Brunei: A Young Boy with Grown-Up Problems

Brunei – yet another country with only a few books to choose from. I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by countries like Andorra, Benin and Brunei. Even though there are only a minimal amount of books translated into English, all three countries have a fairly recently published book in English. I chose K.H. Lim’s Written in Black for this reading challenge, and I have to say it took me by surprise. I actually do not even know if this is a typical example of modern Bruneian literature or not.

The book is about ten-year-old Jonathan Lee, whose grandfather, or Ah King, dies, and the family is about to organize the funeral. Jonathan’s life is not easy; his mother has left for Australia, his brother has been kicked out of their home, and his father is angry with the world. He also likes to write with a black pen, but he’s not allowed to do that at school.

Jonathan has to grow up incredible fast during the few days presented in the book. He feels like he has to reunite his family, which is quite a big responsibility for a ten-year-old boy. This book made me happy that I am a grown-up. I have to admit I constantly keep on wishing I wouldn’t be an adult with all the responsibilities, but after reading yet another book about growing up, I am quite happy it is all behind me.

Jonathan firmly believes his mother will come back, and that she is about to call home anytime. It is heartbreaking to read about Jonathan’s naive fantasies of the ‘perfect’ family being together again. He travels around Brunei, even in a coffin, to find his brother, to reunite the family. He meets a lot of different people, like shopkeepers and teenage gangs. Not everything made sense to me.

I had some issues with the book. I rarely felt like Jonathan was a ten-year-old boy. In my mind he kept on being a young man, maybe 20-years-old. It was almost impossible for me to see Jonathan as a mere boy, with the exception of reuniting his family. My other issue is that I felt like the story wasn’t moving forward, and there were parts that could have been edited out simply because they did not advance the story in any way. The ending was not to my liking either. I think I was a bit disappointed in general, because the book could pretty much have been set in the U.S., or Europe, or somewhere else as well, because it does not focus that much on Brunei. It is however not the author’s fault, rather just my expectations towards the book.  

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