Marina Mahathir speaks to Elena Koshy about her favourite books, and authors who leave her star-struck
NOT one to live in her father’s shadow, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir is a distinguished social and political author and activist in her own right. Her father is of course Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Marina champions and frequently speaks on issues regarding Islam, HIV/AIDS, gender and women’s rights. In 2010, Marina was awarded the Malaysian United Nations Person of the Year for her regional and international involvement in HIV/AIDs and gender empowerment.
For her work on human rights issues, she was bestowed the highest French honour, the Chevalier de Legion d’Honneur in 2016.
WHAT'S ON YOUR READING LIST?
I am trying to finish reading Paul Beatty's The Sellout which won the Man Booker Prize last year. It's very funny but the trouble is, these days, I only have time to read at bedtime and I can only read a few pages before I get sleepy. So it takes me forever to finish a book.
I was also reading Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (which adds up to a thousand and one nights by the way) but unusually for me when I'm reading Rushdie, I put it down halfway to start reading another book.
WHAT'S THE LAST GREAT BOOK YOU READ?
Funnily enough, not a novel. It's Being Mortal: Medicine And What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande, an Indian-American surgeon who writes beautifully about what should really matter at the end of our lives, which is our dignity. He tells it through the experience of the life of his father, also a surgeon, and his struggle to maintain his dignity and agency when old age and disease struck him. It's very moving and really makes you think about what makes a worthwhile life.
WHAT'S THE ONE BOOK THAT MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO FIND ON YOUR BOOKSHELF?
WHAT'S THE BEST BOOK GIFT THAT YOU'VE RECEIVED?
Twice, acquaintances and friends have given me books when they intuited I most needed them. A long time ago at a difficult point in my life, an acquaintance gave me The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck and it was really what I needed at the time.
Then last year another friend gave me Atul Gawande's book which really helped me look at my ageing parents in a very positive unfearful way.
IF YOU WERE MAROONED ON A ISLAND, WHAT WOULD BE THE FIVE BOOKS YOU WOULD TAKE WITH YOU?
1. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
3. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Lopez
4. One of Jeanette Winterson's books (can't decide which)
5. The Quran
IF YOU WERE TO ORGANISE A LITERARY PARTY AND WAS GIVEN A CHANCE TO INVITE THREE WRITERS (DEAD OR ALIVE) WHO WOULD THEY BE?
This is difficult. Arundhati Roy, because I've always wanted to meet her. Salman Rushdie, although I hear he's really not very nice. Jeanette Winterson, because she has such a facility with words. But all very pointless because I would be just so tongue-tied in the face of so much intellect and talent.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDHOOD BOOK?
All the Enid Blyton’s boarding school series and the Famous Five. So they’re books, not book.
WHAT IS THE ONE BOOK YOU'D WISH FOR EVERY MALAYSIAN TO READ?
This sounds like a shameless plug but my mum's book My Name Is Hasmah, because she is so sweet and full of wisdom. And what may surprise many people is her wicked self-deprecating humour. It just makes you smile while reading it. And don't we all need to smile?