Second Malaysian winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize

SINGAPORE – The Epigram Books Fiction Prize was won by a Malaysian for the second time on Saturday January 22.

Karina Robles Bahrin will receive $25,000 from the seventh edition of the prize, Singapore’s only prize for unpublished novels in English.

His manuscript, The Accidental Malay, came out on top in a virtual ceremony streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.

“It’s really unexpected because it’s my first attempt at a novel,” said Robles Bahrin, 53, who runs a hotel, restaurant, farm and community storytelling initiative on the island of Langkawi.

She is the second Malaysian to win the prize, after Joshua Kam in 2020 for her novel How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

The Accidental Malay follows Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who wants to be the next CEO of a bak kwa company owned by the wealthy Leong clan, but discovers she is actually Malay.

Shirley Chew, a professor at Nanyang Technological University, who was on the jury, praised Robles Bahrin’s novel as “an intelligent, well-crafted and meaningful work”.

“The novel’s narrative flow and structure are constructed with a strong sense of drama. This is skillfully aided by witty flashes of prose,” she said.

The other judges were author Amir Muhammad, publisher of Buku Fixi in Malaysia; T. Sasitharan, co-founder and director of the Intercultural Theater Institute in Singapore; Margaret Thomas, president of the Women’s Association for Action and Research; and Edmund Wee, publisher of Epigram Books.

The other finalists, who are all Singaporeans – student Ng Ziqin, 20; private tutor Nisha Mehraj, 37; and general practitioner Tan Lip Hong, 58 – will each receive $5,000.

The four shortlisted novels will be published in the second half of this year.

The prize, which is a cash advance on future royalties, was launched in 2015 for writers from Singapore and opened to writers from other ASEAN countries in 2018.

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