Rising Sun, Setting Sun: British and Malayan Perspectives on the Japanese Occupation of Malaya in Fiction
The Japanese occupation of British Malaya engendered a dramatic outpouring of writings by British writers and Malaysian writers alike. While this paper is not intended to cover the entire corpus, it will, however, examine selected works that are representative of both British and Malaysian writers while making a comparative study of their collective perspectives on this particular part of Malaysian history. A preliminary study revealed that Malay fiction on the Occupation was filled with accounts of suffering and inhuman physical tortures borne by the Malays but that the period, in restrospect, was also seen by the Malays as a trigger for a dramatic burst of Malay nationalism, an energy set free by a new awareness of British fallibility. English-language fiction by non-Malay Malayan/Malaysian writers also recorded the same horrors. However, what mostly moved the plot of their novels was the burning desire for personal revenge by the protagonist. This narrow preoccupation seemed to have eclipsed larger issues of social and national dimensions. Unlike the Malaysian version of the Occupation, British writings had conceived the war as a military drama unfolding for themselves and seemed to be oblivious of its political implications to the ‘natives’. However, some enlightened post-war writers did show some attempt to come to terms with realities on the ground, though this was always accompanied by feelings of bitterness and betrayal directed at an incompetent and arrogant metropolis and a weak military leadership that had undermined the best efforts of the colonial empire-builders...
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