This is the bestselling coming-of-age novel by Michael Chiang, a semi-fictionalised autobiography and reminiscence of lost youth and boyhood.
Tok Wan Rimau, the custodian of the spiritual tiger, is searching for a female heir to inherit her powers. Tina and Ari are the relatives of Tok Wan. They are also best friends. Tok Wan’s spiritual tiger protects her family and their village from harm. Tina, who is in love with Ari, nurtures her secret dream of marrying him even though the villagers often ridicule the effeminate Ari as a sissy.
Forest fires burn in Sumatra; a smoke covers Kuala Lumpur. Grifters beat an immigrant day laborer and leave him on the streets. Rawang, a young man, finds him, carries him home, cares for him, and sleeps next to him. In a loft above lives a waitress. She sometimes provides care and attention. More violence seems a constant possibility. They find another man abandoned on the street, paralyzed. They carry him. While no one speaks to each other, sounds dominate: coughing, cooking, coupling, opening bags; music and news reports on a radio, the rattle and buzz of a restaurant. It’s dark in the city at night. We see down hallways, through doors, down alleys. Who sleeps with whom?
Dalam Botol (In a Bottle) tells the story of Rubidin, who had a sex change operation because of his lover but was later spurned by the same lover.