Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Tan Twan Eng
By Yong Shu Hoong
To describe Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng's debut novel, The Gift of Rain (2007), as well-received would have been an understatement. The respected trade magazine, Publishers Weekly, called it a "remarkable debut saga of intrigue and akido" set in "a darkly opulent WWII-era Malaya". Penang, where Tan was born in 1972, features in the book, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The success of The Gift of Rain and the second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists (2012), affirmed his earlier decision to quit his law career in Kuala Lumpur to write full-time. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, The Garden of Evening Mists won the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. A film adaptation – jointly produced by Astro Shaw and HBO Asia, with screenplay by playwright Huzir Sulaiman – is in the works.
Tan is now based in Cape Town, South Africa, though he is currently in Singapore working at Nanyang Technological University as an NTU-NAC Writer in Residence (International) for 2016–2017. He is working on his third novel.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play, or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a short-short story in three lines that include the following three words: "cello", "longing" and "nightmare".
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. As a Malaysian writer living outside of Malaysia, you've received international acclaim for your Malaysia-inspired novels. How will Malaysia continue to haunt your future work?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?