In “The Curse” by Lee Su Ann, Azreen takes time off from her studies in London, UK, to return to her village in one of the legendary islands of Langkawi. She returns to mourn the loss of her older sister, Madhuri. However she finds out via rumours and loud whispers that Madhuri was murdered.
At her village Azreen has to contend with a cold-hearted father and support an Alzheimer stricken mother. Azreen is subjected to negative comments and suspicion from her neighbours. She finds consolation in the company of the Old Lady, an outcast of the village. Although the grand Old Lady is educated and knowledgeable, the villagers shun her because she had murdered her abusive husband.
Azreen has to confront the mystery that shrouds her sister’s sudden death under suspicious circumstances. Her old classmate, Mohd. Asraf, refuses to reveal what he knows. A mysterious figure keeps on watching Azreen and strange things happen. Madhuri’s room is partially destroyed in a fire. A carcass of a chicken with a broken neck is thrown in front of her house. Many villagers fall sick for no apparent reason. The Old Lady is killed in a fire accidentally caused by an angry Mohd. Asraf.
Bit by bit, the mysterious death of Madhuri is revealed to Azreen.
Azreen hurriedly leaves her studies in England to return home after receiving news that her sister had died. Her coursemate, Julian Ng, tries to offer his sympathy and condolence but she was not in the mood to talk about the matter.
On the plane home, Azreen experiences flashbacks of her early days with Madhuri and how Madhuri was well-liked by people. Madhuri was beautiful and soft-spoken compared to Azreen, who was an obstinate child.
Back home, on an island south of Langkawi Island, Pn. Kamsiah was talking with her daughter Siti about their neighbour, Normala, who is spreading rumours that Madhuri was murdered and she spilt white blood. Datin Sharifah and her husband were ready to fetch their adopted daughter from the airport. They were trying their best not to talk about Madhuri’s death.
Mourners gather at Azreen’s house to pay their last respects to Madhuri before burial. The women folk gossip among themselves that Madhuri was murdered and she had put a curse on everyone on the island. Azreen arrives late to pay her last respects to her late sister. Azreen brings her sickly mother to the burial ground to bid farewell to Madhuri. She meets Mohd. Asraf and flashbacks of her schooling years fills the scene.
Azreen meets Asraf. She enquires about Madhuri’s death but is only given vague details of the incident. Normala, the rumour monger, spreads rumours about what had happened to Madhuri. Awang, the bomoh, makes an appearance as he dreams that a disaster is about to hit the village soon. Awang recalls the incident when he stole a chicken at Encik Mohan’s farm causing a bull to escape. Asraf was blamed for the fiasco but Azreen bravely took the blame on his behalf. Back to the present, Azreen looks for the Old Lady in the jungle to catch up on old times. The Old Lady discloses that Madhuri was murdered.
The Old Lady relates to Azreen that she saw Madhuri’s lifeless body and the wound on her. She suggests that Madhuri’s murder was covered up as investigation into her death would reveal more secrets. Puan Fatihah, the village headman’s wife recalls how her life changed forever when her husband, Haji Ghani, became attracted to Madhuri.
Azreen recaps how Madhuri tried to defend her from her father’s wrath for stealing mangosteen and the good times she spent with Madhuri. In a flashback, Azreen admitted her folly for letting the bull go in order to save Asraf from Encik Mohan and his son’s wrath. The escaped bull knocked into the motorcycle that her parents were on and caused her mother to be paralysed. The Old Lady reveals her past life with her abusive husband who drove her to kill him in self-defence. She made herself a home in a deserted house in the jungle.
Asraf is concerned about his grandmother’s deteriorating health. At the same time, Hj. Ghani, mourns at Madhuri’s tombstone. While deep in thoughts, he almost saw someone, a woman in a flowing white dress, strolling past the trees. At home, Azreen’s father reprimanded her for not latching up the chicken coop. A chicken carcass, with its neck broken, lies on the bottom step of the coop. The next morning, Azreen reads Julian’s letter about the examination week in college. Then, she reads Madhuri’s letter of her marriage and relationship with Kak Fatihah (Haji Ghani’s first wife). The letter also hints that Madhuri has a secret to be revealed to Azreen when she returns home for her holidays.
Azreen’s mother dies. Meanwhile, Mohd. Asraf continues to worry over his sickly grandmother. Mohd Asraf goes to the market to look for medicinal plants for his grandmother but fails to find any. In desperation, he goes to the Old Lady’s house for help. The Old Lady hesitates at first but after much persuasion from Azreen and Mohd. Asraf, she finally agrees to go over to Mohd Asraf’s house to help his grandmother.
Siti keeps an eye on Mohd. Asraf’s grandmother (Nek) while he goes out to get her medicine. Pn. Kamsiah and Normala are curious at the Old Lady’s presence at Mohd. Asraf’s house. The Old Lady tries to cure Nek. Azreen is puzzled to discover a university prospectus that reveals Mohd. Asraf’s intention to pursue his studies in Kuala Lumpur. When Azreen returns home, she sees the bomoh scampering behind the bushes. As she confronts the bomoh, he informs her about the mob incident at Mohd. Asraf’s house. She immediately runs to Asraf’s house. Normala blames Azreen for bringing the Old Lady to Mohd. Asraf’s house and causing heavy downpour to hit the village. An argument starts and Azreen’s father intervenes to stop the commotion. Meanwhile, Nek is beginning to recover and Mohd. Asraf is extremely relieved. They thank the Old Lady for bravely coming over to cure Nek and the rain finally stops.
Azreen awakes to a flurry of knocks on her door. She finds out that Nek has passed away and Mohd Asraf is heading towards Nek’s house with a few men for revenge. Azreen tries to stop him and in a struggle, stabs him at the foot with a spade. The torch that he was holding fell onto the wall of the house and soon the house was on fire. Azreen finds Nek, barely alive lying beside the stove and she advises Azreen to learn to forgive before it is too late. Azreen’s father saves her before the whole house crumbles. Mohd Asraf confesses to Azreen that he loves Madhuri and they were planning to abscond from the island when he was offered a teaching course in Kuala Lumpur. Madhuri wanted to confess to her husband, parents and Azreeb about her affair with Mohd. Asraf. However, Madhuri was found dead at a rubber plantation. Azreen then meets Awang, the bomoh, who tells her that Madhuri was not her real sister. Awang also confesses that he was the one who left the gate open that led to the motorcycle accident that paralysed her mother. Awang also confirms that he had seen Madhuri and Mohd Asraf together several times in the rubber estate. The chapter ends with Haji Ghani, the headman thinking about his young wife meeting her lover on that fateful day when she was killed.
Azreen delves on the bomoh’s words that Madhuri was not her real sister. She encounters a shadow of a woman from behind the wooden fence again that directs her to a woodpile a few feet away behind her house. Azreen and her father walk towards the woodpile and see a “parang” that Saleh used to chop wood. There is white and sticky stain at the edge of the parang. Azreen immediately recalls Normala’s words “She had white blood” and she stares at her father in disbelief. Saleh recalls how fond was he with Madhuri and how he found her as a baby at the paddy field. He stumbles upon Madhuri and Mohd Asraf together at the rubber plantation. In his fury, he kills Madhuri and her body knocks over the latex-filled container. Upon hearing this revelation, Azreen runs away from her father. Saleh suffers a heart attack and dies. Meanwhile in the village, a rumour spreads like a wildfire that a woman who looks suspiciously like his dead daughter had been wandering about at the time of his death.
Azreen visits her family’s graves. She leaves a flower on each grave and leaves quietly. She leaves a flower at the hillside where the Old Lady was buried, too. As Azreen leaves, she sees a smiling figure which resembles Madhuri’s smiles.
Main character of the novel. Studies in England. Happy to be away from her village. Did not have good relationship with her parents especially her father due to her defiant behaviour and tomboyish outlook. An outspoken and independent girl. Envious of her adopted sister, Madhuri. A helpful friend especially when she claimed responsibility for letting the bull run loose in order to save Mohd. Asraf’s skin. Caring for her sick mother and Old Lady. Intelligent as she managed to further her studies in the United Kingdom.
A beautiful and polite lady. A submissive wife and daughter. Religious and good at reciting Quranic verses. Conservative compared to her sister, Azreen. Protective of her sister when they were young. A polite and caring daughter. Concerned about her sick mother.
A dedicated and popular teacher in a local school on the island. Independent since young. Good friends with Azreen while they were in school together. A caring grandson who is concerned about his grandmother’s well-being. Loves Madhuri and wanted to take her with him to Kuala Lumpur.
An educated woman as she has knowledge of herbal medicine to treat illnesses. Her house is always neat and situated by the hillside. She is a caring and concerned woman as she takes Azreen in and gives her food and shelter whenever she has fights and problems. She is also a resourceful person and she is a good cook and her recipes and secret ingredients are very much sought after.
Madhuri and Azreen’s father. Active and strong for his age. A stern father to Azreen since when she was young. Not on good terms with Azreen since the motorcycle accident which paralysed Azreen’s mother. A manipulative father who let Madhuri become Haji Ghani’s second wife in order to protect his interests. An egoistic person who could not accept Madhuri’s love affair with Mohd. Asraf and in the end killed Madhuri in a fit of anger at the rubber plantation.
The village headman who fell for Madhuri and took her as his second wife. Neglects his first wife, Fathihah in the process. An influential man on the island. Hides the cause of his wife’s death in order to protect his reputation. Knows of Madhuri’s affair with Mohd. Asraf. A religious man.
An obedient daughter of Pn. Kamsiah. She helps Mohd. Asraf to look after his grandmother while he looks for the medicinal plants. She is also a responsible girl as she warns Azreen about the mob that is lead by Mohd. Asraf to the Old Lady’s house. She is gullible as she likes to ponder over the gossips and rumours told by Normala, the village gossip.
The rumour monger of the village and her topic of interest is on Madhuri and how she died. She is sneaky and malicious when she coaxed Mohd. Asraf to confront the Old Lady, accusing her as the reason why his grandmother’s health deteriorates and she finally dies. She is also superstitious when she blamed the Old Lady’s visit to Mohd. Asraf’s house as the reason for the continuous rain.
Datin Sharifah and Datuk Zulkifli
Azreen’s rich foster parents whom she stayed with for two months foster programme. Datuk and Datin helped her financially in her studies in the UK. Even though she only stayed with them for a short period of time, she still maintains a good relationship with them. Even though they are foster parents, they treat Azreen as their own child. Azreen calls her Mak Cik which signifies their close relationship.
The Bomoh is the person whom the villagers seek for traditional cure. It is through the Bomoh that the mysterious happenings that took place in the village are uncovered. The truth behind the death of Madhuri and the status of Azreen are also finally revealed by him.
She is Haji Ghani’s first wife and appears to adore Madhuri. However, she secretly hold grudges against her husband’s your wife. She feels that her husband favours the young wife more than herself. She tries her best to win her husband’s heart after the death of Madhuri
On the whole, the setting initially revolves around London and moves on to a village on a small island off Langkawi and the house of Datin Sharifah and her husband in Langkawi
LONDON – Azreen furthers her studies in London
A VILLAGE ON A SMALL ISLAND OFF LANGKAWI – Some of the places mentioned in the story.
Azreen’s house - Azreen lives with his father, mother and Madhuri.
Madhuri’s room - Azreen finds Madhuri’s photos are all torn in three parts. The room is also burnt down.
Nek’s house – Mohd Mohd. Asraf lives with his grandmother.
The rubber plantation - The scene where Madhuri’s body is found.
The farm - Awang leaves the gate open and Mohd. Asraf gets the blame when the bull escapes.
The forest - The Old Lady runs to the forest and settles in an abandoned wooden house after the villagers outcast her.
The school - The school where Azreen studied during her secondary years. This is also where she
gets acquainted with Mohd. Asraf.
Paddy field - Salleh Abdullah finds Madhuri as a baby in the makeshift bed of rags and leaves.
The cemetery - Madhuri and her mother are laid to rest here.
These are some of the themes found in the novel:
| The message of love is reiterated throughout the story.
• Both Saleh Abdullah and his wife love Madhuri dearly like their own biological child.
• Azreen’s inner conflict to garner her father’s love and affection. She always perceives the father as having greater love towards her sister, Madhuri.
• Mohd. Asraf and Madhuri secretly loves each other that eventually led to Madhuri’s death.
• Azreen had a crush on Mohd. Asraf during school days.
| Before the Old Lady draws her last breath, she advises Azreen to forgive others. When Azreen discovers that it was her father who murdered Madhuri, she felt no anger or resentment towards him.
|VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN|
The story portrays how some men believe women to be the weaker sex and they are violent towards them. For instance, the Old Lady’s husband was abusive towards her and repetitively abused her. He hit and kicked her.
Through the novel, gender stereotyping is portrayed through how females should behave. This can be seen especially through Azreen. For example, Azreen’s school friends start to cast suspicious eyes towards her when she behaves unlady-like. She plays hockey with the boys and even “laughs like a bunch of hyenas” with them. To them, as a woman, Azreen is not expected to be tomboyish and hangs too closely with boys.
|BELIEF IN THE SUPERNATURAL|
The villagers seem to believe in supernatural. For example, many villagers call upon Awang, the village shaman to avert disasters. In another instance, Puan Normala tries to convince the villagers that the village is cursed since Madhuri’s blood is white.
|FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN|
The villagers are puzzled about how Madhuri died. However, no one actually investigates the incident which is covered up well by Haji Ghani and his followers. In another instance, the villagers assume that the Old Lady is an evil witch that can turn anyone into squirrels or rats. Due to this assumption, the villagers outcast the Old Lady.
Madhuri shields her sister, Azreen, from being punished by her father.
Madhuri helps Azreen to mend their mother’s favourite rattan basket which Azreen broke while collecting durians.
|STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN|
Being persistent in getting to the truth is highlighted especially through Azreen. She refuses to believe that Madhuri’s death was merely an accident. She finds clues that complete the puzzle.
Azreen repairs the trampled bed of vegetables and brings back fresh vegetables and seeds to replace the ones destroyed vegetables that belong to the Old Lady.
Azreen diligently repairs the trampled bed of lady’s fingers outside the Old Lady’s house.
When Azreen refuses to eat her dinner after being caned by her father and scolded by her mother, Madhuri consoles and coaxes her to eat.
Mohd. Asraf advises Azreen not to reveal about Madhuri’s death to her sickly mother who assumes that Madhuri is still alive.
When Encik Mohan and his sons harshly reprimand Mohd. Asraf for carelessly letting their bull escape, Azreen braves herself to come to Mohd. Asraf’s defence. She tells them not to blame Mohd. Asraf without any evidence.
Shows her loyalty to her friend Mohd. Asraf by taking the blame calmly and bravely for the accident that involves her dad and mum.
Madhuri and Azreen continue working on the rattan basket in their bedroom. Even when their parents return home, they excuse themselves quietly and forgo dinner to weave a new basket to match the original in their dimly lit room.
Mak Cik Sharifah and her husband, Azreen’s foster parents, leave behind two throw pillows from their car for Azreen to sleep on in her mother’s house. They are also thoughtful enough to leave her two bottles of water, some fruits and a bag of disposable toiletries.
Siti obliges to help Mohd. Asraf take care of his sick mother while Mohd. Asraf goes out to get some traditional medicine. Siti keeps an eye on the sick woman whom she is quite fond of.