Review: Cry of the Flying Rhino – Ivy Ngeow

Cry of the Flying Rhino
Cry of the Flying Rhino is set in 1996 Malaysia and Borneo, told from multiple viewpoints and in multiple voices. Malaysian Chinese family doctor Benjie Lee has had a careless one night stand with his new employee – mysterious, teenage Talisa, the adopted daughter of a wealthy, crass Scottish plantation owner, Ian, in the provincial Malaysian town of Segamat. Talisa’s arms are covered in elaborate tattoos, symbolic of great personal achievements among the Iban tribe in her native Borneo. Talisa has fallen pregnant and Ian forces Benjie to marry her. Benjie, who relished his previous life as a carefree, cosmopolitan bachelor, struggles to adapt to life as a husband and father. Meanwhile, Minos – an Iban who has languished ten years in a Borneo prison for a murder he didn’t commit – is released into English missionary Bernard’s care. One day, Minos and his sidekick and fellow ex-convict Watan appear in Segamat, forcing Benjie to confront his wife’s true identity and ultimately his own fears. Are the tattoos the key to her secrets?

I was given an ARC of Cry of the Flying Rhino by the author. I was very interested in reading this book, as it combined Scottish characters (which is where I was living until a few weeks ago) with Malaysian characters (which is one of the countries that I’m from).

It’s ownvoices for Malaysian representation.

A very difficult book for me to judge. I was not a fan of many of the characters. I just could not deal with Benjie. He was awfully annoying and I thought that he was terribly entitled and disrespectful. I was so not happy with this character. The missionary’s sister was so annoying. Like, she definitely seemed to think that Malaysians were uncivilised and did not know anything about the modern world, nor did they need modern amenities. The comment about how rice comes from a department store, and how her brother corrected her, was very gratifying.

However, I thought that the story was an interesting study of how circumstances influence how people live their lives and make decisions. I thought it was interesting to read about how the missionary character felt in Malaysia, and to find out how his perceptions of how the Indigenous people felt about Christianity compared to those of the Indigenous people.

I enjoyed seeing how the scenes influences each other and how small things ended up playing large roles later on in the book. This book is an elaborate and beautiful puzzle.

While the book was strenuous to read at times, because I never felt that connected with any of the characters, I still wanted to know how it continued. The story had captured me. I just wanted to understand how everyone was connected to each other and what would happen. I was not that happy with the ending, but I know that it is a more realistic ending than what I had in mind.

There was some ableist language.

Cry of the Flying Rhino is an intriguing and complex book, that deals with everyday people’s lives and how their problems can affect each other and themselves. If you’re looking for an interesting read, it’s definitely worth it.

Trigger warnings: murder.

4 stars

Have you read Cry of the Flying Rhino?


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