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Book Review: The Dulang Washer


Irishman Paul Callan and his Ipoh-born wife, Eve, shuttle between their homes in London and Kuala Lumpur. Paul is the author of first-time novel, The Dulang Washer, which tells the often troubling tale of suffering, hardship and brutality 19th century Chinese immigrant labourers had to endure while working the tin mines of Kinta Valley and beyond.

In a hard-hitting portrayal of their lives and times, Paul tells a fascinating and captivating story through the eyes of dulang washer, Aisha, a beautiful young Malay girl striving to support two families, while carrying a dark and terrifying secret.

Fook Sin, the mine’s treacherous, thieving proprietor, sees Aisha as his ultimate prize: the most desirable object he can add to his secret hoard of already ill-gotten treasures.

Aisha also becomes the object of obsession of the lonely, isolated and homesick Donald Redfern, an English overseer and only European at the mine. The human contact she offers him during language lessons she gives him, and the small gestures of compassion she shows him, fuel his desires for the dainty maiden.

Meanwhile, Hun Yee, an ambitious young Hakka miner shakes off the opium addiction that has insulated himself, and all his fellow miners, from the harshness of their daily struggles. He seeks to win Aisha over by attempting to start a mine of his own.

But the most disturbing of all is the dulang washer’s own feelings for those close to her. When events at the mine move towards their shocking conclusion, she is forced to re-examine her life.

Confronted with the love of a man prepared to turn his back on his country for her, will she finally seize her chance at happiness?

In an enjoyable page-turning read, The Dulang Washer is a book that is hard to put down.

The most difficult part about the book, according to Paul, was trying to write about tin mining without getting technical. Paul admitted to being a “technical dyslexic”. “I am hopeless in technical matters,” he says.

When researching for the book Paul had to travel regularly between Kuala Lumpur, where he lives, and Perak for two years. The journey has been painful but it was worth the effort. His next book is about Tamil Indians. “It’s a love story set in an oil palm plantation and will be available next year.”

The Dulang Washer (ISBN No: 978-967-5997-55-6) is published by MPH (Malaysian Publishing House). This 357-page book, priced at RM39.90, is sold at MPH and Popular outlets all over the country.