It is the most contentious election in the history of a nation trying to define itself. In this election, there is a young and idealistic up-and-coming politician who just happens to be from one of the underrepresented groups of this multi-ethnic country. At the same time, the majority group, feels like their way of life is being undercut by newcomers and is waging its own campaign to preserve tradition. The election is so important that employers are giving their lowliest hires the day off to hit the polls, which many of them have to travel to by foot or bike.
In unseen rooms all over the country, men sat at long tables tallying votes on ballots emptied out of full ballot boxes. These rooms were silent but for a few faint sounds:ceiling fans clicking like tricky joints, papers ruustling, dry fingers rasping on paper, tongues licking thumbs. Was it in these rooms that Rumor began her scrabbling? Its nudgings, its sneay nibblings at the hopeful hearts of men, at their big-big dreams of peace and compromise?
– from Evening is the Whole Day, by Preeta Samarasan
No, it’s not the 2008 Presidential Election, and the setting is not even in the United States. The country at a crossroads is actually the Malaysia of the 1960s, freshly liberated from the British Empire, and full of Malays, Chinese and Indians each trying to stake a claim in this new republic. All of this is the backdrop for Preeta Samarsan’s new novel Evening is the Whole Day. No, it’s not a historical novel, or particularly a political one. It is the story of a Malaysian Indian family. Not native Malaysians, who are called Malays, but immigrants from India, only they have been in Malaysia for at least three generations, so they’re not totally Indian, either. Some of the Indians have intermarried with Chinese, the other interlopers in this land — producing Chindian children.
What I find so apropos about this novel is that it is a glimpse into another country, where groups of people from differing ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds are muddling through situations that have more than a few parallels to America in November of 2008. I won’t tell you how the book ends, but if you need a break from watching election returns, it’s a beautifully written read.