- Kow’s book, The Sum of Our Follies, alongside the French translation.
A novel about life in a small Malaysian town has been named 2018’s top foreign novel in France, and garnered many European fans thanks to translations into French and Italian.
The Sum of Our Follies, written by Malaysian author Shih-Li Kow, was awarded the title of 2018 Prix du Premier Roman Etranger in November 2018, an award given out by France’s Literary Translation Association.
The book was first published in English in 2014 and costs about RM36 (US$8.70).
Kow’s narrative charts the journeys of two people who move from the bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur to the fictional backwater town of Lubok Sayong in Perak, and their experience of small town life.
Kow told The Star that Lubok Sayong was inspired by her time at boarding school in the towns of Kulim and Kluang.
Online, many reviews in French of the novel described it as an “exotic” read.
“It is an invitation to travel to modern Malaysia,” wrote Goodreads reviewer Pauline. “The characters are incredibly endearing, and everything takes place in an atmosphere both village-ey and whimsical, where the border between reality and mysticism feels blurry sometimes.”
“An exotic and poetic postcard of a small Malaysian village,” added another reviewer, Laurent.
Kow told The Star that she was surprised that non-Malaysian readers would like the book.
“I thought I had written a book that was so local that only Malaysians would get it,” she told the Star.
Kow was previously shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for her book Ripples, beating internationally renowned authors such as Ali Smith and Kazuo Ishiguro to the list.