Book Review: Nazi Goreng (Young / Malay / Fanatic / Skinheads) (Monsoon Books) / Marco Ferrarese by Dorothy Cheng

Writer and musician Marco Ferrarese's debut novel "Nazi Goreng", about a young, Malay, Punk-loving skinhead […]
November 6, 2013

Writer and musician Marco Ferrarese's debut novel "Nazi Goreng", about a young, Malay, Punk-loving skinhead caught up in the dilemma of Nazism versus living a normal life, is full of violence, debauchery, philosophy, and reality, but most importantly ' it hands an important moral lesson to us on a platter. Ferrarese's unique narrative and insightful evaluation of Malaysian culture takes the novel to new heights, promising to be one of the best contemporary novels about this whirlwind of a country we might ever see.

It's not every day that Malaysians get to read about real Malaysian social issues, dramatized and put into perspective for informed discussion. Most of us reside within our little comfort cocoon of false hopes and mild social environments, the dirty reality lurking somewhere out there but never quite materializing in front of us. This is why a lot of Malaysians, especially the youth, remain sheltered from and largely uninformed of the phenomenon known as "Malay Nazism".

Marco Ferrarese, an Italian writer and musician who spent the past few years working in Asia, said the volatile and intense climate of racial tensions in Malaysia made a profound impact on him, describing it as something he had not seen before. His experiences and opinions with this brand of racism, which some might describe as uniquely Malaysian, spurred him to write a novel with a rather unorthodox hero: young Asrul from Alor Setar, Kedah, pursuing the ultimate Malay Nazi dream ' which is basically a Malaysia free from non-Malays.

"Nazi Goreng" the novel can be plainly described as a coming-of-age novel, but that would be doing it little justice, since it also happens to be a weighty and troubling analysis of the ever-present and inherent racial tensions in Malaysia. The novel also delves briefly into the world of Malaysian skinheads and punks ' a small, ostracized subculture that most urban Malaysians probably have a hard time taking seriously when in fact, a lot of the supremacist ideologies fuelling Asrul's actions stem from the skinhead culture of Neo-Nazism and racial supremacy. Being a punk musician himself, Ferrarese very delicately evaluates the erratic and inciting nature of the skinhead culture, and its relation to our young protagonist who is suffering from quite the identity crisis. To be honest, I would not have minded if the novel went on for another 50 pages, if it meant those extra pages would be spent on further explorations into the underground music scene.

Asrul is first introduced to us as just another Malay kid from the suburbs, but with a fondness for Punk and other kinds of heavy music. He goes around minding his own business for the most part and is in fact quite a casual, normal teenager, but Malaysia's rather interesting demographical situation in which thousands of foreigners flood cities annually to take up odd jobs (a large number of whom do this illegally), has left some sense of resentment imbuing inside him, spurred on by an equally misguided sense of entitlement. A traumatic run-in with Indian gangsters is the catalyst that sets that resentment exploding and festering discontent within him, and charismatic, intimidating, and forceful Malik seizes his opportunity to plant seeds of hatred into Asrul's susceptible mind.

Almost everybody in the world knows a 'Malik'. He might not be your friend, but you know of him and his ways and for the large part, try to avoid him. Strong-willed, hard-headed, convincing, intelligent, compelling, yet bubbling with violence and aggression, such 'Maliks' are powerfully captivating, and dangerous both from the outside and inside, especially once you hear what he has to say. "Nazi Goreng's" Malik is the perfect mold for this personality, à la Malaysian style. He latches his haunches easily into Asrul, who is initially meek and clueless, and there is no path for Asrul anymore except the one Malik has paved for him.

The novel then starts to take an interesting turn as Asrul and Malik leave the small town of Alor Setar for the tourist haven of Penang, and eventually, beyond. In Penang, the innocent Asrul is yet again taken into a situation he initially wants no part of, following Malik around like a puppy dog, becoming embroiled in an illegal drug business. From here, Ferrarese seizes the opportunity to expound on other gripping Malaysian issues such as the death penalty, the drug culture in Malaysia, the frustration of coming to terms with sexual tension and sexuality which are regarded as taboo topics, Asrul's devotion to Islam which is warped by his involvement with the drug business and Nazism, corruption in the police force and government, and of course, unavoidable and underlying racism everywhere you go. That being said, the most important issue Ferrarese touches on is that of foreigners and immigrants in Malaysia. He does what perhaps no other novelist has ever done: giving the reader insight into the thoughts of a foreign worker in Malaysia. They are no longer the 'unnamed untouchables'. They are memorable characters instead of plot devices. He opens up narratives with their thoughts and displays their humanity in all its subdued glory. Ferrarese exposes the mystery of the immigrant ' an enigma many Malaysians consider inconsequential and even irritating ' to show us that all they want to do is fit in and climb the social ladder ' just like us.

It is important to note that "Nazi Goreng" isn't all violence and social commentary ' young Asrul does manage to meet a charming Indonesian girl named Siti. The dilemma sprouting from his relationship with her, his duty to Nazism, and his job as a runner for a drug lord culminate in a ferocious climax, a conclusion of which is refreshingly realistic, tragic and deserved.

In the end, Asrul's first major fault was letting his instinct to survive overtake his humanity. One line in the novel perfectly captures Asrul's turn from meek philosopher to full-on Nazi: "Tonight, he had switched sides; he was on the safe end of the blade." It's easy to sympathize with Asrul once you realize his entire foray into Nazism was just to feel like he was on the safe end of the blade. But is the blade even there in the first place? Who was first to wield the blade? This is where Ferrarese's commentary on the Malaysian system of government and more obviously, law enforcement, comes into play ' shedding light on the profound effect the actions of authorities have on young minds. However, the novel doesn't try to draw any noble conclusions for us on what racism is and how we should react to it. It simply shows us the reality of the world we live it, leaving us to our own decisions on how we want to change things.

For a country with a colorful cultural climate that suffers occasionally from bouts of passiveness and ignorance, "Nazi Goreng" is great for any Malaysian to read. This novel is untraditional in every sense. From the superfluous narrative that switches effortlessly from the different points of view of each character, to taboo themes creeping their inexplicably dark powers over you, Marco Ferrarese has managed to pull readers into the dark and dangerous side of Malaysia. But despite its heavy and controversial subject matter, Ferrarese's relentless debut novel manages to put the grueling reality of disenfranchised Malay youth and the short-sightedness of their naïve racism into a sympathetic light ' giving the rest of us perspective and insight into why they did the things they did, the sympathy of it all taking us through an eye-opening journey of discovering how we all have a Malik, Asrul, corrupt law enforcer, naïve worker, and hopeful youngster in us, driven to either lie dormant or emerge by our actions and decisions.

"Nazi Goreng" is now available in digital and print copy. For more information, visit

Marco Ferrarese can be found at his website: where he blogs about his music and travels.

Ferrarese's band Weot Skam's new album, Six Pack Tsunami Attack, was also reviewed by Metal-Temple here:

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