Lake Like a Mirror
Malaysian writer Ho’s excellent debut collection features women pushed to the margins of society. In “The Wall,” a highway construction project transforms a neighborhood. After a little girl who lived in a nearby apartment building is run over and killed, a barrier is built between the highway and the back of the apartment building. The life of a woman called “next-door aunty” is disrupted by the presence of the wall, which blocks sunlight and her back door. In Ho's sly fantastical tale, the aunty’s body gradually adjusts, becoming thin enough that she can slip through the foot of space between door and wall. In “Aminah,” a young woman with that name born to a Muslim father applies to the Syariah Court to leave Islam. The application is denied, and she is ordered to stay at a rehabilitation center. In her despair and frustration, she wanders the grounds at night in her sleep, naked, spurring crises of faith among the teachers and wardens. In “Wind Through the Pineapple Leaves, Through the Frangipani,” another Aminah lends further insight to resisting a Muslim rehabilitation center (“Reading from the Quran mends mouths, but they sin by mispronouncing syllables. They sin by secretly skipping pages”), and Aminah begins imagining a froglike angelic apparition. Ho's vivid imagination and keen eye for women’s pain, gracefully translated, are hallmarks of a deeply talented writer. (Apr.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review transposed the author's first and last names.