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Karina Robles Bahrin escaped from the busy Kuala Lumpur to the serene island of Langkawi in 2011, dreaming she would be able to finally work on that novel she's always wanted to write.

Lo and behold, life got manic with the setting up of La Pari-Pari and Fat Cupid; a wonderful hotel and restaurant in Langkawi. Years went on by till we cut to the pandemic, she found herself with absolutely nothing to do.

“We had no guests at the hotel and we were eating whatever stock we had from the restaurant's fridge so it would not spoil. It was then that I found that I had run out of excuses not to write the novel. I told myself, if I cannot do it now, then I’ll never be able to do it,” Karina mentioned.

Armed with an online course on novel writing to ensure she was on the right path, she started weaving together characters and storylines along with fragments of texts she had written down more than a decade ago.

Her manuscript, The Accidental Malay, came in tops at a virtual ceremony live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube. The Epigram Books Fiction Prize was won by a Malaysian for the second time on Saturday (Jan 22). "This is really unexpected because it’s my first attempt at a novel," said Robles Bahrin, 52.

The Accidental Malay follows Jasmine Leong, a workaholic who wants to be the next chief executive of a bak kwa company owned by the wealthy Leong clan. The discovery that she is Malay on her mother’s side upends her career ambitions and sense of identity.

Karina, who spent some 20 years in corporate communications before moving to Langkawi to open the hotel, says that while the book is not autobiographical, she did draw on her own experience growing up mixed-race in Malaysia. She is Malay on her father’s side, while her mother is from the Philippines and converted from Catholicism to Islam to marry her father.

Karina will be discussing her book at temuhouse this coming 4th Sept 22. The moderator will be none other than Amir Muhammad, a Malaysian writer & independent filmmaker. Make sure you register your spot today.


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