Mat Som Paperback – January 1, 1990
by Lat (Author), Adibah Amin (Translator)
KL in all its messy glory
By Shi-Hsia Hwa VINE VOICE on September 8, 2005
Lat is still the best Malaysian cartoonist around after all these years, and Mat Som is the best Malaysian graphic novel I’ve read. Even though the narrator is in his late twenties it has the feel of a coming-of-age novel, and also of being semi-autobiographical. Lat’s style of drawing is both very polished and at the same time loose and animated, setting it apart from the run-of-the-mill cartoonists that appear in Gila-Gila magazine and the like.
The story deals with a young man struggling to make his bones as a journalist in KL, alongside his father’s attempts to matchmake him with a woman he remembers only as a snotty five-year-old, struggles to find cash, and his growing interest in another young woman who lives nearby. The book is full of transitions between city and kampung, present and memory — the KL river opposite Masjid Jamek merging into a lotus-filled stream. Mat Som’s visit to his kampung recalls scenes from Lat’s autobiographical “Kampung Boy” and “Yesterday and Today”.
I’ve read both the original Malay and the English translation. Adibah Amin’s translation sounds good and natural. It’s rendered in more standard English for the sake of foreign readers, which is good (Manglish would be more natural but incomprehensible to non-Malaysians). One of my major complaints is that some of the smaller speech bubbles containing one or two words in the original have been overlooked and left blank in the English edition. The other is that it’s sometimes jarring to have almost all the text in print, and then have a few words (people’s names, or exclamations) in the author’s original handwriting. It would have been better if Lat could have just rewritten the dialogue and narration in Pn. Adibah’s translation.
Paperback: 187 pages
Publisher: Kampung Boy; First Edition edition (1990)