Book review – No Country for Righteous Men

First you need to get past the title: “No Country for Righteous Men and Other Essays in a Culture of Offendedness” – a mouthful, ugh. 

But obviously there are some allusions to the Coen Brothers' titular blockbuster, “No Country for Old Men”.

Then you have to get past the book cover, and the gushing prose, or foreword. After that you find a thought-provoking book.

S. Thayaparan’s body of work, 383 pages of socio-political commentary, is a compilation of posts written at Malaysiakini over a two-year period, sectioned into themes.

“A snapshot of the political landscape as I see it,” he says, with the purpose of enabling right-thinking Malaysians to “start the hard journey of questioning those who claim to want to lead us”.

Well, to a certain degree, Thayaparan does achieve what he sets out to do with the book. The definition of the “culture of offendedness” is a well-thought gambit, setting the tone for what is inside.

Thumb through the book and the usual topics on race and religion are offered, with comments criticising both the ruling coalition and the opposition – comments that earned him a following of sorts. 

Kudos to the author for highlighting that “in the end a dominant ‘Malay’ community will decide the destiny of this country.”

S. Thayaparan has included interviews with some colourful figures of Malaysia's political scene. – January 8, 2014.S. Thayaparan has included interviews with some colourful figures of Malaysia's political scene. – January 8, 2014.Also thumbs up for conducting interviews with Malaysian politics’ more colourful characters like Hindraf’s P. Uthayakumar, Socialist Party of Malaysia’s Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, and rights activist Haris Ibrahim.

Speaking of Hindraf, Thayaparan’s 75-page rhetoric, “The Indian Game”, is also worth a read as it argues the relevance of Hindraf in winning the Indian vote.

The book, however, falls short on a few points. For starters, it is introduced at a time when many of Thayaparan’s views are in need of an upgrade. After all, one can only revel in the past musings of a man to a certain degree.

Midway, there is also the notion that what Thayaparan’s saying – his observations about Malaysian politics, Umno’s grip on society, and the opposition’s political narrative – is nothing new. 

Alternative media ushered in a certain awakening, so his views resonate with many Malaysians. And while he makes an effort to be different, Thayaparan still falls into the same old framework of political discourse, working out solutions using present systems, such as the evil of Umno, the failings of Pakatan and the PAS dilemma of finding the middle ground.

Malaysians need something fresh. 

Then there is the fact that some of his analyses gets a tad personal. His entire section on the Bersih rally oozes emotions, and reads like a travelogue. And why bother hitting out at a fellow commenter’s work? Why dedicate space to an insignificant other, when you could actually put that effort to contributing an analytical piece as opposed to one that’s rife with emotions? Baffling.

But the nagging issue about the book overall is its readability. Pockmarked within these pages are typos (for instance, in pages 178, 199 and 327). There is also the issue of copyediting where lengthy prose are not separated by the simple comma or period, making following Thayaparan’s arguments challenging.

In the end, the core value of Thayaparan’s “No Country for Righteous Men and Other Essays in a Culture of Offendedness” is not saying something new, but it is saying forcefully what has been said – that Malaysia needs a different political discourse if it truly wants to be a multicultural country.

But the work is certainly good reference; best for tenderfoots wanting some context into the dizzying political scene.

“No Country for Righteous Men and Other Essays in a Culture of Offendedness”  by S. Thayaparan is priced at RM40 and published by Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. – January 8, 2014.


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