The Dulang Washer: An Epic Tale of Love, Valour and Secrets by Paul Callan
Available on MPHOnline.com for RM 39.90
Fook Sin, the mine's treacherous, thieving proprietor, sees Aisha as his ultimate prize: the most desirable object he can add to his secret hoard of treasures.
Hun Yee, an ambitious young Hakka Chinese miner, shakes off the opium addiction that has insulated him against the harshness of his daily struggle and strives to win Aisha's approval by starting a mine of his own.
But for Donald Redfern, overseer and the only European in the camp, Aisha comes to represent something even more important. The human contact she offers in the language lessons she gives him, and the small gestures of compassion she shows to the isolated, homesick man, fuel his dangerous obsession.
Meanwhile, Aisha herself is harbouring a secret. When events at the mine move towards their shocking conclusion, she is forced to re-examine her life. Confronted with the love of a man prepared to turn his back on his country for her, will she finally seize her chance at happiness?
Aisha is portrayed as an ethereal beauty who works hard and never complain. With her natural beauty, she often attracts the miners' attention. However, her sole wish is to earn enough money and return home to reunite with her family. Having stayed at the mine for a few years, she is well-versed in Hakka. Apart from being beautiful and hardworking, she is also a courageous woman. She has the guts to speak up against the mine's master Fook Sin out of pity for a young girl called Mee Ling who was abducted in Hong Kong and shipped to Malaya to be sold to the whorehouse. Mee Ling, who appears to be dirty and smelly, is finally approved to become a dulang washer instead of a whore.
Hun Yee is one of the young Hakka miners who is very skilled in martial arts. The miners have great respect for him as he has won the battle against the dragon (opium addiction). Hun Yee plans to open up his own mine and leave Fook Sin's once his contract is over and he has earned enough money. He caught the eye of the new girl, Mee Ling, who described him as "handsome". However, his later discovers that someone else occupies his heart.
Despite the paltry earnings, long hours of work and unsanitary conditions, the miners keep striving until they get the pay that they deserve for their hard work and labour. Some of them has to send money back to China regularly to support their families there. However, the mine's former overseer and the teu-ka (Fook Sin) come up with devious plans to tie the miners to them as long as possible. They indulge the miners with opium and whores, and control the food prices in the mine, thus reducing the miners' wages drastically on pay day.
Aisha's secret is an important element in the novel that piqued my interest even before I read it. The secret is not revealed until story approaches its end. Let me tell you, it is a really big one. Aisha's deceased fiancé, Puteh reacted cowardly when he found out about the incident, and I do not feel good about that. When you really love someone, you accompany and console your loved one when he or she is sad and helpless, not run away!
The Islamic faith also plays a part in this novel, highlighting the controversy of interracial marriage in Malaysia. It is sad that some lovers have to break up because they cannot come to terms regarding their differences in religion. However, there are also many examples of successful interracial marriage in Malaysia.
In The Dulang Washer, Callan manages to capture the essence of Malayan history and present it at its finest. The grueling work in the mine, the seemingly forbidden love between two individuals of different race and the supportive relationship between the miners are vividly portrayed in this ultimate story of love, courage and hope.
Note: I received a copy of The Dulang Washer from Joanne of MPH Publishing Group for reviewing purposes.