The most recommended books about Malaysia

Who picked these books? Meet our 21 experts.

21 authors created a book list connected to Malaysia, and here are their favorite Malaysia books.
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Book cover of Spirits Abroad: Stories

Dale Stromberg Author Of Melancholic Parables: Being for the Antiselving Reader

From my list on little stories that link to tell big stories.

Who am I?

When I drafted the pieces which eventually comprised Melancholic Parables, I had no plan. Only upon arranging them into a collection did I discover that, surprisingly, they shared emotional moods and thematic elements. In other words, I had stumbled into a linked collection. Writing a single big story is no small feat, as is writing small stories which each intrigue and delight in their own right—but to create and arrange multiple small stories so that they aggregate into a big story, one greater than the sum of its parts (in ways sometimes counterintuitive, sometimes virtuosic) is a special storytelling skill which I think these five authors’ work exemplifies.

Dale's book list on little stories that link to tell big stories

Dale Stromberg Why did Dale love this book?

As an immigrant to Malaysia, I can attest that the delightful stories in this collection are electric with Malaysian spirit.

The magic in these tales is literally magic, sometimes whimsical, sometimes discomfiting, imbued with warm and ironic wit. The throughline linking the stories is that they focus either on experiences of the uncanny in Malaysia, or the uncanny experiences of Malaysians abroad.

The included story “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” won a Hugo award, but my personal favourite may be “The Terra-cotta Bride.”

By Zen Cho,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spirits Abroad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the LA Times/Ray Bradbury Prize

Nineteen sparkling stories that weave between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead. Spirits Abroad is an expanded edition of Zen Cho's Crawford Award winning debut collection with nine added stories including Hugo Award winner "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again." A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate…


Book cover of Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing

Elizabeth Fournier Author Of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

From my list on if you literally want to go green when you die.

Who am I?

Saving the planet one death at a time is truly what the world needs now: to reduce our carbon footprint and go out in eco-friendly style. As the one-woman funeral service in the rural town of Boring, Oregon, I support the philosophy of old-school burial practices that are kinder to both humans, the earth, and our wallets. I have humbly been baptized the Green Reaper for my passionate advocacy of green burial, and as an undertaker and the owner and undertaker of Cornerstone Funeral, the first green funeral home in the Portland area. I love to devour all literature possible on green burial and environmentally friendly death care.

Elizabeth's book list on if you literally want to go green when you die

Elizabeth Fournier Why did Elizabeth love this book?

Green burial is not a new idea; it has been practiced for thousands of years and is still commonly practiced around the world. Green burial is also starting to be used as an avenue of enabling the restoration and preservation of habitat. The tradition of green (or natural) burials dates back to ancient times. For most of human history, in cultures where bodies were buried, the body was placed in a grave, perhaps wrapped in a shroud or in a simple box, directly into the ground. Robert’s chapters provide sustenance for the world full of people who exist in complete harmony with the natural world and with each other.

By Robert Wolff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Original Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

• Explores the lifestyle of indigenous peoples of the world who exist in complete harmony with the natural world and with each other.

• Reveals a model of a society built on trust, patience, and joy rather than anxiety, hurry, and acquisition.

• Shows how we can reconnect with the ancient intuitive awareness of the world's original people.

Deep in the mountainous jungle of Malaysia the aboriginal Sng'oi exist on the edge of extinction, though their way of living may ultimately be the kind of existence that will allow us all to survive. The Sng'oi--pre-industrial, pre-agricultural, semi-nomadic--live without cars or…


Book cover of A Town Like Alice

L.P. Fergusson Author Of The Summer Fields

From my list on handsome men in a parlous state.

Who am I?

I grew up in a medical family, my father and brother both surgeons and my mother a nurse. My parents met while serving in WW2 and that combination of compassion and horror in the field hospitals of Europe have stayed with me ever since. In fact, my first novel A Dangerous Act of Kindness, is set during WW2. I’m also a career hypochondriac. I avoid reading about illnesses or injuries I may suffer from myself, but I am fascinated by disease and pioneering surgery, thus The Summer Fields revolves around a disease that has now been eradicated (smallpox) and pre-anaesthetic surgery, something I hope I shall never have to face. 

L.P.'s book list on handsome men in a parlous state

L.P. Fergusson Why did L.P. love this book?

Some odd 1950s social attitudes caught me by surprise when I re-read this much-loved book from my past (what are those bruises all about?). Don’t let this put you off this wonderful story of courage and hardship as Jean Paget, an ordinary woman is swept up in the Japanese invasion of Malaya, faces terrible hardships in her group of female prisoners. Starving and sick, they are helped by an Australian, Sgt Joe Harman, also a prisoner, but his kindness results in the most terrible retribution. To say more would ruin the shock of this fabulous story, but I guarantee that Joe Harman will have your heart by the end of the book.

By Nevil Shute,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Town Like Alice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Probably more people have shed tears over the last page of A Town Like Alice than about any other novel in the English language... remarkable' Guardian

Jean Paget is just twenty years old and working in Malaya when the Japanese invasion begins.

When she is captured she joins a group of other European women and children whom the Japanese force to march for miles through the jungle - an experience that leads to the deaths of many.

Due to her courageous spirit and ability to speak Malay, Jean takes on the role of leader of the sorry gaggle of prisoners…


Book cover of A Painter in Penang

Anna Belfrage Author Of In the Shadow of the Storm

From my list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love.

Who am I?

Give me a castle ruin or guide me through ancient Roman mosaics and you make my day. Accordingly, my preferred reading is historical fiction. I read (and review) lots of it, like 100 books/year. I am also ridiculously romantic. I want there to be some heart with the blood and war, I want characters I can root for despite the horrifying odds facing them. I want protagonists that step out of the past to drag me back with them. When I read, these are the books I choose. When I write, these are the books I aspire to create—Romantic Historical Fiction, if you will.

Anna's book list on gritty historical fiction with a pinch of love

Anna Belfrage Why did Anna love this book?

It is always fascinating when a novel has you discovering periods and countries you know little about. Ms. Flynn’s novel throws this reader straight into the complexities of post-war British Malaysia. Yes, the British are still in control, but the old world order is being challenged. While the rubber plantations remain owned by white planters, the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians want their share and communist insurgents spread violence and fear. In the midst of all this upheaval stands Jasmine, on the cusp of womanhood. Over a period of several months, she will experience everything from first love to betrayal. She emerges somewhat wiser, somewhat bruised. But that, after all, is what growing up entails, isn’t it? 

By Clare Flynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Painter in Penang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sixteen-year-old Jasmine Barrington hates everything about living in Kenya and longs to return to the island of Penang in British colonial Malaya where she was born. Expulsion from her Nairobi convent school offers a welcome escape – the chance to stay with her parents’ friends, Mary and Reggie Hyde-Underwood on their Penang rubber estate.

But this is 1948 and communist insurgents are embarking on a reign of terror in what becomes the Malayan Emergency. Jasmine unearths a shocking secret as her own life is put in danger. Throughout the turmoil, her one constant is her passion for painting.

From the…


Book cover of The Wisdom Of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

Uma Krishnaswami Author Of Out of the Way! Out of the Way!

From my list on picture books about trees.

Who am I?

I was born and grew up in India. As a child, I once planted a mango seed and watched it sprout and grow into a sapling. We moved away after that but I always wondered what might have become of that little tree. I remembered that long-ago experience when I was writing my picture book, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! in which a boy, a tree, and a road all grow together. The tree is central to that book, so I picked five picture book titles that also center trees. 

Uma's book list on picture books about trees

Uma Krishnaswami Why did Uma love this book?

Here’s a book to sample and savor again and again!

I loved the combination of poetry bolstered with clear, well-sourced nonfiction text on every single spread. This tribute song to forests is based on groundbreaking work about how trees create communities and sustain the places where they grow.

While placing trees in the context of the “wood wide web,” this book transports us to a glorious range of places. Beeches in Germany, an elm tree in Central Park, tualang saplings in Malaysia, kapoks in Brazil, silver birch in China, diverse forests in Colorado—all of it brings us closer to the wisdom of trees in the places we each call home.  

By Lita Judge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wisdom Of Trees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

With lush illustrations, poems, and accessible scientific information, The Wisdom of Trees by Lita Judge is a fascinating exploration of the hidden communities trees create to strengthen themselves and others.

We clean the air and seed the clouds, we drench the thirsty land with rain. We are like wizards.

The story of a tree is a story of community, communication, and cooperation. Although trees may seem like silent, independent organisms, they form a network buzzing with life: they talk, share food, raise their young, and offer protection. Trees thrive on diversity, learn from their ancestors, and give back to their…


Book cover of The Weight of Our Sky

Gigi Griffis Author Of The Wicked Unseen

From my list on history for those who find history intimidating.

Who am I?

I came to my passion for history later in life—when I realized I could trade in the endless date memorization I remembered from history class for an exploration of fierce lady pirates like Shek Yeung and unwilling empresses like Sisi of Austria. Historical stories that felt like thrillers, adventures, or mystery novels. Comedies. Tragedies. And most of all: books that didn’t require a history PhD to get swept up in the story. These are the books that made me fall in love with history, and they’re the kind of books I now write. I’m the author of three historical novels, all written first and foremost to sweep you away into a damn good story.

Gigi's book list on history for those who find history intimidating

Gigi Griffis Why did Gigi love this book?

This book reads more like a thriller with heart than a historical novel, which makes it the perfect historical fiction for those just dipping a toe into the genre. 

Set in 1969 in Malaysia, during the historic race riots, the story follows a Beatles-obsessed teenage girl with OCD as she struggles to survive and get back to her family. I devoured this story over a couple of nail-biting days – and I bet you will too.

By Hanna Alkaf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Weight of Our Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A music loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother's death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent…


Book cover of Lonely Planet's Global Distillery Tour 1

André Darlington Author Of Booze Cruise: A Tour of the World's Essential Mixed Drinks

From my list on cocktail books for armchair travelers.

Who am I?

I have been researching and writing about cocktails for over two decades. My first book, The New Cocktail Hour, appeared in 2016 and I have since written seven more books pairing mixed drinks with topics such as classic movies, vinyl music, the DC Comics universe, Westerns, and travel. Cocktails are truly global concoctions, invented by using tea from the Far East, sugar from the Caribbean, liquor from Europe, and citrus from the tropics. The best books about mixed drinks transport us to a worldly state of mind wherever we are. 

André's book list on cocktail books for armchair travelers

André Darlington Why did André love this book?

Capturing the excitement of our drinking age, Lonely Planet’s Global Distillery Tour stops in over 30 countries and provides a tantalizing glimpse at what is happening around the world. With photographs of both product and place, the book offers not just information on distilleries but itineraries to start planning those visits. Vast in scope while feeling manageable, the book makes a great introduction to the spirits world -- plus, has readers itching to experience it all for themselves. 

By Lonely Planet Food,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lonely Planet's Global Distillery Tour 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Explore the exciting world of spirits with Lonely Planet. Featuring the best distilleries and bars in over 30 countries, we'll tell you where to go and what to taste - from gin, bourbon and whisky to vodka, cachaca, tequila and more. Includes unmissable regional drinks from South Africa, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, France, Italy, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Within each of the 33 countries in Lonely Planet's Global Distillery Tour, we've organised the distilleries alphabetically by region. Each distillery has a suggested must-try drink or tasting experience and also recommended local sights so you can explore…


Book cover of Evening Is the Whole Day

Maya Bernadett Author Of Stories My Grandmother Told Me: A multicultural journey from Harlem to Tohono O'dham

From my list on on the power of family to shape us.

Who am I?

Family is one of the few truly universal experiences that all human beings have, because we all come from somewhere. Every human on Earth is raised by someone, so it’s something we can all relate to, for good or for ill. Universal experiences like family allow us as human beings to relate to others, and that common ground is what provides joy and meaning in life. I appreciate that I don’t have to have a master’s degree or PhD in family studies or family therapy to glean insights into how our families shape us. My own observations and analytical writer’s mind made me realize the importance of storytelling in keeping families together, especially across generations.

Maya's book list on on the power of family to shape us

Maya Bernadett Why did Maya love this book?

And you thought your family was crazy! Set in Malaysia, this fascinating story combines family drama with class issues, ethnic tensions, the effects of colonial rule, and even ghosts. I love how writer Preeta Samarasan evokes a mysterious, almost magical feel to the setting and characters, as the reader gets acquainted with the wealthy, yet deeply dysfunctional family at the center of the story. No matter how bitter, enraging, or disappointing these characters feel towards each other, they are still bonded together, and the story ends on a hopeful note. This family can redeem itself-even if it takes moving to another country to do it.

By Preeta Samarasan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Evening Is the Whole Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spellbinding, exuberant first novel, set in Malaysia, that introduces us to a prosperous Indian immigrant family, as it slowly peels away its closely guarded secrets.

When the family's servant girl, Chellam, is dismissed from the big house for unnamed crimes, it is only the latest in a series of losses that have shaken six-year-old Aasha's life. Her grandmother has passed away under mysterious circumstances and her older sister has disappeared for a new life abroad, with no plans to return. Her parents, meanwhile, seem to be hiding something away - from themselves, and from one another.

As the novel…


Book cover of The Girl and the Ghost

Sinéad O'Hart Author Of The Starspun Web

From my list on middle grade to sweep you into another world.

Who am I?

All my books (I hope!) sweep the reader into another world – it’s one of my favourite themes in the books I love to read, as well as write. When I was about seven, I first read some of the books which would shape my life, including Elidor by Alan Garner and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle, which brought me right out of my own life and into worlds as varied as the frightening interstellar realm of Camazotz and the battlefields of Elidor. I’ve been trying to capture that sense of ‘being swept away’ in my own work ever since.

Sinéad's book list on middle grade to sweep you into another world

Sinéad O'Hart Why did Sinéad love this book?

Alkaf’s book is, in her own words, ‘unapologetically Malaysian’. It also sweeps us into a mysterious, spooky, thrilling world, where a pelesit, a type of ghost bound to a person – in this case, a girl named Suraya – shows her that having your own familiar spirit might not always be fun. Pink (the name Suraya gives to her pelesit) risks pulling Suraya and itself into the darkness; can they save themselves, and one another? 

By Hanna Alkaf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Girl and the Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

* Chosen as a 2020 Kirkus Prize Finalist for Young Readers' Literature! *

A Malaysian folk tale comes to life in this emotionally layered, chilling middle grade debut, perfect for fans of The Book of Boy and The Jumbies.

I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother's legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn't know that pelesits have a dark side-and when Pink's shadows threaten to consume them…


Book cover of Though I Get Home

Dale Stromberg Author Of Melancholic Parables: Being for the Antiselving Reader

From my list on little stories that link to tell big stories.

Who am I?

When I drafted the pieces which eventually comprised Melancholic Parables, I had no plan. Only upon arranging them into a collection did I discover that, surprisingly, they shared emotional moods and thematic elements. In other words, I had stumbled into a linked collection. Writing a single big story is no small feat, as is writing small stories which each intrigue and delight in their own right—but to create and arrange multiple small stories so that they aggregate into a big story, one greater than the sum of its parts (in ways sometimes counterintuitive, sometimes virtuosic) is a special storytelling skill which I think these five authors’ work exemplifies.

Dale's book list on little stories that link to tell big stories

Dale Stromberg Why did Dale love this book?

I haven’t read a better book in a long time than YZ Chin’s collection of linked stories.

At the centre of a panoply of characters and ways of thinking, we find Isabella Sin, a woman who might be taken as a personification of Malaysia, a troubled young nation searching for an identity as it struggles against its own history.

Not unlike what is required of her country, what is ultimately required of Isabella is to “become who she was.” YZ Chin’s voice offers the sort of nuance and depth that I feel characterises the best in literary fiction.

By YZ Chin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Though I Get Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A welcome read in American contemporary literature. Though I Get Home is an intimate and complex look into Malaysian culture and politics, and a reminder of the importance of art in the struggle for social justice.” ―Ana Castillo, author of So Far from God and prize judge

In these stories, characters navigate fate via deft sleights of hand: A grandfather gambles on the monsoon rains; a consort finds herself a new assignment; a religious man struggles to keep his demons at bay. Central to the book is Isabella Sin, a small-town girl―and frustrated writer―transformed into a prisoner of conscience in…