Cultivating hard topics

23 Apr 2014 / 19:53 H.

AUTHOR Shaz Johar tackles the theme of cults in his latest novel, Sanctuaria (published under Fixi).
The 2011 winner of the Selangor Young Talent Award for best Malay novel, who made his debut on the local literary scene with Kougar, is no stranger to controversial subject matters.
Kougar explored not only the romance between a much older woman and a younger man but also touched on the subject of religion, sex, passion and friendship.
His current book is a story of the once idealistic Yang Ariff who builds his version of a utopian community in an isolated commune called Sanctuaria, where everyone is treated equally.
Over time, Sanctuaria grows to become a 200-member commune and then, the story takes a dark turn when Yang Ariff becomes consumed by power and his utopia turns into a cult.
“His intentions started out as noble,” said the 36-year-old Shaz, whose real name is Mohd Aswan Md Johar.
“But as his commune grew bigger,Yang Ariff becomes power crazy and wants everyone in Sanctuaria to obey him at all cost, threatening to kill anyone who dares to leave.”
Shaz, from Kuala Lumpur, was inspired by the biopic on Jim Jones, an American religious leader who founded a new religious movement called The People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ.
On Nov 18, 1978, Jones allegedly ordered more than 900 cult members, including over 300 children, to commit suicide by ingesting a cyanide-laced drink, in what is now commonly called “Jonestown” in Guyana. Jones shot himself.
Sanctuaria is Shaz’s fifth novel. He is currently working on his sixth, which also tackles a controversial theme.
“I am exploring the subject of paedophilia,” said Shaz, who was rather tight-lipped over the outcome of the story, except to say that it’s a story about a woman who forges a friendship with a young boy who is being sexually molested by his adoptive father.
The woman herself is an ex-convict who was imprisoned for killing her abusive husband.
Shaz started writing at the age of 16. He would show his short stories to his friends for feedback.

He said: “I always love reading fiction more than non-fiction. In fiction, writers tell the truth in a more colourful way.”
He has since quit his job in customer service at a bank to focus on writing.
His other works of fiction include Tabu, a story of a plus-sized Malay woman falling in love with an African man, and Mental – about a maid who works for an eccentric family, as well as a compilation of 22 short stories entitled Cerpen by Shaz Johar.
Shaz is unfazed by the criticisms of those who find his books too raunchy.
“There is nothing wrong in writing about sex because sex is part of life,” he said.
Sanctuaria will be officially on sale at the Pesta Buku Antrabangsa Kuala Lumpur at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), which starts from tomorrow till May 4.
Shaz will be on hand for several book signings and talks on the book during that period.
For details on that, visit the Sanctuaria Facebook page.

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