PETALING JAYA: As we get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day life, it can be easy to forget the struggles endured by our forefathers to achieve Merdeka.
This is where books can be an effective way to record the sacrifices made by people and communities that have led to the freedom Malaysians enjoy today.
With Merdeka Day right around the corner, here are seven thought-provoking local reads that truly capture the spirit of independence.
1. ‘The Road to Independence’ by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj (compiled in 2007)
This book contains 24 speeches from the country’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, ranging from words spoken as chief minister of the Federation of Malaya (1955-1970) to his independence day speech on Aug 31, 1957.
Included are orations by the great statesman on topics such as communist insurgents, economic developments, Malay culture, and independence negotiations with the British government.
This book offers unparalleled insights into the mind of one of the key figures in our country’s independence.
2. ‘Expressions of Merdeka: Malaysia’ by Datuk Abdul Mutalib Razak (2014)
This lavish coffee-table hardcover highlights the nation’s journey towards independence through images of local celebrations, buildings, arches, and stamps.
Former Media Prima chairman Mutalib Abdul Razak was inspired to put this book together in the spirit of Malaysian pride and patriotism. Readers are given a look at how two landmark dates, Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day, have been celebrated through the ages.
Its a must-read for local history and culture enthusiasts.
3. ‘A Malaysian Journey’ by Rehman Rashid (1993)
Often called “one of the best books written about contemporary Malaysia”, this non-fiction narrative is an engaging blend of two “journeys”, both for the author and the country.
The late journalist Rehman Rashid’s accounts of his travels through Malaysia are skillfully interwoven with insights on the events leading to national independence, the country’s formation, and its march towards the future.
Topics such as nation building, social policies, politics and privilege are all covered in honest, almost lyrical prose. While this was written in the ’90s, there is much here still relevant to the Malaysia of today.
4. ‘Sweet Offerings’ by Chan Ling Yap (2009)
If fiction is more to your taste, there are many novels that adopt Malaysia’s colourful past as a setting.
“Sweet Offerings” is the tale of Mei Yin, a young girl from an impoverished background who is sent to Kuala Lumpur to be the wife of a man from a complicated family.
What unfolds is a gripping family saga set against major events such as the Japanese occupation and independence. Many of the country’s political, social and cultural changes form the backdrop of this novel, which is part of a four-book series set in historic China and Malaya.
5. ‘Merdeka 50: A Celebration of Malaysian Art’ by Zakaria Ali (2007)
They say you can discover the soul of a country through its art. In 2007, exactly 50 years after Malaysia gained independence, an art exhibition was held featuring 67 local artists, who each offered their unique view of what Merdeka meant to them.
“Merdeka 50: A Celebration of Malaysian Art” records the artworks and sculptures displayed during this exhibition, accompanied by insightful commentary from curator Zakaria Ali.
The bold visions contained here are a lovely tribute to Malaysian creativity and artistic expression.
6. ‘A Children’s History of Malaya’ by Tunku Halim (2003/2019)
You’re never too young to start learning about your country. This beautifully illustrated book dramatises the history of Malaysia in a simple yet charming style that both children and the young at heart will enjoy.
“A Children’s History” explains the development of Malaysia from the Stone Age (yes!) to today, with important time periods elaborated upon in greater detail.
It’s a wonderful way to help young readers appreciate our country’s past and help them understand the true meaning of Merdeka Day.
7. ‘The Merdeka Interviews: Architects, Engineers and Artists of Malaysia’s Independence’ by Lai Chee Kien and Ang Chee Cheong (2018)
From 2001 to 2006, architectural historian Lai Chee Kien interviewed 17 engineers, architects and artists for his doctoral thesis. They were responsible for designing and building iconic buildings such as Stadium Negara, Muzium Negara, Parliament House, the National Mosque, and Subang Airport.
This massive book outlines these experts’ roles in shaping the capital of newly independent Malaysia. The interviews here not only celebrate how far our country has come, but also remind us that successful nation building requires contributions from everyone, regardless of one’s role or background.