation. The article demonstrates how three women writers propose different ways to embrace the wounds of 13 May, thereby showing the importance of acknowledging the painful feelings and memories of the traumatic history as lived, not forcing them to be cured or reconciled.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)214-230
    JournalSouth East Asia Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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