Matahari Books, RM20.00, ISBN 978-983-43596-4-5
The Malaysian Book of the Undead is, I quote the back cover, “a compendium of ghosts, spirits, and emanations” typical in Malaysian folklore. This one covers not only the spooks of the Malay and Mah-meri folks, it also covers some Chinese and Indian spooks. I also understand that there are some hand-drawn illustrations to accompany the text. Since I am always interested in the subject matter of ghosts and such, I did not hesitate to put down RM20.00 for it. Okay, I hesitated a little when I saw how slim this book actually was, but still, I bought it anyway.
Sigh, that is a mistake. This book isn’t what it is hyped up to be. There are a handful of admittedly well-drawn illustrations, but they are not labeled. Rather, they seem to be there to make the book pretty rather than to illustrate the text further. The writing itself is breezy and entertaining to read, but it is riddled with inconsistencies and vague sentences. For example, the entry on Anak Kerak has this to say:
It is either a foetus or a stillborn baby killed before it has reached its first birthday. The most powerful Anak Keraks come from corpses of the first-born offsprings of parents who are first-born themselves. Ideally, the baby should be born on a Tuesday, and killed around the age 5 to 7 months.
So which is which? Is the Anak Kerak the naughty spirit of a stillborn baby or a baby murdered before its first birthday?
But a bigger problem here is how the book offers very little value for money. A handful of entries, like that of Anak Kerak, are long enough to offer some information and anecdotal accounts of encounters with such spooks, but there are many entries that do not tell me anything. For example:
A black spirit dwelling on the moon.
That’s it. What does it do? Does it terrorize people? What does it look like, apart from being black in color? I don’t know and I am not told.
The ‘black’ ghost, believed to be derived from the Hindu Kala.
Since “hitam” is black in Malay, the above sentence is pretty obvious, don’t you think? Do I need to pay RM20.00 to be told that? And no, there is no further information provided in this book about this “Hindu Kala”.
A spirit that resides on mountains.
Since “hantu gunung” means “spirits of the mountains” in Malay, the above “definition” of Hantu Gunung is merely a translation of the name from Malay to English. What is this, people? Have I paid RM20.00 for a Malay-English dictionary?
About half the entries of this “compendium” are of the throwaway nature like the three I used above as examples. I tell you, I really feel cheated for paying RM20.00 for this slim “compendium”. The people behind this book should have expanded on the entries that have substantial information and scratch the pointless entries that offer no information of note to the reader. This book is also supposed to be looked over by two proofreaders, but given the number of vaguely worded sentences and even an occasional name change within the same paragraph (see page 56 for an example), I can only conclude that those two must have encountered some Orang Bunian while they were supposed to be doing their job.
For RM10.00, this one may be an interesting piece of fluff, but for RM20.00, this book really skirts dangerously towards con job territory. The cover art is excellent, but that’s about it with this overpriced dud.