Here on Linda’s Book Bag I frequently mention my love of travel. Today I’m thrilled that my guest Ivy Ngeow is taking me off around the world again as we stay in to chat about one of Ivy’s books.
Staying in with Ivy Ngeow
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Ivy. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought Cry of the Flying Rhino and I have chosen it because it is my debut novel and it won the 2016 International Proverse Prize.
(Oh! How exciting. Congratulations. I also understand more congratulations are in order as your new novel Heart of Glass was published earlier this week too and there is more information here.)
What can we expect from an evening in with Cry of the Flying Rhino?
Cry of the Flying Rhino is a modern novel set in the railway town of Segamat, which has already been deforested and turned into miles of plantation, and Borneo, whose jungles are under threat. It is written in multiple viewpoints and is set in the 1990s and 2000s. The Chinese GP, Benjie, has been forced to marry Talisa, a mysterious and tattooed teenager, and the adopted daughter of wealthy crass Scottish landowner Ian. Benjie has to discover for himself his wife’s true identity, when Minos and Watan, two Ibans who leave the jungle and appear in Segamat one day, looking for Talisa.
(This sounds very interesting Ivy.)
I am quite pleased that the writing has been compared to my heroes, amongst others, Orwell and Burgess:
Anyone impressed, anyone imprinted upon and inspired by Lalwani, Roy, Chatterjee, Burgess, Lowry or Orwell, will be correspondingly affected by Ngeow. – Professor Jason S. Polley, Department of English, Hong Kong Baptist University
(My goodness. That’s quite an accolade. You must be thrilled with the comparisons.)
You will also find out in the book what is a flying rhino and why does it cry.
(And I’m very intrigued to do so Ivy!)
What else have you brought along and why?
I have brought along some inciting photographs.
Cry of the Flying Rhino was written thirteen years ago after I made my one and only trip to Borneo with my mother. I was inspired by the dark, macabre and gothic nature of communal longhouse living and the tribal civilisation and culture which have been around for thousands of years.
Two things triggered some ideas. Firstly, during the trip, I saw a tattoo parlour called Headhunters. It piqued my interest in the traditional art and symbolism of Iban tattooing, performed manually with a hammer, steel pin and ink made from tree ash. Secondly, long after our trip, I dreamt of a girl in a longhouse with eyes as huge as the “hollows of the benuah tree”. Those words came to me in the dream. I wrote them down. She looked sad and haunted and there was also terror in her eyes. I did not know who she was or what the dream was about but something unpleasant and unusual had happened to her and I set about finding out about the Iban culture, which I later discovered, is based on dreams. That dreams were everything, our hopes, work, happiness and luck.
(Wow – that’s quite a stimulus for your writing.)
In exploring the two triggers above, I found out that indigenous cultures are threatened and dying, because of loss of habitat due to logging and deforestation, and due to the conversion of the Ibans to other religions. As a result, orang asli (original people) like the Ibans are forced to leave their habitat for the city because their livelihood, dependent on being able to survive in the jungles on the fat of the land, is diminishing due to the jungles being cleared. Their way of life which is so rich in folklore, superstition and traditions will soon be lost. Ultimately the rapid destruction of the jungles will impact upon the rest of the world via climate change and so on. I also found out that children tattooed children which ensured that the art would never die. If adults were one day wiped out by an epidemic or a massacre, the surviving children would all have learned and mastered all survival and artistic skills including tattooing.
(This is utterly fascinating Ivy. I’m thrilled you’ve shared these images and the information with us today.)
Ivy, thank you so much for staying in with me to introduce Cry of the Flying Rhino. I’m absolutely intrigued by what you’ve told me and I’m sure many blog readers will be too.
Cry of the Flying Rhino
Cry Of The Flying Rhino is set in 1996 Malaysia and Borneo, told from multiple viewpoints and in multiple voices.
Malaysian Chinese family doctor Benjie Lee has had a careless one night stand with his new employee – mysterious, teenage Talisa, the adopted daughter of a wealthy, crass Scottish plantation owner, Ian, in the provincial Malaysian town of Segamat. Talisa’s arms are covered in elaborate tattoos, symbolic of great personal achievements among the Iban tribe in her native Borneo. Talisa has fallen pregnant and Ian forces Benjie to marry her. Benjie, who relished his previous life as a carefree, cosmopolitan bachelor, struggles to adapt to life as a husband and father.
Meanwhile, Minos – an Iban who has languished ten years in a Borneo prison for a murder he didn’t commit – is released into English missionary Bernard’s care.
One day, Minos and his sidekick and fellow ex-convict Watan appear in Segamat, forcing Benjie to confront his wife’s true identity and ultimately his own fears. Are the tattoos the key to her secrets?
Cry Of The Flying Rhino is published by Proverse and is available for purchase here.
About Ivy Ngeow
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Press Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service. Her story Funny Mountain was published by Fixi Novo in an anthology Hungry in Ipoh.
Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999. Her debut novel, Cry of the Flying Rhino, won the 2016 International Proverse Prize.
Ivy has been a highly-accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood and won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song, ‘Celebrity’. Her second novel Heart of Glass, published by Unbound, UK, will be out from 5 June 2018.