book review: anthem by hlovate



Yes, i finished reading my first Bahasa Melayu novel that isn't in the high school syllabus. And yes, i am admitting that i enjoyed it. I won't be writing this review in BM though because you would totally laugh at every half sentence i try to write. I did get a good grade for BM in SPM but i still sound ridiculously awkward writing or speaking in the language, so for the sake of a decent review i shall write it in English.

This book was given to me by my senior in my usrah group. I'm not sure if she gave it to me because she thought i might be able to relate to the character a lot or if she wanted me to give BM novels a try or if she wanted me to extract the lessons learnt in the book or maybe because of all three reasons. A lot of people have also recommended Hlovate's books to me but i never seriously considered reading her/his books because it's a bit hard for me to easily understand BM writing directly. Like, it takes longer to digest. But i gave it a try anyway, and it wasn't so bad.

Okay so Anthem is a story about Nur Dania Dashrin, who prefers to be called Dash.  Her family is the type that has lived in a variety of countries; from Belgium to Romania, Austria, France, the States and India. She was already used to being a third culture kid, shaped by all but the Malaysian culture which showed in the was she dresses, the food she loves to eat, the way she talks, her taste in music and her mentality. Her parents thought that it was finally time for Dash to be exposed to the culture of the country she originated from.

The story starts off when Dash is about to enter a boarding school in Malaysia for Form 4. Since she has never schooled in the country before, she isn't yet exposed to the slang, culture and trends. She tries to fit in with the people at her new school, but finds it tough when she gets judged and talked about behind her back. She was the only girl in her grade who did not wear a headscarf, which seemed to get many negative judgment from the people around her. Dash was perfectly comfortable with who she was, and doesn't immediately change herself just to satisfy other people's expectations. She goes through a hellish experience during practice sessions for co-curricular activities because of how strict and unsympathetic her senior, Lee "Hitler" was.

The story continues when Dash finishes high school and continues her studies taking IB and progressing into engineering. She goes through a series of events and changes, discovering herself through religion and dealing with the hardship of getting acceptance from her family about her new lifestyle. She finds herself in many dilemmas in deciding to do what she wants to be right, and what really is.

**

I liked this book for three main reasons, the first being that Dash's past was very relatable to my own as i have lived overseas and have had experience in being exposed to a different culture before. Admittedly, my own experiences aren't as intense and isn't as much as Dash's, but i could really understand her curiosity about many things. Next, i liked the book because the present was set in a setting with a culture i am able to relate to; the Malaysian student life. Not only was it nice to read a story that's been told in an environment that i'm familiar with, but the things Dash gets exposed to and the people she meets are similar to the ones i have met. Lastly, i loved the references relating to Islam. In the book, there's this one book called Shahadatul Haq that gets mentioned and discussed a lot, and it's a real book that i have in my possession and have had discussions about with my usrah group. The content that the author chose to include in the book was great, and makes me want to explore the book myself later. I also love the many relevant and heart-changing sayings and quotes mentioned by different characters in the book. I included 17 page markers to mark the ones i think i'll look back at again.

Of course, the book wasn't perfect. Honestly, i struggled to get through the first few chapters. The first chapter was the hardest for me, because the introduction to the characters was quite poor in my opinion. Hlovate included too many names too early, and there were even a few names/nicknames just for one character. Other than that, i really wasn't used to the POVs/narrators switching without warning in the same chapter. Like, in English books if different characters are to narrate the story, one character would conquer their own chapter and for the next chapter you would know that a different character is now telling the story. For this book, it was confusing at first because there isn't any warning when the author changes perspective. So when i thought one character was thinking this one part, it turned out that it was another character's perspective. I don't know if that's just Hlovate's style or if all BM books are like that and that i haven't gotten used to it, but it wasn't something that impressed me. It just takes some getting used to i guess. Oh and the usage of English in the dialogues irritated me at times. Sometimes i didn't think the way Dash or her brother, Haikal said things were 'western' enough. They're supposed to not be so exposed to the Malaysian culture, so i didn't expect their Malay to be so...Malay?It was okay at some parts though.


[SPOILER PART]

I can't decide if i like Dash's character or not. She can be really annoying, especially before her changed phase. I first started being impressed with the book when i realised that she's been trying to sneakily wear hijab around her family. I liked that she doesn't straightaway jump into being all religious and stuff, and i enjoyed seeing her slowly change to improve herself. I liked how she does things according to her own pace and intuition, and not because people told her to do it. I respected that, and i loved how she tries to be non-judgmental about other people(even though she forgets sometimes but it's okay because she's a [fictional] human too). It was great that she was somewhat a bookworm, and she had a wacky-but-cool taste in music.

I think i had a mini crush on Lee for a while, and damn he was so smooth in asking her out with the roses and all. I think i giggled at that part, and the part when Dash wanted to call it quits and he thought she was proposing. That was so cute, and damn what an emotional rollercoaster when i realised that she was really serious about ending their relationship. I was a little pissed at her for approaching him so suddenly about it with not much explanation to justify her decision. Even though i got pissed at Lee for reacting so harshly towards her, i still think a lot of the after-breakup drama wouldn't have happened if she had just done it right. Ah well it's a story, and i guess this made it more interesting. The way he proposed later was SO CUTE HAHAHAHAH I LOVE IT THAT SHE CAN'T COOK BECAUSE I FEEL LESS USELESS NOW.

I love Dash's relationship with her brother, although it seems unrealistic to me because i can't relate to it at all and its rare for me to find malay siblings who are as close as they are. It made me wish for that kind of relationship with my own brother, but ah well. Haikal was an awesome character in Anthem, and i quite liked their cousin as well. Kak Trisy was also played a significant role, i really loved that one thing she said; "..dosa tu apa yang bergetar off-tune di hati". Ouch, that pierced through my heart quite hard. There were a lot of parts that did that, and i guess i really appreciated how indirect it was because it lets the reader reflect and ponder themselves.

The book was quite cliche but it was a good, enjoyable kind of cliche. I'm just super glad it ain't one of those forced-arranged-marriage-then-they-fall-in-love kinda stories. Admittedly, it did seem too good to be true that Dash and Lee ALWAYS seemed to bump into each other ALL THE FREAKING TIME but yeah it's a story so whatever.

[END OF SPOILER SECTION]

Overall, i finished the book with a smile on my face. It was an unexpected read, and a really enjoyable one. I'm sure many people would also enjoy it, but just don't have high expectations just because i said it's good. I would rate it 4.8 out of 5. Awh mann, this book could be so, SO amazing if a great English writer could translate it. There is a chance that it won't have the same effect because Bahasa Melayu does admittedly have its own specialty, but there's also the chance that it'll be more relatable for readers like me, who can 'feel' it more when it's written in English.  I might read Hlovate's other books now :)

6 comments:

  1. OMG! Thank you for writing this!!!

    I really, really wanted to read the book, but I haven't really got the chance to buy it yet :(

    I've read three of Hlovate's books (Tunas, Aa + Bb & 5 Tahun 5 Bulan) and the plot-line were almost the same (studying @ UK to be a doctor, having an engineer husband etc) but this one sounds totally different. I hope I get to get my hands on this book someday :)

    Oh, and about the POV thing you wrote, it's just Hlovate's style of writing :) I had to read Aa + Bb twice to get the whole POV thing sorted out. But the book was good, so it wasn't really a bother :P

    Again, domo arigato for writing this :)

    May Allah guide you always, especially as you're going through this Malaysian student life, inshaaAllah ;)

    p/s: 5 Tahun 5 Bulan annoys me a lot because the main character could cook at the level of a Master Chef or something :/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous:

    HAHAH THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR COMMENTING! i literally laughed reading your P.S., that really does sound annoying lol.

    This was my first Hlovate book, so honestly im a bit scared if i read one of the best ones because then i wouldn't be able to enjoy the other books as much. which one of the three that youve read do u like best? ive heard good things about Tunas haha.

    And thanks for the clarification about the POV! i agree, after a while it didnt bother me much bcs the story was good. youre welcome and thank you, insyaAllah!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Tunas!! Yes, Tunas was good, considering that Hlovate started writing it when s/he was in Form 4. It sort of feel like you're reading someone's diary, and if you're a creeper like me you'd probably like it :P

    But make sure you read Tunas first before Aa + Bb, 'cause Aa + Bb is actually Tunas' sequel. I read it the other way around because I didn't know, and me being obsessive had to read Aa + Bb for the third time. Not that I'm complaining though :)

    These are just my two cents worth of thought tho :)

    - Same Anonymous

    p/s: the main character in 5 Tahun 5 Bulan could cook/bake(?) a peach cobbler. I don't even know what on earth a peach cobbler is?!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. You should read Rooftop Rants! You'll discover more about Trisy! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Assalamualaikum (: quirky nicknames and switching pov's are hlovate's distinct style. You'll get used to it once you read the rest of her novels. Her stories are pretty much cliche but i can't help falling in love with the way she conveys them. I also like the way islam is always one of the main themes in her stories. Tbh, i haven't read anthem yet because it's too thick :p My personal favorites are tunas, aa+bb, versus and rooftop rant. Have a good day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Waalaikumsalam :) ahh i must try those titles too soon, thanks for sharing your opinions! i love that she includes islam as the main concept, and the way she conveys the message is pretty effective. Like, i'm actually affected by it. You too have a wonderful day <3

      Delete

 

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