By Tan Mei Kuan
ByThe opening paragraph of Jasemin Sibo’s latest novel “Zhu Pearl” goes like this: “According to early Chinese civilization, pearl symbolises wisdom acquired through years of experience and struggles.”
What follows is an inspiring story about two resilient Chinese women, one an aristocrat and the other a servant maid, who find a way to look past their differences and celebrate what unites them in the face of challenges: love, faith and hope. Set in the year 1927 during the Chinese Civil War with fleeting reference to Ipoh during the tin-mining boom days, it is written by a very talented young author whose prose is so assured and whose observations are so keen and deeply felt that it is almost an insult to reveal her true age.
As the fierce civil war forces Jade, a vision of fragility and Teak, an image of sturdiness to separately flee their motherland to the untamed terrain called Peninsular Malaya, the two eventually forge a sisterly bond without any idea of what lies ahead for both of them.
“It is a simple book but it came from my heart,” said Jasemin to Ipoh Echo. Author of the highly popular Epiphany satire, Jasemin enjoys tracing her rich oriental roots.
To begin with, the reader-friendly paperback is printed in black and white in the manner of an illustrated manuscript, with each page displaying paragraphs of varying lengths and fairly large font aligned in the centre to send an important signal to the reader about a new thought or a change in the narrative. And as a bonus, there is pinyin (romanised spelling for transliterating Chinese) for all the Chinese idioms used in the book.
As the book is in verse, you will get there all too swiftly as the story sings itself along before you can give each page the attention it deserves.
I especially love how she ends each flow of ideas with idioms that ring true, providing the right dose of emotional associations. As a young woman with feminism innately entrenched in my psyche, the storyline resonates well with me. Jasemin, with her gift of articulating her innermost thoughts, is a precious pearl living within our midst. She makes me realise that we embody bits of “Jade” and “Teak” within us, as we struggle both internally and externally.
I closed the book, reluctant to put it down until the very last line and just sat there, in deep reflection. That is the great art of the storyteller: she brings your own long-forgotten experiences to mind.
Do read this book.
Published by Partridge Singapore, Zhu Pearl is available online at Amazon (paperback – $15.14, hardcover – $29.85) and Kinokuniya Malaysia Online (paperback – RM63.49, hardcover – RM123.66). In Ipoh, this book would be featured in upcoming book events to be announced soon.