Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Moment2Moment: Breathless in Kuala Lumpur, by Barbara Yen Yoke Wah

I recorded this book upon request for Malaysian Association for the Blind.  Its author, retired medical social
worker Barbara Yen Yoke Wah, is a friend of many of KL's blind folks through her long-standing affiliation with Society for the Blind of Malaysia.

I have not had the privilege of meeting Barbara; I can sense from her writing that I (and pretty much anyone at all) would be drawn instantly to her. She has had a rich and varied life, and she has much wisdom and experience to share.

I rather desperately wish that someone in the person of a skilled editor had worked with her on this book. (She self-published, either because local publishers rejected the manuscript or by choice, I don't know.)

As I read Moment2Moment, I grieved for the enormous potential that was lost for want of an inspired editor. I practically howled in frustration as I read fragmentary snippets ("chapters" are often less than a page long) which only hinted at deeper stories but stopped dead in their tracks.

A one-paragraph chapter titled "HIV/AIDS Pandemic is here!" is one case in point.
When the HIV/AIDS pandemic surfaced in the world around 1989, I responded to it as a volunteer in my NGO work. We had no training. Fortunately, I was given some literature to read by a great friend and former MSW colleague, Assoc Prof Ismail Baba who encouraged me to take on this issue. Subsequently, he took up a job as a social work lecturer in University Science Malaysia.  
I would love to know more about how a Malaysian medical social worker responded to the arrival of this strange and alarming virus. How did she first learn of it? When did she begin to see positive HIV test results, and how did patients cope? What were the cultural implications of HIV infection here in KL? What did the literature provided by her friend add to her understanding?  A good editor could have extracted the substance from her experience. As it stands, this paragraph tells us nothing meaningful.

Ms. Yen is unstinting in her thanks to former colleagues, and gratitude is always a fine thing, but too many of the chapters turn into extensions of the acknowledgements, including thanks to the doctors, nurses, clerical staff, canteen staff, cleaning staff and drivers of every organisation with which she has ever worked or volunteered.  Again, I'm sure these people will be delighted to see their names in print and to be remembered by a cherished colleague, but a 165-page thank you letter is not of interest to someone who is curious to learn about the author's experiences, which are undoubtedly illuminating but never make it onto the page.

This book had (has?) such promise.  Its author has the material for a good book within her, if she could only find a congenial and skilled editor with whom to collaborate.

1 comment:

  1. Good heavens. I don't care how much community service she has done in her life. This book would leave me gnashing my teeth in frustration.


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