Two months ago, many content creators would wring their wrists when they learned about the death of writer Rehman Rashid. Radio hosts of BFM 89.9 were always talking about him in recent programmes and they respected him a lot. They were of the opinion that it was great loss of Malaysian writing scene.
I went to look for his old books at Gerakbudaya and only managed to find Peninsula. The other title, A Malaysian Journey, which was more famous, was said to have been out of print. I wonder if his previous publisher would like to republish for him.
Rehman Rashid’s writing was no ordinary English writing. He did not elaborate in a simple and straightforward way. Contrarily, he was always cutting into the topics from sideline while adding a lot of background knowledge into his stories.
Some details of the years of Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, Abdullah and Najib were cited in his stories while he led the readers to travel through time. And his writing left no traces of time. Given such an outstanding feature, other Malaysian writers might find it difficult to fill his big shoes.
He was not talking about politics when he was talking about politics. Instead, he was a commentator who talked volubly and was touching different topics every now and then. He slipped his viewpoints into his lines—readers who understand him would giggle when reading, while quietly agreeing to his ideas.
He did not illustrated intestines when painting, as the Cantonese saying goes. This is undoubtedly a great writing skill.
If silly politicians out there were to find fault with his writings, I would imagine him writing a piece touching topics here and there to confuse illiterate politicians who can’t master English language. From my point of view, this is the highest standard to render your challengers powerless.
Rehman Rashid’s pen was always illustrating a deep Malaysian sentiment: it was a country yearned by people, for it was a free place where people mingled with each other regardless of skin colour and religion.
His ex-wife Rosemarie was a Chinese Catholic and maintained her faith after they were married. Both of them spent a long time working in Hong Kong, and that was perhaps how they dodged the conservative trend that swept through the country in 1990s. Their relationship started when Malaysia was mired in 1987/88 constitutional crisis. They divorced in later year but the chapter about their relationship was still very touching.
Other than writing from sideline, solid wording was another feature of Rehman Rashid’s writing. His works were not those we would want to skim through. Quite the contrary indeed, I read his works when I am full of energy. Literally chewing his words, as the Chinese saying goes.
With his pen he worked in Hong Kong and Bermuda and still earned the courteous reception and high regard by fellow writers. This was a proof of his excellent English writing skills.
If you ask a translator of more than ten years of experience such as me, would it be easy to translate Rehman Rashid’s book into Chinese language? Frankly speaking, I would need to nurture the capability to master Chinese language so that I become more confident to present his writing style and charm to Chinese-language readers.
But the much-loved senior writer had passed away. The beautiful dream of translating his works might have since faded away in the wind like a wisp of smoke.
Buy Peninsula online:
作家 Rehman Rashid 兩個月前逝世的消息讓很多創作人覺得扼腕，BFM 89.9電台節目主持人最近時時提起他，言談對他甚是尊重，認為他的離去是馬來西亞文壇的損失。我跑去 Gerakbudaya 書局尋寶，結果只找到《半島》(Peninsula)，另一本比較有名的 A Malaysian Journey 聽說是絕版了，不曉得他以前的出版社會幫他出再版嗎。
Rehman Rashid 筆下並非一般的英文寫作，他的文筆不是平鋪直敘，他常常用側寫之餘又可以將很多背景知識融入其中，討論馬哈迪、安華、阿都拉、納吉這些人物的時代故事信手拈來、穿梭時空卻又不留痕跡，是他寫作的一大特色。就這一點而言，縱觀大馬英文作者當中，恐怕很難有人望其項背。
Rehman Rashid 筆下有相當深厚的馬來西亞情結：那一個人人心神嚮往的國度不分彼此，不分膚色與宗教，是一個很自由的地方。他前妻 Rosemarie 是個華裔天主教徒，與他這回教徒結婚之後依然維持自己信仰，他倆有相當長一段時間在香港工作，想必也躲開了九十年代在大馬漸漸吹起的保守風氣。那段感情萌芽時，大馬正處在1987/88年的憲政危機的泥淖當中。雖然他倆後來離婚了，本書討論感情世界的一章還是相當動人的。
除了側寫之外，Rehman Rashid 另一寫作特色則是用字紮實，他寫的不是我們隨便想速讀完畢的文章，而是趁精神飽滿時想要細細咀嚼的文字。他單憑一枝筆闖蕩天下，到了香港、百慕達 (Bermuda) 依然受到寫作人禮遇、器重，英文寫作功力深厚，可見一斑。
若你問我，翻譯做了十年，若要翻譯 Rehman Rashid 的書，其實可以駕輕就熟嗎？老實說，我必須靜靜地醞釀那股駕馭中文的能力，才有把握將他的英文寫作風格與神韻重現給中文讀者細讀。奈何受人敬愛的前輩已逝，翻譯他的作品這樁美事或許是一縷輕煙，從此消失在風中了。