On menopause and being of mixed-race: Author Karina Robles Bahrin opens up on award-winning debut novel ‘The Accidental Malay’

·3-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

PETALING JAYA, Sept 2 — Aspiring to be the CEO of a company isn’t easy on any person.

Especially when one is a woman who finds out she is actually of Malay parentage after growing up thinking she was Chinese.

The Accidental Malay, Karina Robles Bahrin’s debut novel, explores race, religion, and womanhood in a satirical tale.

“I always knew this story would be the first one I wrote.”, she told Malay Mail.

“I wanted to explore how a policy could tear down a woman’s life.”

The Accidental Malay follows Jasmine Leong, an heiress of a bak kwa company who discovers her Malay identity.

Winner of Epigram Books of Fiction Prize 2022, Bahrin was awarded RM78,000 for her manuscript and a publishing contract.

She is the second Malaysian winner after Joshua Kam’s 2020 novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

A page-turner full of twists and a dysfunctional love story, the novel has received critical praise from Tash Aw, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, and Amir Muhammad.

Robles Bahrin, confident with the story’s message, had no plans to tone down the touchy subject matter of the Malay identity as the book’s focus.

“Being Malay and Muslim impacts a lot of a person’s life, there are a lot of expectations set,” the author said.

“Writing this book was a way for me to process it all.”

Robles Bahrin, who is of Malay and Philippine parentage and was adopted by a Chinese family, grew up not really knowing where she belonged.

“I felt that people saw me as being only Malay when really that was only a part of my heritage, overlooking my Filipina and Chinese upbringing.”

After spending 20 years in corporate communications, she settled down in Langkawi to open a hotel, La Pari Pari with her sister.

The story had been swirling in her mind for 10 years, when finally, the 2020 lockdowns gave her the time to put pen to paper.

Although Jasmine Leong was not influenced by any real woman, Robles Bahrin was transparent about the emotional and physical struggles of middle-aged women.

Being 52 herself, Bahrin knew how menopause affects a woman’s hormones and thoughts.

“There is a stigma that when women reach a certain age we need to be maternal, which I think is nonsense,” Bahrin explained.

“With Jasmine, I wanted to break those misconceptions and show that women in their 40s and 50s are allowed to be rude, narcissistic, and complicated.”

“We are messy as people, no matter what age or gender we might be.”

On the potential backlash that her book may cause, she is unafraid to face it.

“I know my story will trigger certain parts of the Malaysian community, but as authors, we should be prepared for how people will react,” she added.

“Storytellers must realise that their work will impact society.”

When asked if she was working on a new book, the author was tightlipped on her new story.

“Maybe I do have the next one, it needs to figure itself out.”

The Accidental Malay hits bookstores in September 2022.