Short Story Rec: “First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” by Zen Cho

“First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” by Zen Cho was first published in Fantastique Unfettered, September 2011, and is included in her collection of short fiction, Spirits Abroad.


Tell him I always save one piece of the cake for him. Just for him.

Zen Cho’s “First National Forum on the Position of Minorities in Malaysia” is a remarkable work of short fiction. It’s a story of great depth about how constraint creates choice, and how choice forces lives into a set trajectory. The thing about this story is that it’s not long, but it is a slow build.

The characters we’re first introduced to, who are effectively the point of view characters, are not the characters the story is about. The setting in which the action takes place is not really where the story is–it’s a framing device where the real story is told. So, yes, essentially the whole story takes place in one small, stuffy room where a disembodied voice tells a story to an old woman that she already knows. But the trick is that in the telling it is revealed that mountains of story, lifetimes of story, have happened off screen. And I, as the reader, felt all of it. That’s incredibly hard to pull off, but Cho manages it, and she manages it without the seams ever showing.