While the literary world frets about the novel's future in the internet age, author Preeta Samarasan says the Web is only feeding fiction with fresh stories. Her first novel, Evening is the Whole Day, is winning rave reviews in the US and Britain, making Samarasan, 32, the new name on a growing list of accomplished cosmopolitan Malaysian novelists. She has spent most of her adult life in the US and France, and has yet to meet Tash Aw, Tan Twan Eng or Rani Manicka, the leaders of this Southeast Asian literary set. But they keep in touch and help each other cultivate their hip little movement. 'The artistic scene in Kuala Lumpur is small enough that we all know lots of people in common,' says Samarasan from her home near Le Mage, central France. 'I feel that I do have a connection with them.' Samarasan, like her compatriots, writes fiction that makes a Malaysian guidebook just about superfluous. Evening is the Whole Day bounces between generations, taking on a complex nation's history and the more convoluted action within the wealthy Rajasekharan family. Samarasan includes everything from recipes to the tension among Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures as she covers the foibles of a country taking shape after the departure of the British colonialists. 'There is a lot happening in Malaysian literature,' Samarasan says. 'I'm hesitant to draw a cause-and-effect relationship, but it's happening at the same time as the development of the internet. 'The internet has engendered a freedom of thought and a freedom of speech that people were afraid to indulge in before. 'Malaysia has been coming up. It's perched on the brink.' Reviewers liken her writing to that of Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Samarasan says she has just as much in common with Charles Dickens' 'maximumalist style' and Peter Carey. 'Carey has a great way of talking about this. He says his project is telling Australia's story. These stories have not been told by people who grew up in the country. They've been told by outsiders,' she says. 'There are aspects of Malaysian history that haven't been told at all, especially by natives. The question of racial politics in the country and how big an impact it has had is still very little addressed. That's my obsession at the moment. I would like to explore what race has meant to Malaysia and to do it from the perspective of Malaysian Indians, because that's what I know best. 'If I'm fighting for anything it's that we should be thinking more about what it means to have a national identity. In Malaysia it is still vexed. There isn't really one identity. The Indians and Chinese and Malays are all quite separate. I'm just trying to expose the reality. 'To a great extent racial harmony in Malaysia is a myth. Race defines everything,' she says. Samarasan has spent more than half her life living outside Malaysia but returns for up to two months each year. She left in 1992 to study science before shocking her family by moving into literature and history. Starting a PhD in musicology was almost as scandalous as the day in 2004 when she dropped her dissertation on French gypsy music to work on a novel as part of a master's of fine arts at the University of Michigan. When the Evening manuscript was finished in 2006 it was quickly sold to western publishers. 'I can't say for sure that writing a novel about Malaysia worked in my favour, but I think it helped that the market hadn't been saturated.' While Samarasan seems to wrestle with the sense of herself as Malaysian, she makes no apology for writing about her home from abroad. 'There's something to the idea that leaving allows you to see the country more clearly. It crystallises a lot of your feelings and concerns about the country, and a lot of your perceptions. 'Maybe it's a certain kind of person who leaves and does not come back for a long time who also tends to become a writer. Maybe we're the people who felt a little bit outside of things to begin with, we felt we didn't fit in, we felt ourselves to be on the edge of things, looking in. Those are the people who end up leaving physically as well and then writing about it.' With an academic career almost assured and her literary success looming, Samarasan's parents were approaching calm until she announced that she and her husband, a software engineer, were heading to France to work in a friend's B&B. 'Eventually they gave up on me and today they're used to the idea that I'm the drifter of the family. Now that the book has come out and it's been fairly well received they're very proud. But they still think I should get a teaching job.'