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Malaysian writer of ‘The Accidental Malay’ wins 2022 South-east Asian book prize


Malaysian Karina Robles Bahrin emerged the winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2022. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/ Epigram Books
Malaysian Karina Robles Bahrin emerged the winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2022. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/ Epigram Books

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — Malaysian Karina Robles Bahrin emerged the winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2022, besting three other finalists from Singapore for the RM77,777.50 (SG$25,000) in prize money.

In its seventh iteration, the 52-year-old’s manuscript — titled The Accidental Malay — beat Nisha Mehraj, 36; Ng Ziqin, 19; and Tan Lip Hong, 57, for first place. 

Speaking after the announcement of her win at a virtual ceremony live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube, Karina said that the win was an unexpected one, as it was her first attempt at writing a novel. 

“I’d like to firstly congratulate all the other shortlisted finalists. I think their books sound fantastic and I’m really looking forward to reading them. And to Epigram, a big thank you to them for continuing to push on and still have this award available to South-east Asian writers despite challenges of the current times. 

“Last but not least of course, thank you to the judges for selecting my story,” said Karina, who also runs a hotel, restaurant, farm and community storytelling initiative on the island of Langkawi.       

Karina is the second Malaysian to win the regional award after Joshua Kam in 2020, with his novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

The Accidental Malay tells the story of Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who is dead set on becoming the next chief executive of a bak kua company owned by the wealthy Leong clan. But one day, she discovers that she is actually Malay.

The panel of judges consisted of big names in the publishing industry, including Amir Muhammad, publisher of Buku Fixi in Malaysia; T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute in Singapore; Association of Women for Action and Research president Margaret Thomas; Nanyang Technological University professor Shirley Chew; and Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee. 

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All four shortlisted novels will be published in the second half of this year.

The prize, which is a cash advance against future royalties, was started in 2015 for Singapore writers and opened to writers from other Asean countries in 2018.

The Epigram Books Fiction Prize was established in 2015 as an initiative to promote contemporary Singapore creative writing and reward excellence in Singapore literature. 

Since 2020, the prize has been open to writers from South-east Asia.



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