Even the Prime Minister’s daughter harbours dreams of being a writer. And that is why Marina Mahathir has penned a new book based on her genuine reflections of her life as Dr.M’s daughter.
The Apple and The Tree: Life As Dr Mahathir’s Daughter is a 328-page glimpse of Marina, by Marina, in hopes that readers may relate to her beyond the one-dimensional aspect of a public persona.
Read on to learn from Marina’s own words, why you should read her latest musing on her personal journey as a Malaysian activist and columnist, who happens to be the daughter of Malaysia’s two-times prime minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
How different is Dr. Mahathir as the man Malaysians know as two-times Prime Minister compared to the person he is as a father? Is this something we will discover in your latest book?
You might. To me, my Dad has always been my Dad so naturally, I see him differently because I get to see the private side of him.
Like any human being, he has his virtues and his flaws. I really didn’t want to write a hagiography of him.
But also, this book is about me and what it’s like to be his daughter, which is the most popular question I get from many people. So I hope people give me my due.
Why were you called to write this book? Has it been “in the making” for some years or something recent that triggered the impetus?
I have always loved writing and for over 30 years I was a columnist in the Star.
I’ve already had three books published which were compilations of my columns but I really wanted to write a long-form book from start to finish. So in 2018, I went off to do my Masters in Biography and Creative NonFiction in the UK to learn exactly how to do that.
After that, especially during the MCO, I tried to keep up my writing, with workshops with my former classmates, doing an online memoir-writing course, and fretting about whether I’d ever get a book deal.
Then by chance Penguin Random House SEA approached me to write a book about being Dr. M’s daughter and it just seemed as if the stars were aligned right. I already had bits and pieces of it written so it wasn’t too difficult to put together a whole manuscript and submit it after about four months.
Leading life in the eye of the public must not have been easy, yet this book appears to be allowing the public a deeper glimpse – why do you think it’s important or necessary to open up?
I think being in the public eye gives people a very one-dimensional view of a person, and often a projection of what people think you are based on quite scanty information about you depending on what they read.
I wanted to give a more rounded, and therefore more personal, sketch of me, warts and all. So I do talk about my insecurities and mistakes which I hope makes me a bit relatable.
How deep “behind the scenes” does this book explore? Will readers gain breakthrough insights into some of Dr. Mahathir’s historical decisions for Malaysia? Do share some potential examples if you can.
I think there’s so much written about my Dad’s political decisions that I didn’t feel I could add much to them, especially those which I wasn’t actually witness to.
It does go up to February 2020 so I do talk about that week when we found ourselves with a ‘new’ government, one we never voted for.
It’s from my perspective because I was actually there for some of the events, though some people may still have different interpretations.
What is the biggest misconception the public has had about you being Dr. Mahathir’s daughter?
I’ve had a lot of people who’ve met me in person remark that I’m actually nice. Which made me wonder what picture of me they had in mind, and why.
I was brought up to be natural with everyone so I really didn’t know how to be selective about who I would be nice to. (Well maybe not with rude people…)
I won’t deny that it’s been a life of some privilege and people defer to you just because of the name. But I really wanted to be known for myself, my own work. So I’m eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to lead the Malaysian AIDS Council because it really helped me grow into my own person.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about Dr. Mahathir as a person/father/prime minister?
People thought that he really enjoyed being PM because of the ‘trappings’. But the ‘trappings’ comes from the word ‘trap’ and it means that you have to fulfil so many obligations.
You have to work all the time, even on New Year’s Eve, and have to meet lots of people even though you’re not the most sociable person and that you’re constantly surrounded by security. He used to choose holiday destinations based on whether they provided the least security, which meant that Japan tended to win out.
Dad is happy to speak at meetings/forums etc but put him in a cocktail party and he clams up.
A friend of mine had to sit next to him at dinner once and messaged me for pointers on what to talk about. I said ‘ask about his grandchildren’ which shocked her because she thought she had to talk about heavy stuff with him.
I think as PM, he sometimes wished people would just give him a break.
What were the things the public got right about you and your dad?
I don’t know…. that it’s a complicated relationship? As all father-daughter relationships are, made worse by the fact that we’re both in the public eye. One thing for sure though, I’m no Ivanka Trump.
Did Dr. Mahathir ever censure you for the views you had that did not align with his? How did you deal with this?
Rarely, mostly because he’s too busy to mind what I’m writing or saying. Occasionally I think people whisper to him that I said this or that which are supposedly not good for him. I’ll hear about it from my Mum usually so I clarify and that’s it.
Cover image supplied by Marina Mahathir.