Nazi Goreng: Young Malay Fanatic Skinheads: Marco Ferrarese (Monsoon Books)
New thriller Nazi Goreng is a great read and also gives some interesting insight into the world of Asian musical subcultures writs Mike Dines.
Nazi Goreng: Young Malay Fanatic Skinheads is the first novel from the travel writer, musician and freelance journalist Marco Ferrarese. Set around two protagonists – the rather naïve Asrul and his racist counterpart Malik – Nazi Goreng tells the story of two individuals who decide to away from the Malaysian provinces to the big city of Pulau Pinang with an intention to cause racial violence in the name of Kuasa Melayu (Malay Power). Instead of racial hatred however, the two get entangled in the seedy world of Malaysia’s drug wars, meeting an array of dangerous and colourful individuals: from gun toting Nigerians and corrupt policemen, to Iranian drug smugglers and an enigmatic Chinese drug mule. Furthermore, it is here that their identity as Malay skinheads become blurred, and the ethos of Kuasa Melayu is drawn into question as the colour of skin and cultural background are often forgotten for the sake of keeping alive.
The book has a tight structure, personable characters and a real ease of prose – yet, what is most apparent about Ferrarese’s writing is his ability to draw the reader into the world inhabited by his characters. The author’s obvious familiarity with Malaysian culture spills over into his prose, with plotlines being set in the shadow of the Komtar Tower (one of the tallest buildings in the country), built around Syabu (a slang term for methamphetamine in Malaysia) and the incorporation of folklore, as with Ferrarese’s positing of Orang Bunyan (a Malaysian mythical figure) in the text. Furthermore, as we move from place to place in the book, from Pulau Pinang to Kuala Lumpur for example, each new environment is dealt with in a self assured manner, as the text almost becomes a trusty travel guide, allowing us to experience these fantastic faraway places alongside the narrative.
Accompanying this geographical backdrop, Ferrarese begins to reveal the intricacies of his characters. Asrul – the obviously weaker of the two – becomes more assertive and confident, gaining more foreground status than Malik. Another layer is explored further, and we see Asrul’s Islamic Faith deepen, providing a further backdrop. As the plot thickens and accelerates Kuasa Melayu begins to retreat into the shadows as the two men become further entangled with organised crime, with Ferrarese handling this quickened pace well, creating interesting additions to plotlines and building tension towards the latter half of his book. The narrative at this point becomes more complex, as storylines becomes intertwined, and it is indeed this part of the book that I found difficult to put down.
Perhaps my only gripe about the book lies in its lack of discussion around the skinhead and punk culture. It does seem at times as if the skinhead culture is placed to one side, with only a few mentions of gigs, bands and music. Instead, I would have liked to see these two characters within a wider subcultural context. There are a number of times in the book where it stresses the importance of music and subculture; most notably, perhaps in chapter two, which begins “punk rock had been the cure to all his sins”. Yet we are not shown much of this world at all. In its place, we have the odd remark here and there about the shaven heads, the boots, etc, but with little substance. I am not saying that this created an imbalance within the book (because it doesn’t) but, on a personal level, I did want to read more about the skinhead/punk culture in these faraway places.
That said, Nazi Goreng, is a book that admirably combines the distinguishing qualities of travel writing, subcultural insight and thriller genre. If Ferrarese has written in a lucid style, then his subject matter is also handled well, as the book balances the many diverse strands of Malaysian culture, including Islamic Faith, subcultural movements (such as punk and skinhead culture) and the many racial tensions that exist within a crammed cityscape.
All words by Mike Dines. This is Mike’s first piece for Louder Than War.