This book is a delightful collection of short stories, teeming with fascinating characters, unexpected twists and turns, cultural rituals, beliefs and superstitions and poignant events in the life stories of the Peranakans. Lee Su Kim’s stories bring you into another world that many know little about - the world of the Peranakan Babas and Nyonyas or the Straits Chinese, a colourful, flamboyant and unique community still in existence today in the former Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and many parts of SE Asia. Like her previous books, her stories are laced with humour and occasional gentle satire. All the stories are inspired by real life events which Su Kim collected from her nyonya mother, grandmother, bibiks and nyonyas. This is a first ever collection of short stories of a unique cultural community at the crossroads as to its very survival, presently enjoying a tremendous resurgence. Her stories will touch you and move you to laughter and to tears.
If there were such a word as ‘Nyonyaness’, this feminine book would epitomise that quality. These bitter-sweet stories have the diaphanous delicacy of an embroidered, lace-trimmed Swiss voile kebaya blouse, the dark richesse of the buah keluak — that Peranakan rival to the French truffle — combined with the piquant zest of a freshly pounded sambal belacan. Ilsa Sharp, Off the Edge, July 2011
Innovations of plot and characterisation aside, Lee cleverly uses the book in a highly creative manner. In between her stories, she inserts pantun and popular ditties, which help to evoke the atmosphere of a bygone era. Through family photographs, she opens up another dimension by telling her own story. The photographs of her parents and her childhood are particularly touching. Of course, a review of Kebaya Tales that does not take into account Lee’s exciting collection of the seductive, translucent and embroidered top held together with beautifully-crafted golden clasps would be remiss indeed. For Peranakan aficionados, the collection, complete with informative captions, is an added bonus. Neil Khor, StarMag, The Star, 16th January 2011
Like the generations of babas and nyonyas who traverse these stories, this book is a succulent mixture of colours, kebayas, kerosang and conversations, of scents, spicy food and feisty families. Lee Su Kim brings her sharp eye, her love of stories, and her keen sense of the verbal and visual to this delightful book which gives us a chance to savour the richness and diversity of Peranakan lives. Professor Alastair Pennycook, University Technology Sydney, Australia
Laced with gentle humour and candour, the stories cannot fail to draw the reader in ... Crafted around events and memories scandalous, momentous, heart-rending and even supernatural, the stories sparkle delightfully ... Lee also deftly captures moments that reflect our changing cultural mores, even down to delicate matters of the bedroom... The Peranakan, Singapore, 2011