The Road Home by Kassim Ahmad
Time Out says
Rating: 2/5, RM45
An autobiography of course is more than just the accounting, in chronological order, of key events in the writer’s life. There’s a central spine – an idea, a concept, a thesis – that not only holds up these judiciously sifted events but also positions them in such ways to give shape to the life that’s being described. And as suggested by the book’s subtitle – ‘From Socialism to Islam’ – that life has taken a journey from the religious to the profane and back to a celebratory sacred.
It is obvious that Kassim Ahmad’s journey isn’t a straight one. Notwithstanding the chronological ordering of events, marked by the ascending chapter numbers, this spiritual sojourn is meandering, circuitous, and filled with unintended twists and turns. But regardless, this autobiography outlines a man who from young was interested in his faith. At 19, he bought his first English-language Koran so that he can outgrow ‘the tradition to intone the Quran without understanding a single word of it’. But over the years – Colonial Malaya, the Japanese Occupation, an engaging secular education – took his focus elsewhere.
By the time he’s in the university, although still an adherent of the faith and a committed member of the Muslim Students’ Association, his ‘sympathies had shifted to the socialist ideology, which seemed to me more practical than the Islam outlined by this revivalist movement.’ But with 20/20 hindsight, some 30 years later, he sees this fling with socialism, thus: ‘You could say that to embrace socialism was like following a fashion trend among European intellectuals after the First World War.’ The failure of socialism and more precisely communism on the world’s political stage precipitated his ‘homecoming’.
There is much to glean from this autobiography, but frustration stands in the way Discipline be missing in the writing. The cardinal rules for good prose is that the writer must work hard so that the reader’s task is almost effortless. Kassim Ahmad might do well to find a better editor so that he could have the critical distance to write for the reader rather than just for himself. SH Lim