Hari ini ulang tahun Blooger Buku Indonesia yang ketujuh. Tepat tanggal 13 April ini tujuh tahun yang lalu komunitas narablog buku tersebut didirikan yang konsep awalnya sebenarnya sangat sederhana, mengumpulkan data blog-blog yang isinya khusus mengenai buku. Seiring berjalannya waktu komunitas ini semakin berkembang, menerima semakin banyak anggota dan semakin tertata sistem keanggotaan serta kepengurusannya. Semakin beragam pula isi blog para anggota, mulai dari resensi buku, kuis berhadiah buku atau voucher buku (giveaway), artikel mengenai tema tertentu, trivia mengenai buku, sampai wawancara dengan penulis, sesama narablog buku, atau tokoh lainnya. Komunitas ini bukan semata komunitas daring yang hanya bertemu di dunia maya, tetapi juga komunitas luring yang sering bertemu (baca: kopdar) di dunia nyata.
Blogger Buku Indonesia juga bukan semata komunitas senang-senang yang tidak bermanfaat atau menghasilkan apa-apa, karena banyak anggotanya yang—lantaran begitu sering menulis di blog sendiri—akhirnya menjadi penulis di luar blog mereka. Banyak yang resensi buku karyanya dimuat di media cetak (yang cenderung sulit dimasuki), pun di media daring yang memang sering memuat resensi buku. Banyak pula yang akhirnya menjadi penulis buku, atau yang karya tulisnya masuk ke dalam antologi-antologi keluaran penerbit terkenal. Komunitas ini telah berkembang dari sekumpulan orang yang membahas karya penulis menjadi sebuah komunitas yang banyak anggotanya sendiri menjadi penulis. Berawal dari menulis, berakhir dengan menulis pula. Dan mungkin kelak akan lebih dari itu.
Akan tetapi, sebagaimana hubungan suami-istri yang sering kali mengalami kendala/surut di tahun ketujuh, Blogger Buku Indonesia pun tampaknya mengalami kendala/surut yang sama persis di tahun yang sama. Awal surutnya aktivitas komunitas ini sudah sangat terasa ketika kegiatan Secret Santa, yang biasanya diadakan setahun sekali bertepatan dengan Hari Raya Natal, dengan segala pertimbangan yang entah apa saja, mulai ditiadakan di akhir tahun 2016. Setelah itu aktivitas daring komunitas ini semakin berkurang: pengurus yang tidak pernah berganti dan semakin malas mengurus, event yang semakin jarang bahkan tidak diadakan, banyak anggota yang semakin malas membaca dan menulis resensi atau apa pun itu di blog masing-masing, bahkan ada anggota yang keluar dan/atau menghapus blog bukunya. Singkat kata, gairah komunitas ini semakin menurun, kemudian melakukan “perselingkuhan”, alias melakukan kegiatan selain membaca dan menulis di blog. Memang tidak semua anggota demikian, tetapi jelas sekali gairah BBI semakin dan semakin menurun.
Mungkin setiap hubungan, kegiatan, atau situasi apa pun itu memang ditakdirkan untuk mengalami pasang-surut, dan itu sudah lazim. Saya sendiri, harus saya akui, sudah sangat lama tidak mengisi blog buku saya dengan tulisan apa pun. Terakhir kali saya mengunggah resensi buku di bulan Oktober tahun 2017 lalu, itu berarti sudah lima bulan lamanya. Saya pun semakin jarang membaca buku, karena sibuk berselingkuh dengan menonton serial/film silat. Baiklah, saya memang sangat sibuk bekerja setengah tahun lebih belakangan ini karena banyak proyek berdatangan, dan itu bisa saja saya jadikan alasan untuk tidak membaca atau menulis resensi seperti biasa. Tetapi rasanya tidak adil jika menyalahkan pekerjaan saya karena: 1). di awal karier saya, saya bahkan jauh lebih sibuk daripada sekarang dan saya masih sempat membaca dan menulis resensi walaupun hanya satu paragraf sehari; 2). entah kenapa setiap kali ada waktu untuk beristirahat setelah bekerja 12 jam dalam sehari, saya lebih memilih untuk berselancar di internet dan menonton serial silat. Kalaupun sempat membaca, saya hanya membaca komik silat—mudah dibaca (karena lebih banyak gambar daripada tulisan) dan menghibur.
Jadi intinya, sebenarnya tidak ada alasan bagi anggota BBI, setidak-tidaknya bagi diri saya sendiri, untuk melupakan kegiatan membaca dan mengisi blog bukunya. Namun begitulah, setiap hal pasti ada pasang-surutnya. Ada yang bilang komunitas BBI sekarang sedang mati suri (sambil berdoa tidak mati beneran), ada yang bilang sedang off saja, karena toh banyak anggota lainnya yang masih rajin membaca dan menulis di blog bukunya kendati gairah komunitas sedang menurun dan tidak ada aktivitas apa-apa (selain mengobrol yang tidak-tidak di grup WhatsApp, tentunya :D).
Lantas, bagaimana nasib Blogger Buku Indonesia ke depannya? Tidak ada yang tahu, kecuali Tuhan tentu saja. Saya hanya berharap komunitas ini tidak ada akan mati, dan kelak bisa bangkit kembali: para anggotanya ramai-ramai membaca dan mengisi blog, mengadakan kuis, menuliskan laporan peluncuran buku atau wawancara, juga artikel dengan berbagai macam tema. Saya juga berharap kelak ada penyegaran dalam tubuh kepengurusan (yang, tentu saja, tidak bisa mengandalkan saya si pemalas ini), sehingga para anggota yang sudah (terlalu) lama menjadi pengurus bisa beristirahat dan ada ide-ide baru yang dibawa ke dalam komunitas. Saya berharap komunitas Blogger Buku Indonesia bisa seperti dulu lagi, syukur-syukur bisa lebih baik lagi.
Hope springs eternal, no matter what happens. Or, rather, no matter how little or even no possibility there is. The eight short—sometimes quite long—stories making a list in The Shell Collector drive home, instead, a bitter fact that it is often so pointless to have any hopes at all. Why? Because life is just the way it is and what actually happens is not what you want to happen. This is not pessimism. This is reality, in a way. The unpleasant one, though. What you should do is merely to get over it. Move on. Do something else, if you still have energy even to use your brain and think. Why does it sound so bad? Not really, if you succeed in moving on and having another hope to cling to.
Anthony Doerr’s 2002 collection will definitely shred the reader’s heart into pieces with its beautifully merciless pieces of prose. However, due to my incapability to summarize and tell all of the eight stories, I think I’ll settle for writing briefly three which could truly shake me personally. So Many Chances was the first among them. You could say it’s the most pessimistic one, especially when somewhere in the middle of the story a mother says:
“Life can turn out a million ways, Dorotea […] But the one way life will not turn out is the way you dream it. You can dream anything, but it’s never what will be. […] The only thing that can’t come true is your dream.”
It might sound so annoyingly hopeless, as if peope do not have to bother to hope at all. But the narrative gives readers the reason when Dorotea, the said mother’s daughter, is being let down by the fishboy she likes—and whom she thinks returning her immature feelings—as he’s gone without a word. She also has to feel the same disappointment when her father turns out to be working as a cleaning man in a boat as he has been before, and not the shipbuilder he has told her to be. Thus, their family’s moving to the seaside town is something pointless and obviously unnecessary.
The second to spin my head around was For A Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story. It seems to remind us of our jealousy toward others, when they appear to be a lot better than us, achieving bigger things than us, and doing something we can only dream about that we start to feel so small and useless. Rosemary is a short, rather fat girl who is absolutely nothing like her sister Griselda—tall, slim, having achieved big in volley. Her irritating envy drives her almost off the edge, not telling their mother when Griselda has gone without saying anything with the metal eater stopping by to hold an accentric show in their town. She doesn’t even say a word to their mom when Griselda sends postcards from around the world to tell them where she is and what she is doing with the metal eater. Rosemary doesn’t want their mother to know, not merely because she doesn’t want her to worry a bit about Griselda, but also because she’s angry that her sister can do as she please while she’s stuck in that town, doing nothing better than having a boring job and caring for their mother till the end of her life. Is life fair? Definitely, she thinks it’s not.
And the last one was July Fourth, a hilarious story unlike any other in the collection. It looks like it wants to tell the reader that there’s still hopes and optimism even if you’re doomed to failure in every direction you’re walking to, but not in an emotionally wrenching way. A group of British men challenge a group of Americans to fish and get the biggest fish possible in both continents. While the Brits have always been successful with their feat, the Americans do not get a single big fish, only bad luck and disappointment. But they do not give up. The deadline is the fourth of July, their own independence day, so they rush off. The determined efforts they’re making through the entire story can surely make readers both laugh at their innocent optimism and amazed by their unrelenting hard work.
Anthony Doerr has a unique style of storytelling. His sentences are not something ordinary, not only do they provoke profound emotions and melancholy, but are also capable of expressing the characters’ hidden feelings and thoughts in thorough detail. Even the plot of each story is extraordinarily structured, with complexity of a narrative full of agony and pessimism but also a voiced elaboration that urge the reader to be optimistic despite the little amount of it. All in all, this collection is about small miracles in the midst of difficulties and pain of life. And that storytelling style of Doerr’s can really represent this theme through and through. Reading it, readers will only get the feeling that life is just the way it is; sometimes there are too many troubles and unexpected things that it’s so pointless to have any hopes at all. Nevertheless, it’s also worthwhile to entertain a little bit of optimism inside our heart.
The Shell Collector might be a pretty heartbreaking bunch of stories. It dashes and raises your hopes at the same time. It’s beautiful and painful at the same time. And, either way, it’s still worth reading.
Sometimes, some things are better kept unsaid. It is not, mostly, a matter of being or not being honest; it’s a matter of taking the best measure in the worst condition. And it should not necessarily be the right one either, only the best, for as many people as possible. Narrowing it down to a triangle love affair, where keeping secrets is almost like a cliché, telling your partner that you have another lover might not be the best decision. And perhaps you should just keep it that way, because an invisible wall between two lovers is not like a physical one between two separate parts of a country, and unity is not always an option. Daniela Krien brings this heart-shattering paradox to the surface with her Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything, a grippingly emotional short novel taking place in the 1990’s Germany when the country is finally on the verge of total reunification.
Deep in an unusual village in the less modernized, socialist half that was GDR (German Democratic Republic), a young school girl named Maria is taking up temporary residence in her boyfriend Johannes’ home, a large farm of which house has a somewhat modern taste in furniture. It is in contrast to the Henner’s, a neighboring farm not so far away that has not changed since the war, whose very owner is said to live in seclusion, and a quite mysterious man himself. For a while, Maria is enjoying a quiet life in the Brendel’s farm, with a family half-heartedly accepting her and a dirty little secret about Alfred, some sort of worker there, which everyone seems to know but keep it to themselves.
Her days are never boring, though, what with Johannes showering her with passionate love (and sometimes neglectful attention) and reading and driving together to the West. She even lends a hand in the household chores and farm work. But when she meets, truly face-to-face, Thorsten Henner, everything starts to change gradually. Unwanted desire flares, secret love affair occurs, true love questioned. What’s started as pure passion slowly turns into pure affection and sudden urge to be together forever. However, unlike their country Germany which has eventually come to terms with itself, Maria’s and Henner’s different worlds do not seem to be able to find a way to unite. Maria persists, but Henner knows his place. And as Maria starts to try to break down the wall between them, everything, on the contrary, begins to crumble in ruins.
As it was already implied, Maria-Henner’s difficult relationship and East-West Germanies’ imminent reunification here is like two parallel roads running in two opposite directions. It might be unwise to elaborate more on this, but it’d be interesting to see how the writer, as someone born in East Germany herself, uses the characters as an analogy to describe one ideology vanished at the hands of another. Depicted as politically active, as Krien tells in flashback, Henner is being spied on by the Stasi through his own wife. It does seem like a “same old, same old” pattern of fiction, but that is just how it goes. This spying thing is definitely repressive, but when we look at Henner’s character closely, then there wouldn’t be much difference there. At least in the way he treats Maria sexually at first: commanding, compulsive, cruel to some extent. He is also a solitary person, so out of reach. Everyone can see him but cannot touch him—just like a socialist country living in isolation.
It is quite contrary to Maria, who, despite keeping secrets all the time, is naturally an open and easy-to-get-along-with person. She can even endure boredom in the middle of Johannes’ friends, and live among a bunch of people who impose so much silence and awkwardness on her. She is also very open to Henner’s brutal love and lovemaking, and to his enigmatic nature and all his horrible past. At some point in her childhood, she even despised the Pioneer Camp and called it a prison. She loves modernity, too. In conclusion, she and Henner are poles apart, so much like the East and the West. Be that as it may, there is a strong attraction between them, a powerful longing to unite in the middle of vast and various differences. And, also similar to East-West reunification which demands ideological sacrifice on the East’s part, Maria-Henner’s relationship also demands the same unbelievably huge one. Only the result is contradictory.
Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything is a very heartbreakingly beautiful novel. The narrative, with all its many flashbacks, feels so smooth yet is often blotchy with disturbing scenes and silently emotional monologues. It’s incredibly structured, too, letting the reader see the detailed historical aspect, the painful love affair, the subtly yet distinctly drawn characters, and ponder over the tragic ending—if not mourn for it. Jamie Bulloch’s flawless translation also helps readers much in absorbing the intense story. The book is short but it’s justifiably so. Longer and it would be disastrously dragging.
All in all, this book by Daniela Krien is a superb one. It’s nearly perfect and capable of draining away the reader’s emotion. It’s really a dense and satisfying read.
They said Zhang Jizhong is a very serious Chinese producer who would make the best effort to produce a remarkable TV series. He doesn’t only think about the financial aspect of a production, but he involves himself in everything and anything. He even joins the cast sometimes, playing one or two characters. And that’s what makes his adaptations of Jin Yong’s popular novels fantastic TV productions to enjoy. It started with Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, or they call it Laughing in the Wind in English for this particular adaptation.
Shot in 2000, and first broadcasted in March 2001 by Mainland China’s CCTV, Laughing in the Wind received a high rating and popularity, though with rather mixed reviews. It is said to have marvelous scenery and real, jaw-dropping fighting scenes no wuxia TV series ever had. However, on the other hand, it fails to stay true to the book and casts the wrong actors for some roles. Still, it is a great production, an exciting adaptation, and, for some people who loved it, it’s one of the best wuxia series ever made.
There are already many reviews of Laughing in the Wind, but I think I’m entitled to my own opinion, aren’t I? Moreover, as I watched it I couldn’t help having raging thoughts in my mind. So, let’s see how it goes.
Li Yapeng as Linghu Chong
Some people said Li Yapeng is not the right actor to play the role of Linghu Chong. He’s too serious and melancholic, while the Linghu Chong in the book is a care-free man who never gives any thought to anything. Since I haven’t read the entire novel (I’m only into the first few pages now), I don’t think I have the right to make any judgment. But let’s be fair. The scriptwriter(s) might have their own interpretation of the character, or Li represents it in his own way on screen. He might not be a fun-loving man he should be here, but he’s definitely jokes-loving: he’s funny (okay, rather ridiculous sometimes), he’s naughty and glib-tongued. What’s the best about his portrayal is his facial expressions and funny gestures when he’s in the mood. Some said they are too much, but I’d rather say they are just entertaining. Other great thing about Li is that he can express sadness and love so soulfully. Really. Just look at his face. I think he’s a talented actor, such a shame he’s retired from acting now.
Xu Qing as Ren Yingying
Everyone seems to praise her and I didn’t have any complaint, either. I liked the way she portrays Shen Gu (The Holy Maiden), she seems so natural in doing so. She looks so fierce, so smart, independent, with an air of leadership about her. And yet, sometimes, she can be so shy and childish especially when she is with Linghu Chong. Yes, the Ren Yingying here is a very complex character, so complex that at times she can be poles apart within herself. At one time she can be so jealous whenever Yue Lingshan is concerned, at another she can be so understanding and saying something like, “I admire your xiao shi-mei (little sister), it’s your love for her that opens my eyes in the first place.” So contradictory, so inconsistent, and this swing-mood is pretty disturbing most of the time. Having said that, in the way of appearance, Xu Qing really suits the character of Ren Yingying. It’s like this role is truly meant for her.
Wei Zi as Yue Buqun
If there is any villain in disguise in the world, then it’s Yue Buqun. And the way Wei Zi performs this character on screen is very much convincing: so subtle yet so vivid at the same time. Just look at how he acts so elegantly indifferent sometimes—with a sigh and lazy gesture and a fan—also the way he talks, and you will see that he is a hypocrite. The least impressive thing about Wei Zi’s portrayal, however, is the way he interprets the “womanish” Yue Buqun after learning Bi Xie Jian Fa (Evil-Resisting Sword Skill). He appears to be less convincing in this, much less than the way Mao Weitao (Dongfang Bubai) and Li Jie (Lin Pingzhi) portray the same character change.
Other Important Characters
There is not much to say about Miao Yiyi who plays Yue Lingshan in this adaptation. She just acts the way she should as a 16-year-old girl: sweet, childish, and selfish sometimes. Her voice (dubbed or not), really suits her character. But who impressed me more here is Li Jie instead, the actor who portrays Lin Pingzhi . I appreciated how he displays the step-by-step changes in his character: from a spoiled young master, to a heart-broken and full of revenge young man, and finally to a sinister, womanish fighter who masters Bi Xie Jian Fa. However, Dongfang Bubai is still the best male/female character that left deep impression in me.
As perfect as an ensemble might be, there must be imperfection somewhere. Some actors just do not fit their roles. Sun Haiying who plays Tian Boguang was miscasted. He acts and looks too silly to be a well-known, ferocious rapist. And the worst failure of all is the character of Ren Woxing, who’s badly played by Lu Xiaohe. Once again, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how his character should be. But to my thinking, a leader of a huge, evil sect should have an air of dignity about him, leadership, and harsh manner. Instead, Ren Woxing here merely looks like a silly old man who laughs a lot through to the end of his life.
They say there are three ways of adapting a novel into the big/small screen: stay true to the book; pick a part of the book and develop it into a lengthy narrative; or make an entirely different plot based on the idea of the book. The plot employed in this particular adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu doesn’t seem to stray far away from the original story, but in general, it does seem to have its own storyline. Some reviews stated that there are so many changes compared to the novel, and Jin Yong himself felt quite disappointed about it. However, as I haven’t known entirely how the plot should have run, here I’m pointing out what’s wrong with it as a TV series, not as a TV adaptation.
First of all, to snare an audience into a visualized story, an opening scene should have certain charm and captivating narrative, not merely a marvelous cinematography and beguiling characters. Unfortunately, Laughing in the Wind fails to do this. Whether or not it follows the opening scene of the book, its first five episodes run too fast and feels so awkward to watch. It’s suddenly this way and suddenly that way most of the time, with a lack of clarity in what it wants to deliver. Those who have read the book might be able to understand what’s going on or if some scenes are cut or shortened, but what about those who haven’t? Luckily, after the fifth episode, the storyline runs rather well and understandable, but only until the 30th episode. Afterward, the story starts to falter once again throughout the last 10 episodes. The idea in which Ren Ying Ying kidnapping Yi Lin in episode 31 doesn’t seem to have any significance, and episode 37 is the worst episode of all. Even episode 40, the last episode, although featuring a nice climax and ending, also runs too fast in the first 15-20 minutes. In conclusion, there is definitely something wrong with the scriptwriting. Something like being in a hurry. Like they have to end it in episode 40 and not more.
The Fighting Scenes
What makes Laughing in the Wind a great wuxia novel adaptation, and an amazing wuxia series, is undoubtedly its fighting scenes. There have been nothing like them before. The kungfu movements are seriously choreographed, the fightings are nicely shot, and at times they are made colossal. When these scenes are too complicated, fast, and shot from a far angle, they will be done by stuntmen. But when they are filmed in slow motion, quite simple, and taken from close angle, the actors will do them on their own. Since this is a wuxia story involving sword skill, the use of swords is very fundamental. The actors have to carry their swords everywhere they go and be able to play with them. When you look at the screen closely, you will see that all the actors are capable of swinging and playing deftly with their swords. No, they do not use stuntmen to do that. It’s them. They must have painstakingly practiced it over and over before shooting. And Xu Qing, in particular, is the most skillful one to do this.
And of course, as there are a lot of fighting scenes in this series, I couldn’t help but memorize some and make them my favorites. The fighting in the rain, where Linghu Chong uses Dugu Jiu Jian (9 Swords of Dugu) to blind the masked men making an ambush on his Huashan School fellows, is no doubt one of my favorites. It might not have the best kungfu choreography, but it looks so dramatic and beautiful to watch. Other best fighting scene in this series is, of course, the massive attack Cheng Bu You and co. launch on Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying at the Bamboo Hut in Luo Yang. It’s so exciting, visually engrossing, nicely choreographed, and very dramatic at the same time. The fighting between Linghu Chong+Ren Yingying+Ren Woxing+Xiang Wentian versus Dongfang Bubai also brings about the same excitement and sense of awe, it’s just such a shame it is not well-edited. I noticed that some scenes are not in coherence, so they seem awkward and do not run smoothly. But I liked it when they end the fighting with pink petals of flowers raining upon them. Really, the director does know how to entertain an audience.
Last but not least, every fighting scene involving Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying. That is, those in episode 13 and 14. I know this might sound so silly but I found those fighting scenes a bit romantic. I think I caught a sense of love-and-hate aura between them. But, well, maybe it was just me.
The Love Story
Everyone who loves wuxia series, and especially those who are fans of Jin Yong, must have known that Yue Lingshan is Linghu Chong’s first love, and even when he’s with Ren Yingying he still cannot forget her. I read somewhere that the character of Ren Yingying is supposed to come out rather later in the story as Po-po (granny), when Linghu Chong feels brokenhearted over his xiao shi-mei. However, this adaptation decided to let Ren Yingying appear earlier as herself, giving room for both she and Linghu Chong to know each other in advance. From the first time they meet, it is quite obvious that the Holy Maiden has a secret interest in Linghu Chong. She even helps to cure him in episode 3, releases him (together with Yue Lingshan and Yi Lin) in episode 5, and setting Ling Pingzhi free of Yu Canghai’s hold in episode 6. What else the reason she would do all that? But only Yue Lingshan has a room in Linghu Chong’s heart, so he is not aware of Ren Yingying’s intention. Moreover, she is someone from the demon cult. They are predestined to be sworn enemies.
As the story progresses, though, their relationship becomes more complicated. Separated by the notion of good and evil, and definitely having no hope whatsoever, Ren Yingying tries to get close to Linghu Chong through every way possible, without revealing her true feelings of course. It is displayed in episode 13 through to episode 16, when they somehow walk between love and hate, and reaches its climax in episode 18. After that, the rest is history.
However, it is still hard for Linghu Chong to love Ren Yingying wholeheartedly, and this is shown through his expressions and dialogues. Only after Yue Lingshan dies can Linghu Chong let go off his feelings for her and devote all his love and attention to Ren Yingying only. I do think this torn-apart emotion when someone is caught in a triangle love affair needs a great deal of acting skill to express it, and, once again, Li Yapeng has it in him to do just that.
Some people said that the scenery in Laughing in the Wind is one of the plus points of the series, and I couldn’t agree more. I particularly liked Si Guo Ya (The Repentance Hill), Hei Mu Ya (Black Wood Cliff), and the hills where Qu Yang+Liu Zhengfeng / Ren Yingying+Linghu Chong play the song Xiao Ao Jiang Hu at the beginning and end of the series.
But overall, every spot the shooting took place is real and breathtaking, even the front hall of Songshan School and the Hanging Temple of Henshan School.
As far as my experience watching wuxia TV series, I never knew of a single one actually having traditional/classic Chinese music as their soundtrack/background song. No, not one. But Laughing in the Wind has it, not only for the opening and ending themes, but also the score throughout the series. I especially loved the song entitled You Suo Si, the one which is played by Po-po (or Ren Yingying) every time Linghu Chong feels restless, and also the song called Tian Di Zuo He. I really liked the sound of the zither in them. So classy and classic. As for the ending theme, which is performed by Liu Huan and Faye Wong, I have to say that it didn’t leave pretty good impression in my ear. However, visually, it is a marvelous production in itself. If you just sit and watch the video, you will recognize how every single note seems to fit the edited scene displayed.
Well, all things considered, this 2001 CCTV’s adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is truly one of the best wuxia TV series I’ve ever watched. It’s like a modern classic. It has almost everything I need, and want, in this genre. If it was not for the clumsy plot I might have given it a higher rating, 4.5 maybe. But it barred me from doing so.
The war between Troy and Achaea is perhaps the most famous one in classic literature, the most memorable, the most talked-about, the most retold in modern era. It doesn’t only revolve around revenge, dignity and heroism, but also passion and reckless love. It has been so often reproduced in many forms of popular culture, and now it appears in the form of graphic novel, entitled A Thousand Ships. It doesn’t exactly retell the story of the Trojan War, but the beginning, how it comes to the horrific end. Eric Shanower, the illustrator responsible, has made a tremendous effort to represent the old legend in pictures, and tried his best to formulate a narrative adaptation to accompany his drawings which would be easily fathomable.
It all starts with Paris going to Troy to win back his precious buffalo taken by the King’s representatives to offer to God. Things are getting complicated when he learns that he is not actually the son of his father, but that of the King of Troy, Priam. He was supposed to be left to die after his birth, for the prophesy didn’t hold something good about him. But he is not dead, and raised instead by the old man responsible for the horrible task into a young, handsome man. In short, when the truth is finally revealed, Paris is welcome at his homeland as the long-lost prince, and his real father embraces him with love. As the time goes by, his recklessness and natural character as a spoiled young boy bring imminent disaster to the kingdom. When he is supposed to set off for Sparta to free his father’s sister Hesione, he can’t help but fall blindly in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, and deadly set to take away home the most beautiful woman in the world. Menelaus is greatly offended, no doubt, and determined to wage a war against Troy to take back his wife. And at this point, the role of Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother and the Grand King of Achaea, is on display. The great king takes it upon himself to mobilize his friends and allies from various small kingdoms and even looks for Achilles, the one foretold to bring victory to the Achaea’s side. And this is only the beginning.
As a myth, as an age-old legend well-known through generations and nations, the Trojan War has been told and retold by various writers, poets, and even playwrights. It has even been adapted into the big screen. So many versions available, so many approaches have been employed to deliver the story that sometimes the curious audiences cannot decide which one is true, or which one is to their favor. Eric Shanower might not present the truest version, or the best one, but his graphic-novel adaptation of the Greek myth at the very least tries to make it simple for the reader to get the general picture. It is indeed easy to understand and very much entertaining. The narrative, and how Shanower arranges it into a well-organized structure, is very informative, though it might not follow the complicated, already blurred, inexplicable origin.
As it is a graphic novel, it is only natural that readers would have pretty high expectation especially of its drawing quality. And Shanower doesn’t disappoint a bit. Every picture is created in meticulous detail, every character is sharply drawn, they’re even quite graphic sometimes that I believe this is not for children. However, subjectively speaking, they are not to my taste. Perhaps I’ve been too used to Japanese-manga/Chinese-manhua style of comic books to accept the way of the American. So however good the drawings might be, I cannot say that I liked them, especially—what a shame—those of Paris and Achilles, the two main protagonists in this famous War of Troy. I expected Paris to have a truly handsome facial character, but he turns out to look dumb and dull. The same disappointment brought about by the character of Achilles, who is supposed to be so handsome that he looks girlish instead. I didn’t find him handsome, nor too beautiful to manage to hide himself among girls.
A Thousand Ships is not a disappointment of a work. Only it is not to my favor and didn’t live up much to my expectation. It is well-structured, though, and makes for essential bits of information about the Trojan War. That said, I will just keep it in the corner of my distant memory.
Membaca kumpulan cerpen Ikan-ikan dari Laut Merah karya Danarto serasa seperti menyelami perkara keimanan di lautan yang tak nyata, seperti memetik buah kesadaran dari pohon yang tampak hanya bayang-bayang semata. Gagasan kisah-kisahnya boleh jadi nyata, begitu juga dengan latar belakang dan tokoh-tokohnya, tetapi tidak dengan narasi yang diolah oleh penulis. Di setiap tulisannya dalam buku ini, penulis seakan merancukan antara realitas dengan lawannya. Namun justru dari olahan narasi masing-masing cerita yang terasa tak nyata itulah muncul satu pesan yang dapat digenggam erat: bahwa agama dan keimanan bukanlah melulu soal ritual, simbol-simbol, dan atribut yang tampak oleh mata, tetapi juga, atau justru utamanya, adalah tentang penyerahan diri sepenuhnya kepada Tuhan, memaknai dunia dengan segala isi dan kejadian di dalamnya, rasa syukur, serta niat dan perbuatan baik. Singkat kata, spiritualitas.
Jika kita percaya bahwa segala perbuatan, baik maupun buruk, pasti ada balasannya dan bahwa niat baik sudah terhitung baik apa pun jadinya, maka cerpen berjudul Jejak Tanah dan Zamrud merupakan perwujudan dari gagasan ini. Dalam Jejak Tanah, diceritakan jenazah seorang pengusaha properti selalu keluar dari makamnya setelah dikebumikan dan seorang kiai berkata bahwa itu karena semasa hidupnya ia selalu memperjualbelikan tanah rakyat kecil tanpa keadilan. Bila dibaca sepintas, cerita pendek ini mengingatkan kita pada kisah-kisah horor “siksa kubur” yang biasa digunakan untuk menakut-nakuti orang tentang perbuatan dosa dan balasannya. Tetapi kisah racikan Danarto ini terkesan “lebih ringan” dan tidak menggurui, hanya terkesan absurd, terlebih ketika keluarga si pengusaha tidak merasa ketakutan melihat ada jenazah mengambang di depan pintu rumah mereka. Cerpen Zamrud juga tak kalah absurd, menceritakan tentang sebuah keluarga yang mengalami kecelakaan tapi tetap selamat berkat jasa seorang bapak tua yang misterius. Bapak tua tersebut bisa dibilang merupakan medium pertolongan dari Tuhan kepada seseorang yang di dalam hati memiliki niat yang baik, walaupun pada kenyataannya niat baik itu tidak pernah terwujud dan ia harus menerima hujatan dari orang-orang yang merasa dirugikan.
Perkara keimanan dalam artian kepasrahan penuh kepada Yang Maha Kuasa juga menjadi fokus dalam kumpulan cerpen Ikan-ikan dari Laut Merah. Dua di antara delapan belas cerpen yang mengisi, Pantura dan Alhamdulillah, Masih Ada Dangdut dan Mi Instan, menunjukkan petuahnya dengan cukup jelas. Dalam Pantura, seorang pemuda harus mengarungi banjir yang tinggi demi mencari pertolongan untuk santri-santri yang kesurupan. Kepasrahannya di tengah keadaan yang serba sulit itu berbuah manis, bahkan lebih. Tidak hanya mendapatkan pertolongan yang dicari untuk para santri, tetapi juga pertolongan untuk keluarganya sendiri. Cerita berjudul Alhamdulillah, Masih Ada Dangdut dan Mi Instan, yang merupakan cerita pendek paling panjang dalam kumpulan ini, menggunakan latar belakang waktu dari zaman sebelum Indonesia merdeka sampai Orde Reformasi. Di sepanjang hidup Slamet Sukro, sang tokoh utama, ia telah berjumpa dan melihat para tokoh besar bangsa dari masa jaya sampai saat kejatuhan mereka. Namun bukan itu inti dari cerita ini. Semasa hidupnya itu, Slamet harus mengalami kesulitan yang tak henti-henti, mencicipi kekayaan hanya sekejap mata sebelum akhirnya kembali miskin dan tak punya apa-apa. Namun ia tetap berpasrah kepada Tuhan dan bersyukur karena ia masih punya grup dangdut dan bisa makan walau hanya mi instan.
Dari sekian cerita pendek yang dihadirkan dalam kumcer ini, yang paling menantang pembaca untuk dapat menyelami rasa keimanan adalah cerita pendek berjudul Telaga Angsa dan Si Denok. Dalam kedua kisah ini Danarto seolah ingin mengonfrontasikan seni dan keindahan dengan moralitas yang menjadi lingkupan ajaran agama di hadapan pembaca. Telaga Angsa menggambarkan tarian balet dengan kostumnya yang ketat hingga “membentuk tubuh”, sementara Si Denok berkisah tentang Bung Karno yang menggemari dan mengoleksi patung-patung serta lukisan wanita telanjang. Yang menjadi pertanyaan pada kedua cerpen ini adalah, apakah dengan mempertontonkan bentuk tubuh di atas panggung dan memajang patung serta lukisan wanita telanjang, lantas kita bukanlah manusia yang bermoral? Apakah memang seni modern bertentangan dengan agama dan moralitas? Atau justru dengan mendalami keindahan seni, kita dapat menghargai dan mensyukuri keindahan dunia ciptaan Tuhan? Dengan membaca kedua cerpen tersebut, pembaca diajak untuk berpikir, tidak sekadar memihak salah satu karakter dengan segala pemikirannya.
Selain moralitas, Danarto juga mengajak pembaca untuk merenungi perkara rezeki dan bencana. Bagi orang pada umumnya, rezeki berarti keberuntungan dan bencana adalah kesialan. Tapi ada berapa orang yang sadar bahwa rezeki bisa jadi cobaan dan bencana mungkin saja sesuatu yang indah? Ada berapa orang yang menganggap kematian justru suatu berkah, sebagaimana narator dalam cerita Jantung Hati? Berapa orang yang mampu melihat bahwa bencana di suatu tempat, bisa jadi rezeki di tempat yang lain seperti yang tersirat dalam Lauk dari Langit?
Spiritualitas memang tampaknya menjadi fokus utama dari kumpulan cerpen Ikan-ikan dari Laut Merah ini, tapi tidak berarti Danarto tidak mengajukan tema lainnya seperti alam, keluarga, peperangan di Timur Tegah, walaupun tetap dibalut dengan narasi absurd yang kadang-kadang berada di luar jangkauan pemahaman pembaca. Absurditas dari sebagian besar narasi tulisan Danarto di buku ini dibarengi dengan gaya berbahasa yang beragam: kadang puitis, kadang biasa saja, kadang penuh humor, kadang juga sendu dan penuh kalimat-kalimat perenungan. Kombinasi ini, pada akhirnya, membuat pembaca serasa mengawang-awang kala menikmati kedelapanbelas cerpen yang disuguhkan, serasa seperti menyelam di lautan yang tak nyata. Akan tetapi, di akhir penyelaman itu pembaca akan mendapatkan sesuatu yang, walaupun juga immateriel, lebih nyata digenggam.
Jika gagasan, latar belakang, serta tokoh-tokoh yang nyata dalam kumpulan cerpen ini dapat diibaratkan sisi fisik dari ajaran agama (pelaksanaan ritual, cara berpakaian, dan sebagainya), maka absurditas dari setiap narasi yang terbentuk bisa dibilang representasi dari spiritualitas yang tak kasat mata. Sesuatu yang hanya bisa diresapi dalam hati, tetapi lebih penting dalam penyatuan diri dengan Sang Pencipta. Saya rasa, menuliskan cerita-cerita pendek dalam kumpulan ini adalah cara penulis untuk menyampaikan pesan ini.
There is this tunnel drawn by Ernesto Sabato which we might call a horrendous psychological novel. It follows a murderer, tried and already in prison, who attempts to justify what he has committed by describing his obsessive love and what’s inside his restless psyche. It relates his obsession, the danger of it, and his stormy mind where it somehow finds its comfortable home. First published in Spanish in 1948, this modern classic, The Tunnel, is definitely a quick read, as quick as the steps the narrator takes in recounting his story.
The book opens with the narrator’s introducing himself to the reader and telling forthrightly that he has murdered a woman by the name of María Iribarne. He, Juan Pablo Castel, doesn’t seem to regret what he has done. Instead, he keeps going on and on about his peculiar tendency, what he thinks about things, how he lives an isolated, solitary life until he eventually finds the only person who can understand him and, yes, kills her. Only after two chapters (which are, fortunately, very brief) does he truly start to relate how he meets María Iribarne, how they share the same view of life, how they are lonely persons, and how they start their somewhat secret love affair. María is reluctant at first, saying that she will only hurt him, but Castel is insistent. Not merely because he knows that only María in this whole world can understand him (proven by her appreciation of his painting Motherhood), but because he is obsessed with her. He must have her, he must possess not only her sole love but also her soul, he must be the only one for her, no room for other men even if they’re just a piece of memory of the past.
Their relationship is a very complex one, as Castel is making it so. His mind never sits still and forever questions María’s love for him, her faithfulness, her past, the nature of her marriage to Allende, her true character, and so on and so forth. And those unbearable, never-ending questions do not stay put in his brain, he lets them out and fires them ceaselessly at her. He never believes whatever she says, and he gets mad every time she shuts her mouth in protest at his rude attitude and cruel words. He is repressive, too, though God knows why he thinks it’s in the name of love, always making her do this and do that—including making love—which, in the end, only manages to put her off. But the thing is, María is also an enigmatic person. Everything about her is a mystery. Probably, the reason is that the entire story is told from Castel’s point of view, hence no room for her to explain anything or to express what she has in mind. It’s so muddling between them, and Castel keeps pushing her to the corner until she has no choice but to dodge him and run away. It’s also frustratingly unfair, not solely because it’s a one-sided narrative but because Castel has already set his mind on the idea that María is a dishonest woman so thus he cannot trust her, which in turn bars him from willing to stop to ponder everything from her viewpoint.
However depressing The Tunnel is, at the end we will be left marveled at how Ernesto Sabato constructs the whole narrative out of a single, solid point of view. This very view takes us readers along the tunnel inside Juan Pablo Castel’s unsettling mind, a tunnel which is so dark, narrow, twisting, so full of “I shouldn’t do that but I’m doing it now.” It is this tunnel which makes up the story we read and inevitably hate. And, because Castel’s mind is a stormy, ever-moving one, Sabato is so right to write such short chapters and put them together into a disturbing, short novel. The atmosphere is so tense, the scenes are cut into pieces like those in movies, the dialogues are never too long and very convincing that you want to slap Castel in the face. It would be safe to say that the tunnel, Castel’s tunnel, is the point of the entire story. Devouring this book means walking into that dark tunnel and forever trapped there, reading what he thinks. Even worse, because his is a male point of view, we might find it quite chauvinist, if not, rudely saying, misogynist. Women are deemed untrustworthy when they have several lovers, women are deemed liars when they refuse (or, do not have a chance) to say anything, and they are easily judged unfaithful when you don’t know what actually happens to and around them. This is the thing that makes an excellent prose like The Tunnel an unbearable read.
Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel is wonderfully enjoyable in one way and cruelly devastating in another. You want to love it but you despise it, too. It’s such a grand idea to display horrific psychological sides of humans, because by that we can recognize the sordid weaknesses that we all have (except for the bravery to refuse to act hypocritically like what Castel has, maybe). However, it is also saddening to have women pictured as ones who lie a lot and keep quiet when they can say a lot, too. All in all, it is a maddening thing to make any judgment on this book.
Seno Gumira Ajidarma is one of the big names in Indonesia’s literary world, many of his works have gained critical acclaim. Negeri Kabut, first published in 1996, is one of them, having been awarded the 1997 Indonesian Literary Prize for the best short-story collection. To “celebrate the passion for reading of the new generation,” last October the publisher has decided to reissue it with a new, unfortunately disappointing, cover. Not to worry, though, the contents are still of a very high quality.
There are twelve short stories in the collection, most of which bear the typical writing style of the writer—surreal, beautifully poetic, yet so critically biting—pretty much like what you would find in stories of Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku. The book opens with the titular story, Negeri Kabut, a dreamily written account of someone’s journey to find the so-called land of mists (the title in English has two versions, The Land of Mists in 1997 and The Foggy Lands in 2003). The land might truly exist, or it might not, but the man on the trip has been determined to find and see it with his own eyes. He doesn’t mind all the mountains, all the hills he has to climb and climb again, all the long walks through the thick mists and silence and green forest. He keeps going and going until he sets foot on a mysterious village which appears to pop out of nowhere and is full of mists. Everything is like a sweet dream there, too happy, too peaceful, too serene that the man—who has been so used to all the hullabaloo of the world—feels unsettled instead.
Semuanya terasa menyejukkan, tapi aku tidak merasa tenteram. Aku sudah terlalu akrab dengan pertentangan, ketegangan, dan kesulitan. Betapa celaka.
As poetically written as the stories contained in this book might be, Ajidarma never lets himself speak only of beauty. He seems to deem it his duty to observe and to criticize, especially the greedy nature of people, the unstoppable desire to own one thing and another, and another, and another. It implicitly shows in Long Puh, the third story on the list. On the outside, it looks like a very short, restless story about a man in fever who was wandering around the hinterland of East Borneo and carries the memory of it along with him when he’s already out. But after a brief, last scene where a foreign man finds gold and gets crazy over it, it becomes pretty clear that it’s a criticism of human greed. Greed of people who don’t care about anything but wealth while some people far away in the middle of back country are still living in poverty and backwardness. But Long Puh is so subtle, not as flagrant as Rembulan Terapung di Kolam Renang, where Ajidarma doesn’t shy away from describing vividly a man of greed who thinks he deserves all that he’s got, whatever the way or trick he employs to get them. No remorse, no sorry. He only fears that common, poor people will get angry at him for his greediness and revolt. And revolt they all. But they do it in the same greedy way, plundering everything from his house, eating the moon floating on his swimming pool. While this story was actually written long before the economic crisis happened in 1998, what Ajidarma describes there reminded me of the event where President Soeharto, who was deemed as corrupt, stepped down as people rioting and looting items in stores everywhere.
Some people of older generation might have already known the story of Panji Tengkorak, written and drawn for comic books by Hans Jaladara back in the 1960s. Here, Seno Gumira Ajidarma is kind enough to provide the reader with his prose adaptation, albeit only a small fraction of some part. Entitled Panji Tengkorak Menyeret Peti, the narrative focuses on the complicated love affair surrounding the hero, Panji Tengkorak himself. The bitter tale tells us how he hates his wife Nesia so much but has to drag around her casket (with her dead body inside it) everywhere he goes, how he loves Mariani but has to bury his dream to be with her, how his first love Murni has to die before he can marry her, and how Andini has to die for him. All this tragic romance, and the fact that Panji Tengkorak is basically a martial arts story, reminded me of Chinese martial arts novels which have been adapted into both small and big screens so many times. But, of course, Panji Tengkorak has local flavor to it that might suit Indonesian readers better. Putting aside all the characteristics, though, Panji Tengkorak Menyeret Peti is a painfully heartbreaking love story of a pugilistic hero who thinks his life is done and over. And Ajidarma has successfully represented it with his excellent prose.
It can be said that the martial arts short story is the only one that strays away from the surrealistic path and almost bumps itself into somewhat realism, since numbers like Ada Kupu-kupu, Ada Tamu; Di Tepi Sungai Parfum; and Ratri & Burung Bangau still bear the characteristics of so-called surrealism. After two or three pages you’ll realize that you’ve been tricked into a narrative world that’s mostly beyond anything you can imagine. They are so confusing that they seem like posing questions without any will to reveal the answers. That said, they are not the most absurd. Perahu yang Muncul dari Balik Kabut has to be the one, so much so that it looks more like a painting than a prose, one with twisting lines and twirling brushes. And these strokes are done repeatedly, powerfully, beautifully. As it is clearly told in the title, the story tells of a boat coming out of morning mists on a twisting river. This has occured for years and years and people who have been following the event always stand there by the river and wait for the boat to come, carrying a dancing, eternally young woman and an old man playing a stringed instrument. The whole narrative appears to only bring out beauty and melancholy, without telling anything nor carrying any meaning whatsoever. Funnily enough, Perahu yang Muncul dari Balik Kabut is the longest short story among others in the collection.
As it is in Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku, here in Negeri Kabut Seno Gumira Ajidarma aims his gun at human nature, firing ceaselessly and mercilessly. He talks about greediness, never-ending searching, boundless dissatisfaction, fear of death, desire to die, gender and female stereotypes. And he does it ever so subtly, as if he merely writes pages and pages of prose without meaning, wearing mask or hiding in plain sight. But it’s been his typical style, alongside surrealistic narratives and poetic language. He is one of few writers I know who can combine beautiful writing, marvelous ideas, and biting criticism. If he likes to tell stories about greedy people who always search and never feel satisfied, then I would say that I’m always satisfied with his works (including the Mahabharata-based novel Drupadi). I feel lucky that I could have a chance to read them, and I will certainly look for more.
What is our body? A bunch of flesh and blood? A soulless entity? An empty creature devoid of civilization? Whatever you think of your body, it is yours and it is yours to do anything with. At the very least, this is a message that The Vegetarian, a short novel by Han Kang which has drawn an enormous amount of attention in the literary world, seems to intend to deliver. Quite vividly, here Han Kang lays emphasis on the idea that “yours to do anything with” includes harming that body of ours—that if you think harming is not actually harmful—when our traumatic experience leads us to anger and self-hatred resulting in the urge to destroy ourselves.
So many people seems to have already read this book, so let’s be brief. Upon having a horrible dream where she’s got blood all over her hands and mouth, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat and turn herself into a vegetarian. It bothers her family and society, for eating meat has been an inseparable tradition in their culture, and hence their insistence on her getting back to it. But her will is so much stronger than theirs, so she continues with her own way and eats nothing but vegetables and fruits. It costs her everything: her job, her marriage, her family. She doesn’t care, though, and is persistent, even if putting an end to eating meat doesn’t really stop that dream from hunting her nights over and over. Only when her brother-in-law paints flowers on her skin does she stop having such a dream, but that doesn’t mean everything turns the better for her (that if you think so). After a shocking incident involving her brother-in-law, her older sister In-hye is forced to put Yeong-hye into a mental hospital. And there, she starts to refuse to eat at all, because she thinks a tree doesn’t need to.
“I’m not an animal anymore.”
Yeong-hye apparently believes that she is an animal merely because she eats meat. But, are we? Does eating meat make us some kind of carnivore, a cannibal? Does it make us a horrible creature who has the heart to take the lives of other living creatures without mercy? Do you think, really, really think that by being a vegetarian, only eating vegetables, you’re not a killer? Do you not think that plants are also alive, breathing, growing, and breeding? Do you not think that when you eat them it means you kill them, too? Forget about blood, you’ve certainly taken the lives of others. In any way, being a vegetarian is not an answer to the question of our humanity, or will challenge our nature as human beings. Unless you stop eating at all and kill yourself slowly like Yeong-hye, that is.
“Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”
The broader your point of view on the story, however, the more you will realize that this is not only about being a vegetarian. This is about our body, about oppression imposed on our body. What happens to Yeong-hye—her psychological disturbance—seems to date back to when she received violent behavior from her father. She was weak and didn’t fight it, and was therefore left wounded physically and mentally. In a father-daughter relationship, where the father has more power over his children, more often than not, in any culture, this domestic violence practices occur. And when this happens, it always feels like we don’t own our body, like our body belongs to someone else. Some children cannot endure it, but continue to live with it, with the memory of it. So, eventually, Yeong-hye fights back and seeks revenge for what her body must have suffered from. But then, is it worth it? Does it really solve the problem of physical/emotional violence? Does it stop violence at all? But, of course, a book is sometimes not about finding an answer.
The Vegetarian is composed of three separate novellas, so it somehow reads incoherently. Luckily, Han Kang seems to mean it as one unity, making the next installment the next chapter to explain the aftermath of the previous event. And we can enjoy it thoroughly and easily, what with the smooth translation by Deborah Smith and no particular, skillful writing style. What makes this novel appear more extraordinary than it might actually be is how incredible Han Kang is (supported by Smith, of course) in using diction to build the atmosphere the story needs and in describing her characters. The narrative feels so simple to read yet so artfully created. It brings out a sense of horror in the reader and manages to make them feel as if they plunge into the horrendous world Yeong-hye is living in and witness the psychological torture she has to deal with. Readers will also be able to feel what In-hye feels, see what she sees and follow where her thoughts wander. It is a quite great prose.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang might work for so many people, but it is not for me. Technically, it doesn’t have the writing style I would call genius, and essentially, I have so many disagreements with it. It challenges my thoughts, yes, but not in a way that will change my mind.
Kita hidup di tengah budaya patriarki di mana sering kali perempuan dipandang sebagai obyek seks semata sehingga kekerasan maupun pelecehan seksual terhadap wanita (diam-diam) dianggap wajar saja. Dan jika memang karya sastra merupakan refleksi dari kehidupan nyata, maka sepertinya itulah yang hendak disampaikan Eka Kurniawan dalam novelnya Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas. Dengan mengambil latar belakang masyarakat kelas menengah ke bawah yang gemar kekerasan, buku ini seolah ingin menunjukkan bahwa hal yang dianggap “wajar” ini sesungguhnya justru tidaklah wajar.
Kisah dimulai ketika Ajo Kawir dan sahabatnya, Si Tokek, masih berusia awal belasan tahun. Suatu malam, tanpa sengaja mereka melihat Rona Merah, seorang perempuan gila di kampung mereka, diperkosa dua orang polisi. Akibat rasa terguncang saat menyaksikan peristiwa ini, kemaluan Ajo Kawir, atau yang ia panggil si Burung, jadi tidak bisa ngaceng alias berdiri. Ajo Kawir berusaha keras membangunkan si Burung dari “tidurnya”, mulai dengan cara yang paling menggelikan sampai yang paling menyedihkan. Tapi si Burung tetap tak mau bangun, tidur nyenyak bak seekor beruang kutub yang terlelap di musim dingin dan memimpikan hujan salju. Masalah bertambah runyam bagi Ajo Kawir ketika ia berjumpa dan jatuh cinta pada Iteung, gadis cantik dari sebuah perguruan silat, karena bagaimana mungkin ia dapat membahagiakan seorang gadis dengan kemaluan yang tidak bisa ngaceng? Tahun demi tahun Ajo Kawir lewati dengan menanggung penderitaan ini, sementara satu-satunya cara untuk menuntaskannya adalah dengan menghabisi kedua polisi yang telah memerkosa Rona Merah.
Tidak seperti Cantik Itu Luka maupun Lelaki Harimau yang sangat mengandalkan realisme magis dalam menyampaikan ide ceritanya, novel Eka Kurniawan kali ini lebih berpegang pada realisme. Namun realisme yang maskulin. Maskulin dan sovinis. Hampir di sepanjang jalan cerita terdapat adegan-adegan brutal di mana adu jotos (dan membunuh dengan tangan kosong) adalah cara yang biasa digunakan untuk menyelesaikan masalah. Akan tetapi, yang paling menonjol di sini adalah kekerasan seksual terhadap perempuan. Hal yang menimpa Ajo Kawir, yang menjadi sorotan dalam novel ini, berawal dari aksi pemerkosaan yang dilakukan oleh dua orang polisi biadab terhadap seorang perempuan gila. Dari sini dapat dilihat bahwa dua orang lelaki, yang berfisik dan bermental lebih kuat dari si perempuan gila, dengan demikian memiliki kuasa lebih, dapat memaksakan kehendak mereka secara semena-mena terhadap wanita yang lebih lemah. Hal nahas serupa juga dialami Iteung di masa kecilnya, ketika ia masih seorang gadis polos dan dilecehkan oleh guru sekaligus wali kelasnya sendiri. Tapi tentu saja tidak ada tempat untuk mengadu. Si perempuan gila hanya diam saja sampai ia mati seusai diperkosa, begitu pula dengan Iteung yang memilih jalannya sendiri untuk menyudahi pelecehan yang dialaminya. Karena, pada umumnya, yang berkuasalah yang akan selalu menang dan yang lemah (baik secara fisik, mental, maupun kedudukan) akan selalu kalah. Maka mengadu kepada siapa pun hanya akan menjadi jalan keluar yang sia-sia.
“Kau pikir perempuan barang, bisa dibeli di Pasar Tanah Abang?”
Namun dengan narasi yang teramat maskulin dan sovinis inilah Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas justru mengolok-olok seksisme dan kekerasan seksual terhadap perempuan yang dianggap lazim di masyarakat. Si Burung yang tidur lelap bisa dibilang merupakan kiasan dari sesuatu yang tidak wajar, berlawanan dengan tindak pemerkosaan (sebagai penyebabnya) yang diam-diam dan sering kali dipandang wajar dan sambil lalu. Dan seperti yang disiratkan oleh kisahnya sendiri, ketidakwajaran yang diderita Ajo Kawir hanya akan sembuh jika kewajaran yang dilakukan oleh kedua polisi biadab tersebut dihapuskan secara nyata, bagaimana pun caranya. Tampaknya, bagi Eka Kurniawan, memandang wajar seksisme dan kekerasan seksual terhadap perempuan adalah hal yang konyol dan patut ditertawakan, maka dari itu ia melawan gagasan ini dengan kiasan burung (kemaluan lelaki) yang tertidur. Eka juga melakukan perlawanan dengan menciptakan tokoh Iteung yang kuat baik secara fisik maupun mental, yang mampu melawan lelaki dengan tangannya dan memilih jalannya sendiri dan melakukan apa pun yang dikehendakinya.
Sebagaimana sudah menjadi tipikal Eka Kurniawan, novel Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas penuh dengan satire dan bernuansa komedi gelap (black humor). Tetapi memang gaya penulisan seperti ini sangat cocok untuk menyampaikan olok-olok yang diinginkan penulis. Namun novel ini juga tak melulu berisi sindiran terhadap budaya patriarki dan masalah sosial, Eka juga mewarnainya dengan guyonan-guyonan segar terutama melalui burung Ajo Kawir yang ia ajak bicara dan mintai pendapat setiap kali ia dihadapkan pada masalah yang rumit. Dan yang paling menarik dari novel ini adalah plotnya yang terlihat seperti tak beraturan, tak memiliki batasan antara masa lalu dan masa kini, pun antara kenyataan dan khayalan. Uniknya, jalan ceritanya mengalir dengan sangat baik sehingga tetap dapat diikuti tanpa kesulitan.
Secara keseluruhan, Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas bukan hanya sebuah karya yang sepertinya diciptakan memang sengaja untuk mengkritik, tetapi juga merupakan hasil olahan narasi yang ciamik dan bukti dari kelihaian sang penulis dalam bercerita.
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