|For Pahang,Terengganu, Johor, Sabah,Sarawak and Labuan|
Here's the blurb:
In The Curse, Azreen takes time off from her studies in London, UK to return to her village in one of the legendary islands of Langkawi, to mourn the loss of her older sister, Madhuri. But as it turns out, she has to confront the mystery that shrouds her sister's sudden death in suspicious circumstances.
Was it her imagination that Madhuri was in danger? Azreen felt a chill. The words that she had overheard the day before came back to her. Puan Normala had been talking to a few women and did not realize that Azreen was just in the next room and could hear every word.
"You won't believe me, but I'm telling the truth. I saw her," hissed Normala. "It was no accident. It was murder. Listen to me and keep this in mind. This is just the beginning." A few women chuckled nervously. But Normala continued. "Laugh if you like. You'll soon see. We're all cursed."
(Credit: Alan wong , STAR Publications)
CERPEN is a word I haven’t heard of since I left school. It perfectly sums up Lee Su-Ann’s The Curse, the second prizewinner in the English Novel Category of the Utusan Group’s Young Adult Literature Competition of 2005. It has since been published and ready to enthral sceptics of local literature.
The Curse showcases village girl Azreen, who takes a sabbatical from her studies overseas and returns to her hometown in her sleepy village in an island south of Langkawi. Her homecoming is greeted by the tragic death of her sister Mahduri, the fair blossom of the unnamed village. The incident leaves her parents traumatised, especially her mother, whose senility becomes more pronounced.
In the aftermath of her sister’s end, possibly due to foul play, a strange pall hangs over the village. There’s the token ghostly figure in white. Making things worse with allusions of a curse is Puan Normala the village gossip, who is guaranteed to get under your skin.
Sinking into that familiar fugue that follows the loss of a loved one, Azreen revisits memories of her youth, good and bad. She finds no comfort from her sullen father or delirious mother. Thankfully, at no point does our heroine go into Nancy Drew mode. Throughout the novel we are informed via flashbacks that our heroine is no typical village girl, even in her younger days: tomboyish, headstrong and not above talking back to her elders. Which might explain her estrangement from her parents.
Main distractions come in the form of Mohd Asraf, the hot-headed village hunk, whom Azreen had a crush on in her younger days. There’s also the mysterious outcast, an old lady whom Azreen befriends. Spicing things further is Mahduri’s recent marriage to the village headman, the jealous fits of the headman’s first wife, and some livestock that shared the victim’s fate.
Was Mahduri murdered? Is there really a vengeful spirit stalking the village? Will Azreen get the guy? Who, or what killed the animals? Will it ever stop raining? Are Mahduri’s parents Bollywood fans? And why won’t that irritating Puan Normala just shut up? I bet you’d like to know.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. It is almost pocket-sized, and borrows a lot from existing works. Mahsuri legend? Check. Vengeful spirits? Check. Rip-off of Stephenie Meyer’s cover to New Moon, complete with bloodied white flower? Check. Script from a typical Drama Minggu Ini? Check. Compensation for all that comes in the believable portrayal of the rural Malay village and its inhabitants.
The level of suspense is quite credible, but the execution is hardly subtle. Hints pointing to something sinister in Mahduri’s demise start falling like ripe durians about halfway through the story. Thankfully, they will all miss their mark, and we are thus spared from a predictable ending.
Lack of originality aside, there aren’t a lot of issues with The Curse. Its small size is actually an advantage. It probably kept the author focused on telling the story without any added fluff – all the elements of one good story in one miniscule package. I’m still amazed at how the author pulled it off.
The Curse is further proof that the local literary scene is neither dead nor moribund. This edition is a nice comfortable read for everybody – especially those with short attention span – as opposed to that 700-odd page international award-winning bestseller.
Plus, it’s actually readable.
Here's another review:
“The Curse” is about a girl, named Azreen, her parents and sister, Madhuri. Azreen, a strong-headed girl is studying in London but has to take a leave from her study when she receives the news about her sister’s death. She is curious about the cause of her sister’s sudden death. When she reaches home, her sister’s body has been brought to the cemetery. She overhears a village gossiper, Puan Normala talks about her sister’s death. Normala claims that her sister has been murdered and has shed white blood.
On her return, Azreen discovers a few truths about her family and people around her. First she finds out that her sister has been in love with Asraf, and has planned to marry and divorced her husband, Hj Ghani. Second, Awang, the Shaman has actually caused the accident which his parents are involved in and causes her mother to become paralysed. Third, she learns that Madhuri is actually her adopted sister and the crazy woman is Madhuri’s biological mother. Fourth and finally, she discovers that Madhuri has accidentally been killed by her father.
There is one old woman whom Azreen has turned to for emotional support. The old woman lives alone in an abandoned house in the jungle. Azreen learns a lot about life from this wise old woman. The old woman however dies in a fire started by Asraf who has blamed her for his grandmother’s death.
At the end, Azreen returns to London to finish her study. She has learned a valuable lesson from her short break at her little village in Langkawi Island. She has learned to forgive others and to look ahead.
Although the novel is a far cry from the texts dealt with before (e.g. The Pearl), it has all the elements of a good novel: exciting plot, believable and interesting characters, familiar themes and plenty of wholesome moral lessons to learn. For one thing, it is lighter and more accessible to L2 learners. In my opinion, what's most important is for a text to have a good story. Does this have a good story? Yes if we are talking about For 5 students. It should provide plenty of opportunities for teachers to exploit the text in interesting ways that will help students comprehend the text. It may not be written by the likes of John Steinbeck or Keris Mas and it may not portray the same depth and richness as 'The Pearl' for instance, but it has a good story suitable for seventeen-year-olds (although I wish it had none of the likeness to Mahsuri!)
I much prefer stories to be fresh and unpredictable without the slightest connection to a known tale (however vague that connection may be). However, I am aware that the plot is different from that of Mahsuri. I can already picture how some events can be turned into a simple play that will enhance understanding of the novel. Obviously, there are many possible text exploration activities that can be done with a good story. Explore! Discover!
Happy reading :)