The Age of Smiling Secrets

By Aneeta Sundararaj

Shortlisted for 2 categories (Reader’s Choice Award and the main (English) Award) in the Anugerah Buku 2020 organised by Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia.

“No woman should ever have to lose her child. And not in the heart-breaking way that Kamini lost hers.”

Malaysia is in a unique position where both the laws of Syariah and the Civil Law are practised concurrently. This has given rise to a conflict in jurisdiction in certain cases. For instance, where a non-Muslim couple is married under the provisions of the Civil Law, confusion arises when one party converts to Islam and converts their children as well. A custody battle often ensues where the Syariah Court can grant custody of the children to their newly converted Muslim parent while the High Court of Malaya can grant custody to the non-Muslim parent. THE AGE OF SMILING SECRETS is a work of fiction that is based on this legal position.

[***The Legend of Nagakanna (an edited version of Chapter 9 in this novel) was first published in an anthology called We Mark Your Memory: Writings from the Descendants of Indenture, School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with Commonwealth Writers, 2018]


A riveting tale of tragic destinies that dares to expose the flaws in our concurrent Civil-Syariah Laws. Lives unravel in a worst-case scenario when loopholes in the law, exacerbated by corruption and unscrupulous characters, combine to destroy the very fabric of lives of simple and honest folks.

Datuk Ramli Ibrahim

This saga of much breadth and density is vibrantly poignant with richness of character. As the drama unfolds, one cannot help but notice the subtle launching of the realities of contemporary issues in political Malaysia, albeit beautifully couched in theatrical fashion. A must-read for all those looking for good Asian fiction, but nevertheless grounded in tangible life events.

Professor Bala Shanmugam

‘In [The Age of Smiling Secrets], Karuppan gives voice to the sheer contempt for his station in life which epitomises the utter lack of self-worth that many Tamils will identify with. … Personally, I feel works such as these need to be recognised by people in academia as well as by the general public. As such, from the point of view of literature, there are already many published works that speak of the challenges that the author of the article speaks of. They are rich in information, emotion and, in most cases, unspoken trauma and pain.’

Dr. Swagata Sinha Roy; Paperback Book Club

In the Media:
On Her Own Terms by S. Indra Sathiabalan: The Sun (18 November 2018)
Following Her Dreams by Rynnaas Azlan: Malaysian Business (February 2019)
More on Indentured Labour by Dr. Swagata S. Roy: The Star (5 July 2020)
Reading List: Some Malaysian Authors to Delve Into by Aaron Pereira (27 August 2020)


[Note: Where necessary, affiliate links apply.]


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2 thoughts on “The Age of Smiling Secrets

  1. Hi Aneeta, well what do I say? On reading TASS I had mixed reactions/responses.The beginning seemed promising but it was a crawl, so I was like….should I continue? Quite a number of characters and honestly, pretty confusing. However, i do not ever leave a book unread so I kind of plodded on. Once it came to what happened to Kamini, I was like…s**t….I am getting emotional and actually crying!!!Could not put it down. Thank you for writing such a story….I am still asking why though. Why does s**t happen

    1. Hi Aanya,

      Thank you for taking the time to send me this response. I am so happy to read what you’ve sent. You see, I tried very hard to portray what happens in modern Malaysia. Enter any house and you’ll find that there are at least five people living there at any one time. My aunt has 10, and each person has a story. I don’t know of anyone who lives with just one or two people. And, Malaysia being Malaysia, the animals are all around – rats, birds, chameleons, cats, iguanas, snakes and dogs. So, yes, I can appreciate that this novel is confusing in the beginning. Especially if you’re used to more ‘sedate’ stories.

      And yes, life is often quite dull and we ‘plod’ along.
      Then, something monumental like what happens with Kamini rocks the whole world and, it’s only then that the drama takes place.

      Crying? How lovely to know this. Thank you! It means that my words could move you and that’s the best compliment I could receive.

      You’ve made my day, Aanya. Thank you.

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