Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Widower

Mohamed Latiff Mohamed

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

Title: The Widower
Author: Mohamed Latiff Mohamed
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Malay
Availability: The Widower - from the publisher
  • Malay title: Ziarah cinta
  • Translated by Alfian Sa'at

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful small study of grief, idealism, and convictions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Business Times . 12/6/2015 Helmi Yusof

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The widower of the title is named Pak Karman, and the novel begins with him visiting his wife's grave -- yet again. It's unclear at this point how long she has been dead, but Pak Karman has clearly had difficulty letting go, holding night-long vigils by her grave. Slowly, Mohamed reveals details about the couple and their relationship, providing more context for the depths of Pak Karman's grief.
       While Mohamed does describe her death (a traffic accident) and its immediate aftermath -- autopsy, funeral -- much of the novel is set years later. Yet time -- and events -- also remain a blur in Pak Karman's deep-seated, deep-rooted grief, as for example:

     It was now seven years since his wife had passed away, but no one else could agree on the timing. Some said that it had been forty years since his wife returned to God. Some said that it had been one hundred nights since she died. Some were of the opinion that his wife was never found after performing her Hajj pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Others believed that his wife was still alive but had locked herself up in her house, releasing her soul to roam everywhere.
       Pak Karman's devotion in fact mirrors that which his wife displayed, as he was: "sent to prison for his political activities" when they were still young newlyweds, and he spend seventeen years incarcerated. Believing in a cause, he also found himself betrayed; released from prison:
he had felt extreme loneliness. Not a single one of his friends had come to visit him. Not a single one dared to visit him. Many of his comrades had already turned traitor. Many had become important people. Many had turned their backs on their collective struggle. Some had become ministers, some had become members of parliament; how important his comrades had become.
       His wife, however, had remained devoted -- just as he, in his overwhelming grief, continues to remain devoted to her and her memory for years after her passing.
       Pak Karman is an idealist, and he found his purpose in rebellion, arguing even in prison that:
Only by rebelling will I truly feel some meaning. Only by opposing something that is untrue will I taste the world's pleasure.
       He turns repeatedly to forms of rebellion, organizing a short-lived protest over his wife's body being desecrated (she was an organ donor, and her organs were harvested for transplants) as well as years later, in a speech abroad, in which he sharply criticizes the current state of affairs in his country -- criticism that does not go over well.
       Both alienated and isolated, Pak Karman's rebellions are exercises in futility -- vividly illustrated by Mohamed's veering-into-the-fantastical descriptions of its extremes:
     Pak Karman's rebellion extended to going against man's natural instincts. In the middle of a restaurant, he ate while stuffing rice through his nostrils and drank through the holes of his ears. He listened with his knees. He urinated with his toes. Looked with his ankles.
       The Widower is explicitly and yet understatedly political: Pak Karman was a political prisoner, and while his rebellion also manifests itself in other ways it is, throughout his life, largely directed against the (unnamed) state. Deep dissatisfaction with local conditions extends also to how Pak Karman and his wife raise their daughters, as he recalls his wife begging him to send them to study abroad, to America and Germany -- "If they study here, their spirits will be stunted". His daughters eventually settle abroad, too, marrying "Caucasian men" in the US and Germany -- a different form of abandonment that, even as he supports it, also weighs on Pak Karman.
       Near the end of the novel Pak Karman dreams of the time when he and his wife were newlyweds -- except that in the dream his wife is on life support, and the doctor is advising him to pull the plug. Pak Karman not only can't bring himself to do it, he vehemently decries the idea. The situation he dreams up is, of course, a stand-in for his own continuing inability to accept his wife's death.
       Pak Karman: "understood well that reality was not a problem, but a mystery". Devout, a 'good' citizen, and passionately love with his wife, Pak Karman is an idealist whose life repeatedly shatters against reality, with politicians and fatwa-issuing clerics acting out of often self-serving expediency rather than living up to lofty ideals.
       As a writer reminded Pak Karman:
you want this world to be some kind of paradise; the world is the world, paradise is paradise
       Despite -- or arguably: with -- its focus on loss at its most personal, The Widower also effectively critiques present-day society -- specifically (without getting overtly specific ...) in Singapore, but also in countries that have modernized (and not) in similar fashion. By making it a very personal tale, about loss at its most personal and intimate, Mohamed can unobtrusively stretch his subject-matter and make it a much more far-reaching tale.
       Stylistically impressive and compact, The Widower is a striking little work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 August 2015

- Return to top of the page -


The Widower: Mohamed Latiff Mohamed:
  • Q & A at Words without Borders
Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Malay-writing Singapore author Mohamed Latiff Mohamed was born in 1950

- Return to top of the page -

© 2015 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links