30 September 2009

Kampung Boy

by Lat (Mohammad Nor Khalid)

Wilkins Farago. Adult Non-Fiction. Paperback rrp $23.00

Guest Reviewer - Jo Burnell

Searching for information about rubber plantations in Indonesia led me to Kampung Boy. Wilkins Farago, a Melbourne-based publisher specialises in award-winning illustrated books from around the world. Aiming to offer new cultures, perspectives and styles of illustration, they nailed it with this delightful graphic novel. From the first page I was captivated by a world never imagined.

Lat describes his childhood in a tiny Malaysian village in the 1950s. Using black and white cartoons, his world springs to detailed life. I search in vain for heat sources at the words, ‘Mum did her cooking on that table’. How do you cook on a table without burning it down? Being bathed in the kitchen was commonplace in those days too, but knowledge that the river was far away led to questions about water supply. Everywhere I turned, illustrations and prose worked together to inform, but also stimulated more questions. I had to keep turning the page in the hope my curiosity would be sated.

Lat’s way with pictures and words had me snorting with delight and heaving heart-felt sighs, sometimes on the same page. Childhood past-times, baking cakes without an oven and prepubescent circumcision without anaesthetic were among entertaining eye-openers. So much of Kampung Boy’s world is foreign to inhabitants of our technological world.

Educational, religious and family customs mingled with village life and a healthy dash of humour. Although Kampung Boy has been in print for decades, it is now available for the first time in Australia. It boggles me to think that such a graphic novel has been in existence for so long, when we Westerners seem only now to be discovering the unique potential of this format.

If you liked Peanuts or enjoy Leunig, you won’t be able to resist Kampung Boy: a graphic art treat with a non-fiction historical twist.

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