fiction, review

Perjumpaan dengan Pengkhianat: Sepilihan Cerpen Amerika Latin

48123172453_e03a49bc90I’ve been wanting to join the Spanish Lit Month since a long time ago but this is my very first time ever truly making it true. And for this first edition I chose Perjumpaan dengan Pengkhianat, which has been on my TBR pile for almost an eternity, to read and review. You might be familiar with the English title, and it’s true that it is taken from the short story by Augusto Roa Bastos, but it is an anthology curated and released by Indonesian publisher Diva Press, consisting of fourteen short stories and one lecture.

Encounter with the Traitor is of course one of the pieces listed on the table of contents, and it’s also one of my few favorites. It is about an ex-prisoner who was years ago convicted of leaking information on rebels and once again encounters one of the victims of his deed. As the slow-but-sure storyline progresses, however, we will see that the so-called traitor was not actually the one who brought all the rebels at the time of war to their total demise. It was his brother, who then died and has been since then remembered as the hero. This short yet dense story clearly and cleverly shows us readers that wars, a particular period where everything is so tricky, deceiving and victory is the ultimate goal, can make a false hero out of the true culprit. We never know who our true enemy is behind the foggy lines.

Concerning Señor de la Peña by Eliseo Diego is the second on the list of both the contents and my favorites. Like the previous one, this is a story of deceitful reality. What you see is not always what is real, that’s pretty much the idea. Or maybe what you see is not what other people see. A new owner has come to live in a huge mansion at the border of a village, and since his arrival there all the servants try to figure out who he actually is, or rather what he really is like. Each of them sees their new master from a different point of view and therefore has a different opinion. It causes an endless debate among them and pushes them to go and take a look at him together, to see who is right and who is wrong about his person. But still, no agreement has reached, until finally the master’s brother-in-law comes and says, “What are you all looking at? There is nothing there.”

Why Reeds are Hollow by Gabriela Mistral is my most favorite of all stories that already left deep impression on me. People always dream of equality and ceaselessly, fearlessly fight for it. But at what cost? And to what extent do we need it? The reeds are throwing certain propaganda for the entire vegetation to have equal height. However, once this is realized, everything is in total chaos: clover as high as cathedrals, bushes grow dozens of feet, flowers get dried, lilies divided in two. And that’s not all. Animals are also badly affected by the so-called equality: get lost, cattle losing their fodder and finally human beings are starving. In short, the effect of equality campaigned by the reeds on the lives of all living creatures is not the good one. It ruins them, and not the other way around. You might wonder why but the answer is actually very simple: because everything and everyone is unique, they have their own characteristics, duties, functions and benefits. Everything and everyone do not need to be the same in every sense of the word, in every aspect. The world needs balance and that’s what differences are for.

My last favorite piece in this anthology is One Sunday Afternoon by Roberto Arlt. It might not be one with the newest or the most shocking premise, but its twisted, unpredictable plot will surely make readers feel tricked. When there is a lonely, bored wife – who is frequently being left at home by her busy, indifferent husband – inviting her husband’s friend for tea it wouldn’t pass the reader’s mind that she actually tries to seduce him while her husband is not around. What a perfect timing for unleashing her pent-up desire, and what a perfect person to do it with, too. But while you think that this woman is unfaithful, you’ll see that Eugene Karl, our male protagonist here, is having another idea. He might look so reluctant for a black-and-white reason, but then he’ll show you that he is not that good of a person. Later, after a very long, deep conversasion between the two, Eugene points out that the desire to get into bed with someone who is not your spouse is something normal in an empty marriage, and that any marriage will go through this particular phase, too.

It is such a shame that of the fourteen short stories contained in this rather thin book only four I could consider great and became my favorites. The rest just passed by without leaving any particular impression on me, not even those written by the greats such as Gabriel Gárcia Márquez (The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship), Isabel Allende (Toad’s Mouth), or Jorge Luis Borges (Parable of the Palace). This might sound so odd, but I probably couldn’t see their premises as interesting. Or perhaps it’s their narratives, or the translation. And the worsts are those with very, very unacceptable ideas like Axolotl by Julio Cortázar and Yzur by Leopoldo Lugones. I cannot say anything but that they are not my kind of stories.

Perjumpaan dengan Pengkhianat is not actually a bad anthology, but the short stories it consists of just didn’t interest me. I initially had high hopes for it, as it has many famous, great Latin American writers stamped on its front cover. Unfortunately I didn’t feel connected when I read most of their works here, hence my conclusion it’s merely so-so.

Rating: 3/5

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fiction, review

Circe

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Indonesian edition’s cover

What is power? This might not be the right question to ask for it’s more than likely that everyone knows the answer already. And it might not be wrong to conclude that everybody agrees it’s about controlling others, domination, making decisions on what others should or should not do. Madeline Miller pretty much (if not completely) shows this through her 2019-Women’s-Prize-for-Fiction-nominated novel, Circe. She shows how the gods have total control over humans (or, any creature below them), how men dominate women (also the undercurrent counter-attack they never realize), and how those with strength can do whatever they want to those who are less powerful.

The book, founded on and centered around the Greek mythology, tells about a nymph (a lower-class, powerless deity) named Circe who was born to a Titan father, Helios, and a naiad mother, Perse. She’s so physically imperfect, with unpretty appearance and bad voice, that even her own mother despises her. But she has a heart of compassion and determination that one day, when she knows she shouldn’t, she comes near Prometheus and asks, “What is human like?” while giving him some nectar to survive after his punishment. That might be a simple question asked out of curiosity, but it looks like a particular one the writer wants us readers to ponder about while scrutinizing her characters not as deities nor Titans, but as human beings.

And while you’re at it, Circe falls in love with a human herself, a charming fisherman named Glaucos. Helplessly head over heels and willing to do anything in order for them to be together forever, she ventures into Knossos and picks the flowers known for their ability to change somebody into somebody else (or, rather, into their real selves). She uses them on Glaucos and changes him into a sea god, but the result is not what she has expected. He becomes as arrogant as any deity or Titan you might encounter, and he falls in love with another nymph, the pretty and mean Scylla. Jealous and desperate, Circe uses the same flowers to change Scylla into a monster, which brings her to her demise: imprisoned for the rest of her life on a remote island.

But that’s her turning point. There on that secluded place, she starts to see things clearly, understand more the way of the world and herself, exploring her true power and using it. She meets sailors (men, to be precise) and comes to know how the opposite gender thinks that a woman living on her own is a weak creature easily intimidated and made a target of their animal desire and abusive behavior. Without her willing to, she has to help her sister Pasiphaë give birth to a monster and learns that if you don’t use your every power and trick to control men, men will control you. She meets Daedalus and finally feels what true love is. She meets Odysseus and knows that she can’t make the same mistake again and so secretly bears him a son, a descendant, walking steadfastly  into the realm of motherhood. Through her centuries of experience, she can finally see that she is the master of her own destiny and can do whatever she deems right, or necessary.

Circe’s transformation is perhaps that which people see as ideal these days. Initially innocent and letting herself be bullied for what she is, she then fights back with all she has. She is still a compassionate person at heart, but she no longer takes anybody’s nonsense thrown her way. However, the most interesting thing most readers will never probably miss out is how Miller, through the story of Circe’s ups and downs she has constructed, lays out blatantly the bitterness so many women have to endure. She bewails the notion that unpretty women (here being symbolized by ugly nymphs) are considered useless and unvalued, having no possibility of marriage, a huge burden to their family, dirt staining the world. She cries out loudly that women can actually totally independent: living on her own, fighting on her own, making her own decisions and being held responsible for them. With this lone wolf that is Circe, Miller wants to push into our face the fact that women can rely on their own capability and on themselves. And one more thing that we have to praise Miller for is her audacity to criticize the divinity—how the gods want humans and every creature beneath them to always worship them, pray to them, and sacrifice anything for them to the point that they will do just anything: manipulating, threatening, creating troubles and giving ordeals. This is not a mere criticism. This is how the world truly works.

Circe is, on the whole, a story about women. It’s about how all women on this planet can have their own power and the right to wield it. And Madeline Miller makes it clear through her engrossing narrative. It’s like pieces of cards being piled up neatly into a pyramyd the top of which readers will finally see, where Circe eventually decides her own final destiny and goes through what she has to. Miller also describes every character very well, displaying their seeming personality traits and then gradually revealing their true colors, making them so complex and natural and “human.” With this way of characterization you cannot even hate Pasiphaë, though Circe has time and again fallen victim to her cruelty. And you cannot also love Odysseus whole-heartedly, though he is one of those men who can understand and cherish her. Miller shows you people as they truly are.

Last thing to say, Circe is a fantastic read, fast-paced and enjoyable. And though there is nothing new in its idea or structure, its being “realistic” and powerful is enough to move you.

Rating: 4/5

review, Uncategorized

Yitian Tulong Ji: The 2019 Webdrama Adaptation

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It was the end of 2017 and I was just fresh out of watching Brotherhood of Blades. Li Dongxue wasn’t the most impressive performer in that wuxia movie directed by Lu Yang, but he caught my eye, so I was eager to see more of him. As expected, when an announcement came out in January 2018 that they were making a new adaptation of Jin Yong’s Yitian Tulong Ji (again), entitled Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber in English this time, I was quite excited. I said “quite” because I had no reason to feel even excited enough about it but the prospect of seeing Li Dongxue playing Zhang Cuishan who, when performed by Simon Yam back in 1986, left a very deep impression in my childhood. Frankly speaking, Yitian Tulong Ji has never been my most favorite of the Condor Trilogy, and among all those numerous adaptations they’ve made up to Zhang Jizhong’s 2009 production, I only watched three (1986, 1994, and a little bit of 2003). So when they said they were making a new one, I was like, “Okay…”

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Li Dongxue as Zhang Cuishan

A year gone by, and that very little excitement feeling in me had, unsurprisingly, worn off. By the time this newest adaptation (in a webdrama format) truly came out on 27 February 2019, I had totally lost my interest. I thought that they were just doing the same thing again (remaking and remaking the famous Condor Trilogy content) and that any of today’s new adaptations of Jin Yong’s work was merely for those millennials in serious need of some classic wuxia education. I wasn’t on board… Until a friend of mine kept tweeting about Yang Xiao over and over again that pictures of Lin Yushen with long hair and sexy mustache practically flooded my timeline day and night. It’s been 16 years since the last time I watched a Yitian Tulong Ji adaptation so I was quite lost about who Yang Xiao was. Since I’d never read the novel before, the quicker way to remember was to open Wikipedia and check out.

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Lin Yushen as Yang Xiao

Once I got to the list of Ming Sect’s members and saw his name and description, a memory popped into my head, “Oh, he’s that guy who raped an Emei disciple but then his daughter ended up marrying his ex-love rival. So, what about him?” Well, what about him was a very tricky question. Picture after picture of him kept popping out on my Twitter and Weibo that I couldn’t help but go straight to YouTube and search for his video cuts. Fortunately, there were (and I believe still are) a lot of them. I watched some and that’s it, I fell in love with him instantly. His smile, his confidence, his hidden sexiness got my jaw drop to the floor. I mean, is it really how Yang Xiao supposed to be? You know the answer is no. This Yang Xiao doesn’t make you think of a pervert. This Yang Xiao makes you think of a sexy, cocky but wise gentleman.

So I decided to watch it and here is my honest review (or rambling, to be precise).

WARNING:

  1. It contains spoiler!
  2. I’d never read the book before, and I only started the first volume (out of curiosity) when I had reached episode 30 or so. That means I will be entirely talking about this drama as a production without comparing it to the original story/book by Jin Yong.

Now, here we go.

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Wudang

As all producers/directors/scriptwriters generally assume, when it comes to book adaptations, you don’t have to explain anything to the audience because it’s already there in the book, because the audience are the readers of the book. But it could be a false assumption. What if the audience never read the book? What if they’ve already read the book but forgot entirely what happened in it? Audience need a proper introduction to get into the story line, but the producers/directors/scriptwriters do not think so and therefore tell the editors to just cut everything so we can get down to business. And this is so true of Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber.

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Emei

When you had 16 years of gap you needed something to refresh your mind, so when there was this Wudang man drinking water (in very unpleasant slow motion) from a lake I could only stare and think, “Who is he? What is he doing there?” And though the narrative ran rather smoother since then, there were so many plot holes and logic failures that it only seemed like some separate pieces being put together. The most striking example that I cannot forget was when Yang Xiao told Yin Tianzheng to disband the Heavenly Eagle Cult in three days but then it’s still there after ten years and Yang Xiao didn’t come out to do anything about it (???). Or when Abbess Miejue, just out of nowhere, walked into the scene with her Emei disciples without any introductory narration nor explanation whatsoever as to why they should’ve been there and unexpectedly bumped into our (infamous) beloved Yang Xiao.

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Lin Yushen as Yang Xiao and Wu Jingjing as Ji Xiaofu

Actually, the idea of how Yang Xiao first met Ji Xiaofu here was pretty nice (and I loved the fighting scenes!), but then it fell into the logic trap. What? He took her as a hostage just to make her a nanny? Really? The awkward writing and the bad editing didn’t help, either. After spending the night together out of love and mutual consent (yes, he didn’t rape her here), Xiaofu insisted on leaving and asked him not to look for her in the future. But of course she must leave, otherwise the story wouldn’t run as it should. That said, the whole narrative was too complicated to look logical. The only logical thing about their love story was Xiaofu naming her daughter Buhui (no regret), signifying that she didn’t regret loving and being together with Yang Xiao if only for a very short time.

But just admit it, this was what made us cry over Yang Xiao and Ji Xiaofu even long after the fifth episode. It was so well acted by Lin Yushen and Wu Jingjing that it successfully became very romantic and unforgettable. And personally speaking, Lin Yushen’s portrayal here was the main reason why I loved Yang Xiao so much more than he deserved to be as a side character.

Well, if we want to continue to talk about improper introduction and logic failures, there were still more of them even after 15-16 episodes. I mean, why they kept doing it? If you noticed, really really noticed it, everything about Xiao Zhao and her first appearance was so unclear. She just came out of nowhere in the middle of the desert. Suppose we knew she was a spy sent by her mother, how could she know when and where Yang Xiao and Buhui would pass by so she could get a chance of sneaking into the Bright Peak? And suppose we knew she was then made a maid by the father and daughter, she wasn’t depicted to do any services but calling them “master and young lady”, and doing what we presumably knew her mother had told her to.

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Ming Sect

Want more plot holes? Then I’ll give you some. Generally we know Wei Yixiao doesn’t suck blood because he wants to, but because he is forced to. A mishap happens when he trains his internal energy, making him seriously need blood to survive. Zhang Wuji knows of this and cures him, so in the end he doesn’t have to act like a vampire anymore. But did the drama show you this healing process? No. Wei Yixiao first appeared as the blood-sucking Bat King, but after that he just didn’t suck blood anymore without any reason. I mean, you can change/add/cut down anything from the book I wouldn’t care less, but please give us some EXPLANATION on screen.

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Zeng Shunxi as Zhang Wuji

And what about the gap between the death of Yang Dingtian and the present time when Zhang Wuji had all grown up and saved the Ming Sect from their demise? Cheng Kun said he’d been waiting for 40 years, Yang Xiao said it was 20 years ago, while Daiqisi said it’s been 30 years since then. A friend of mine told me that the production team had eight writers to handle the script. It seemed to me those writers didn’t have any agreement on this.

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The Mongol’s Yuan Dynasty

Despite all those plot holes and logic failures, Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber was actually a pretty enjoyable drama. I really loved it as a whole: I loved the fantastic chemistry between Zeng Shunxi (Zhang Wuji) and Chen Yuqi (Zhao Min); I loved Zhu Xudan’s acting as Zhou Zhiruo; I loved how they handled the story in general (except for that part when Yin Li lost her memory and the somewhat awkward ending); I loved the directing; I loved the martial arts choreography/fighting scenes (forget about the slow motion), especially those in episode 20, 21 and 25; I loved the locations; I loved all the costumes and hairstyles, but not the make-up—which made the older generation look so much younger than they should be. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I really didn’t mind Yang Xiao looking so sexy and much younger than his actual age. But seriously, could you bear Cheng Kun looking so much younger than his own disciple?

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I really loved this drama, at least until episode 35. It started to decline and a little bit annoying afterward but I could still cope with it. But gosh the last ten episodes were so horrible! I still loved Zeng Shunxi-Chen Yuqi chemistry and that was what made me keep going after Yang Xiao disappeared in episode 45, but they seemed to change tack and turn this wuxia drama into a melodrama. Zhao Min cried a lot (which made her characterization here even worse since her first appearance in episode 23), and why all members of the Ming Sect suddenly became too much sentimental, too much dumb for their own good?

And that’s the worst thing about this drama. It lacked the proper wuxia vibe. It seemed to talk more about love than heroism and martial arts. It seemed more like a Romeo & Juliet kind of idol drama than a story of jianghu. Zhang Jizhong’s productions…now that’s what I call wuxia dramas. So far I’ve only watched four of them (XAJH 2001, LoCH 2003, DGSD 2003, and RoCH 2006), but I can definitely say that Mr. Zhang was better at handling something wuxia with love story in it.

So, in conclusion, is Heavenly Sword and Dragon Slaying Saber a bad adaptation? No. Despite all the shortcomings it’s still surprisingly pretty good. But is it a proper one? Not really, either. I mean, who would want a bunch of old, gossipy men meddling too much in their leader’s love affair and bullying his girlfriend?

And trust me, without Yang Xiao and the non-narrative aspects, it could have been worse than 5.7 points on Douban.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Kumpulan Budak Setan

39891352403_a67d0e2216Kumpulan Budak Setan is some kind of a tribute to Indonesian horror fiction writer Abdullah Harahap. The three renowned contributing authors—Eka Kurniawan, Intan Paramaditha and Ugoran Prasad—have recreated and re-represented Harahap’s famous narrative in their own styles and with their own ideas. First published in 2010, the anthology delivers a total of twelve short stories bearing each writer’s typical character of storytelling.

Eka Kurniawan is the first to deliver his horror stories, starting with a mystery-wanna-be tale Penjaga Malam. The idea is actually there and pretty convincing, about four men on duty guarding their village in the middle of the night and later finding each of themselves vanishing without trace. The problem is, it seems to try so hard to emanate darkness and fright but fails halfway. It’s a mystery yet somehow unable to even say that it is mysterious. Strangely, or luckily, Riwayat Kesendirian, Kurniawan’s third contribution here, has more of that mysterious vibe to it. It may not have the best or the most unusual idea—a man being haunted by the ghost of a woman he had ever helped in the past—but it is definitely better written that it will surely make the reader’s hair stand on end. The last one of his part, Jimat Sero, relies much on our traditional superstition that we can entirely rely on a particular jimat to get luck. Unfortunately, this must be paid in return with something so dear to us.

Intan Paramaditha is the second to present her tales. As we know, she is apt to write stories centering on women and gender, so it is no wonder that all four of her contributions talk about women and their issues. The first horror story she tells us is about a dangdut singer. Generally speaking, (female) dangdut singers do not have a very good reputation, especially those entertaining the lower class. They are both loved and hated, admired and despised. But most of the time they are the scapegoat for men’s improper desire, for they are not only singing, they are dancing—in an erotic way, usually. So Salimah, a dangdut singer in the piece entitled Goyang Penasaran, has to find herself gotten rid of from her home village for making a man unable to control his desire while she is singing on stage. That’s not the real problem here, however. As she comes back years later, she knows how and whom she must take her revenge on—the one respectable, yet hypocritical, man who set his male gaze on her years before and let his lust show but still had the audacity to claim himself to be a religious man and condemn her profession.

“Tak ada iblis lebih ngeri dari yang menyaru sebagai nabi.”

(No evil more sinister than those wearing the mask of a prophet.)

And that’s not it. The last of Paramaditha’s contributions, Si Manis dan Lelaki Ketujuh, is even more sinister in every aspect. What’s so outrageous here, if we want to say so, is not the idea of having a man as a sex slave, but having a man as a sex slave to a super rich woman with a badly disfigured face and a penchant for sadomasochism. It challanges the beauty standard, reverses the power play, and questions the sexual, normal norm. And interestingly, Paramaditha doesn’t focus on how the ugly woman thinks or feels about their relationship (though she can be said to be the female/reverse version of any common male lead character of this type), but she displays—describes—ever so blatantly the man’s feelings and how they develop through the sequence of their sexual encounters. The man realizes that he’s been addicted and cannot let himself go off of the entanglement, that he’s sort of tempted to accept the woman’s offer to leave his wife and have an adventure together, living the life of folk tales and unimaginable stories.

Among the three contributing writers, Ugoran Prasad might prove to be the one with the most standout pieces of all. No, he doesn’t write about bloodshed, bloodshot ghosts with chilling diction to frighten readers. His stories are more profound than that. Two of them even ring with gender issues, or something like that. Hantu Nancy, where he talks about the aftermath of the murder of a beauty salon owner, subtly shows how a beauty standard can be as dangerous as the murder itself. Meanwhile, in Hidung Iblis, Prasad seems to want to employ a different angle to deliver a story on sexuality.

In this last piece of the book, Sujatmoko, the main male character, appears to point out that all men with “normal” genitals (and thus normal sexual desire) are evils prowling innocent women. Trying to “protect” his wife from those evils, he is then intent on a killing spree. Readers might think he’s just doing it for having his manly pride hurt and merely to vent his anger on other, “normal” men. They might also think that he’s such an arrogant prick seeing a wife as a property hence the need for protection. And he might really be. But what’s so intriguing, and probably important, is the fact that his wife is not what he thinks she is. She’s beyond that. She doesn’t need protection, because “danger” is something she actually ventures into, something that she likes.

On the outside, Kumpulan Budak Setan appears to be a collection of horror stories. But while that might be true, there is something more to it than merely tales of ghosts, murders, or even love and sexual slavery. Deeper, it might be a series of elaborations of how we, humans, are actually the slaves of evils (just as the book title literally translates)—we rely so much on them, we do what they say, and we are even addicted to them and the sly tricks they play on us. We apparently cannot live without evils beside us. Maybe it’s just the human nature. So it can be pretty understandable that the writing styles employed by those three contributors do not exude horrific vibe or fright or anything that will make the reader so much as believe what they give us are horror stories. They are probably not at all.

Though a little bit disappointing in some aspects (i.e. the lack of fright some readers might seek for), Kumpulan Budak Setan is basically not a bad anthology. The writings are profoundly good, the ideas are not cliché, and the characters are all deeply dug up. It is some sort of proof that the three contributors—Kurniawan, Paramaditha and Prasad—are truly great writers we have today. If only it could be a little bit more frightening, that would be better.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Aku Mendengarmu, Istanbul

33088007498_4b3ce12be2_oBisa jadi, tidak banyak cerita bertemakan identitas nasional ditulis oleh seseorang yang justru tidak memegang identitas tersebut. Mungkin ada banyak penulis yang lebih dari sekadar mampu menuliskan kisah dengan latar negeri-negeri nun jauh bermodalkan seberapa pun pengetahuan tertulis yang sanggup mereka raup, tetapi itu hanya akan seperti melihat kehidupan orang lain melalui lubang kunci pintu yang kecil: tidak mendalam, tidak menyeluruh, dan tidak sepenuhnya bisa dipercaya. Namun Bernando J. Sujibto bukan penulis yang hanya bermodalkan mengintip dari lubang kunci. Ketertarikannya yang kuat pada hal-hal berbau Turki, lamanya ia tinggal di tanah Eurasia, kemampuannya berkomunikasi dan intensitasnya berinteraksi dengan penduduk setempat menjadikannya mampu, dan berhak, untuk menghadirkan gambaran yang lebih luas mengenai sebuah negeri yang pada biasanya hanya kita kenal melalui media dan sastra.

Aku Mendengarmu, Istanbul merupakan kumpulan lima belas cerita pendek karya Sujibto mengenai Turki—mengenai orang-orangnya, melankolinya, dinamikanya, juga keresahan dan masalah-masalahnya. Bagian pertama kumpulan cerpen ini, yang bertajuk Merayakan Cinta, dibuka dengan kisah berjudul Ela Gözlü yang langsung membuat pembaca cengang dengan keindahan dan kemuraman narasinya yang menusuk-nusuk. Jalinan cerita Ela Gözlü sangat padat, sangat ringkas, namun penuh misteri akan seorang perempuan muda yang menyimpan hasrat berjuang bersama PKK. Dengan mengadaptasi hüzün, yang terasa sangat kental pada karya-karya Orhan Pamuk, penulis menghadirkan pergulatan batin seorang Berivan yang sangat ingin ikut berjuang demi kemerdekaan dan berdirinya negeri Kurdistan. Atmosfer yang nyaris terasa romantis membuat isu sensitif separatisme yang menjadi tema cerpen ini lebih lunak untuk dikunyah, bahkan sedih dan melankolis sebagaimana yang mungkin diharapkan penulis.

Selain Ela Gözlü, ada enam cerita pendek lainnya pada bagian pertama, dan Beri Aku Kesempatan untuk Lebih Mengenalmu salah satu yang paling menarik. Penulis tidak bicara tentang Turki sama sekali, pun tidak menjadikan si bartender Turki sebagai tokoh utama. Ini sepotong kisah tentang seorang wanita bernama Jane yang memilih untuk tidak percaya pada cinta, dan justru lebih menggantungkan hidupnya pada hitung-hitungan. Jika penulis mana pun diperbolehkan bersandar pada klise, maka tak salah jika pada akhirnya Jane jatuh cinta tepat di saat ia harus menyesali sikapnya. Tetapi penulis tak membuat Jane larut dalam kesedihan dan penyesalan; Jane pergi ke Tibet untuk meresapi kehadiran cinta di hatinya.

Bagian Merayakan Cinta tidak melulu tentang cinta dua joli. Kaleköy untuk Muhammad Hasan Turki bercerita tentang persahabatan insan dua negara, sementara Senja di Osmangazi tentang rasa cinta pada bangsa dan identitas yang telah mati. Namun bisa dibilang Tokoh Fiksi yang Menjadi Orhan adalah yang paling menggelitik. Seberapa jauh, seberapa dalam, seberapa kuat rasa cinta kita pada idola? Apakah sampai menjadikannya sosok nyata di hadapan kita, bicara pada kita? Apakah sampai menjadikannya tokoh fiksi yang dikendalikan sesuka hati kita? Ini hanyalah satu contoh di mana rasa cinta bisa menjadi obsesi.

Kontras dengan bagian pertama, bagian kedua bertajuk dan berbicara tentang Merayakan Tragedi. Pada bagian inilah penulis membahas tentang gejolak, dinamika, pemberontakan dan masalah separatisme yang menyelimuti Turki. Dari delapan cerita yang disajikan, mungkin yang paling menarik adalah nomor-nomor yang bertemakan perdagangan ilegal di perbatasan, seperti Ada Dua Cara Mereka Mati, Ikuti Anjing Itu dan Kaçak Çay. Bagi orang-orang Turki bisa jadi apa yang diceritakan dalam ketiga cerpen tersebut sudah merupakan sesuatu yang “biasa”, rahasia umum yang semua orang tahu. Tetapi bagi orang-orang yang tidak tinggal di sana, bukan orang sana, atau tidak pernah melihat atau mendengar apa pun tentang dalamnya negeri sana, cerita-cerita ini bisa dibilang sungguh mengejutkan. Para pedagang barang-barang selundupan harus selalu siap mempertaruhkan nyawa di tangan para penjaga perbatasan. Ada yang demi penghidupan, ada pula yang demi membiayai gerakan pemberontakan.

Bicara tentang gerakan separatis, selain ceirta pertama pada bagian pertama, Sujibto kembali menghadirkan tema serupa di bagian kedua ini dalam dua nomor, Atas Nama Tanah dan Bangsa Kita Sendiri serta Lima Biji Zaitun Rontok. Meski memiliki tema serupa, tetapi dua cerita tersebut berbeda dengan cerpen Ela Gözlü—narasinya lebih tegas, atmosfernya lebih keras, dan akhirnya mengenas. Pada Atas Nama Tanah…, penulis bercerita tentang seorang warga suku Kurdi yang ditembak mati oleh polisi karena berani menurunkan bendera Turki di Diyarbakir. Orang ini berbuat demikian bukan tanpa alasan: ia tidak pernah merasa dirinya orang Turki; ia adalah orang “lain” dan ingin menjadi “lain”. Kaum separatis bukanlah sesuatu yang asing, dan tokoh ini adalah contohnya.

Setiap kisah pendek dalam buku Aku Mendengarmu, Istanbul dinarasikan dengan bahasa yang sangat puitis hingga menciptakan atmosfer yang romantis, bahkan pada cerita-cerita bertemakan penyelundupan dan pemberontakan. Penulis juga sepertinya sangat berniat mengadopsi hüzün yang biasa terasa kuat pada novel-novel Orhan Pamuk, nada melankolis yang sudah barang tentu lekat dengan bayangan kita tentang Turki. Jika dilihat dari segi ide cerita, karya-karya Bernando J. Sujibto pada buku ini pun bisa dikatakan tidak biasa. Apa-apa yang selalu kita lihat diberitakan di televisi atau media lainnya, bahkan lebih, menjadi dasar beberapa cerita pada buku ini. Sujibto juga tidak hanya berkutat pada satu tema, dan itu menjadikan buku ini semakin memikat.

Gabungan ide cerita yang unik, narasi yang apik, serta atmosfer yang sangat melankolis membuat Aku Mendengarmu, Istanbul sebuah kumpulan cerpen yang indah dan menggugah. Jika pun ada, satu kekurangannya adalah tata bahasa sang penulis. Sering kali penulis menggunakan kosa kata yang tidak tepat atau mubazir serta kalimat-kalimat yang tidak rapi sehingga terkesan agak tidak wajar. Narasi yang indah juga membutuhkan logika berbahasa, dan itu tidak selalu hadir di sini. Meski demikian, secara keseluruhan buku ini tetap dapat dinikmati.

Membaca Aku Mendengarmu, Istanbul rasanya seperti pergi ke negeri dua benua dan melihat dengan mata kepala sendiri apa yang sebenarnya terjadi yang luput dari mata media, serta ikut merasakan perasaan orang-orang yang termarjinalkan di pemberitaan. Selain bacaan, buku ini juga merupakan pengalaman yang luar biasa.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

The Namesake

32782023108_d92f86917dBeing different is always difficult. And there’s no better proof than The Namesake, a 2003 immigrant-themed novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. At a time when many people abandon their countries—either to escape war and persecution or to seek a better life—this book is something very much relevant. Putting aside the political aspect, it is always worthwhile to see what life of those newcomers is like and how they survive in the foreign land. Will they mingle well? Or will they distance themselves from others? Will they stay true to their motherland’s culture? Or will they blend all ideals together just so they can live a smooth life?

It all starts—despite the novel’s opening chapter—with Ashoke’s desire to travel the world upon the tragic accident that befalls him in his hometown in India, before which he meets and chats with a businessman suggesting him to go abroad at least once in a lifetime. Just before his leaving for the United States to do research and study further, his family arrange a marriage for him with Ashima, a young educated woman who, fortunately, is not disinclined to live abroad with him. But that cannot change the fact that living alone, just the two of them, in a foreign land is a difficult experience. Everything is alien to them, as they are to the nation they’re now part of. Everything is different from their inherited culture, from what they are used to, especially when it comes to naming their baby.

And here’s the unfortunate event where our main character gets his name, Gogol Ganguli. It has been a Bengali tradition that the grandmother of the mother will give her baby a name—a good, official name, to be precise—but alas! The letter containing this supposed name is lost between India and the US—it’s in the late 1960s so you can imagine the difficulties—and so when the hospital, as per usual in the country, asks Ashoke and Ashima to give their baby a name to fill the birth certificate, so they can take him home, they are forced to put a “pet name” on it instead, unwilling to breach the tradition by giving their baby a good name themselves. From then on, their son is Gogol, a name quickly picked up by Ashoke from his favorite author, the one who always inspires him and reminds him of  the near-death tragedy in his early life.

But Gogol is not happy with his name. It’s neither Bengali nor American, and its original owner had a tragic life Gogol cannot bear to know. He’s already a foreigner in a foreign land, and having a strange name is another burden to him. More than that, he hates his cultural background, his burdensome family tradition, his ties with his homeland. He spends almost his entire life defying all of that, including changing his name and make it a “good, official” one and dating Caucasian girls though he very well knows that his parents must want him to marry any Indian girl of their choice. However, he then meets, and falls in love with, Moushumi, a childhood Bengali friend of his. Their wedding later is quite predictable, though it’s not for the blessing their parents give them, but rather for their shared fate and will to escape their inherited identity and traditions. Unfortunately, this proves a mistake, because Moushumi’s character, and her sense of rebellion, make her realize that Gogol is not someone she wants to be with in her life.

It is easy to see how all main characters in The Namesake suffer from a sense of alienation. But while Ashoke and Ashima try so hard to hold on still to their culture and embrace that of Americans’ at the same time, Gogol wants none of that. He doesn’t like being who he is (a stranger with a strange name) and all he wants is to be assimilated totally and successfully into the American society. He only wants to be a “normal” person in the land he was born into, and to have a “normal” name which doesn’t make anyone around him stop and question him. At the same time, Moushumi, who is in the same generation as Gogol himself, shows the same strong will and determination. She even once pledged to not marry an Indian/Bengali man just so she can break her parents’ hopes and expectations as Bengali people living in America—a pledge which she accidentally breaks and brings her to her demise.

All this shows that assimilation is a tremendous feat that can be very much personal. There is no way Jhumpa Lahiri doesn’t know it perfectly, and she succeeds in narrating the whole process. Her narrative is open and clear, her language is simple and direct. She doesn’t take on lavish, pretentious writing style to tell her tale so readers can really see through all the characters: what they think and feel, and their development toward the end of the story. What’s a little bit disturbing (I wouldn’t say disappointing) here is that some parts are pretty boring to follow, and some are even too much predictable. You can almost foresee what is going to happen even before opening the next page. It may be because you already know it, or perhaps it is just the way it should be. Putting all that aside, the plot development is still as good as that of the characters, and the atmosphere created by Lahiri’s diction can truly drag the reader down with subtle yet stormy emotions.

All things said, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake is a very satisfying book in many aspects, if not all. It might not provide readers with what immigration or assimilation is actually about, or with all the struggles immigrants have to go through in the foreign land. But it surely gives the reader some insights into how immigrants could or should blend in with their new society, and how “being different” is also a part/process of creating a melting pot.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review

Human Acts

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Indonesian edition’s cover

Humanity and repressive governments will always be interesting topics to discuss in literature, for in this realm all traumatic experiences of living under bad regimes can be perpetuated, forever stay on papers and in people’s mind, if not solved. Books are an effective medium to pass over to the next generation the painful history they should know, though they may not have the capability, or will, to make it right or give justice to those who had been wronged in the past. Human Acts, the wonderfully narrated novel by Han Kang, is clearly intended to do just that, so people will never forget there was a certain dark period in South Korean modern history.

The novel starts—in an atmosphere that’s more than merely depressing and in a somewhat vague manner—with a young boy looking for his missing friend, dead or alive. There has been some sort of a riot, as it is later gradually told, where the government-backed military fired bullets blindly to random citizens on the streets and killed many people, even those who weren’t actually part of it. Dong Ho, the young boy, keeps wandering through the Provincial Office to find Jeong Dae, this friend of his, but to no avail. He lingers there however, still in the hope of finding Jeong Dae, and helps sorting and dealing with corpses. Never does he know that Jeong Dae’s body, dead already, has been stacked somewhere behind bushes and slowly decaying. He only knows that he actually saw Jeong Dae when he was shot, and left him in the middle of the riot.

It needs a string of subtle guilty on Dong Ho’s side and slow paces of storyline to get to what truly happens to the two young boys, and what truly happens to the country. Throughout the next chapters, readers are told how the government becomes more and more tyrannical—tightly censoring books, imprisoning innocent people on false charges and treating them like worthless animals, causing incurable trauma across the nation—and how South Korean people at that dark period have to live their lives where committing suicide and insomnia are not something unusual.

The main event told in the book took place in the early 1980s and 1990, when an authoritarian ruler had been assassinated only for people to see another one coming up and making even bigger chaos. It was a horrible time South Korean people in the past had to experience—and hopefully won’t repeat itself in the future—when even a self-claimed democratic government used an excuse of banishing northern infiltration from their southern part of the peninsula to punish people without mercy and oppress them just to maintain the status quo. It was when university students held demonstrations on the streets and got arrested, when common people were dragged—voluntarily or not—and got shot. In fact, this particular period seems very common everywhere. Here in Human Acts, both innocent and guilty people are imprisoned and being questioned inhumanely, left hungry for days before being released after a very strange, without-any-evidences trial. Traumatized, some of them even commit suicide, or, worse, try to kill people.

Han Kang tells the depressing, goosebumps-giving story from the points of view of those who are involved in, or become victims of, the riot handled with cruelty by the military: from the young boys, the prisoners, the eyewitnesses, to the writer herself. And though Han does make an enough effort to introduce all those characters early in the first chapter (alongside with Dong Ho), but still the plot, and subplots, where they dwell are not easy to deal with. The narrative is so “thick” that readers need to peel it layer by layer in order to see crystal clear where the storyline goes. Han doesn’t make it easy for readers to enjoy her tale—as if she wants them to suffer together with the victims—and forces them to really follow each of the characters to know exactly what happens inside and what effects it has on them.

Han’s writing style in Human Acts is neither truly realistic nor the opposite. To describe all the hardships and violence, Han doesn’t shy away from taking the realistic approach to display horrible scenes as explicit as possible. On the other hand, Han uses an almost surrealistic style to tell about the trauma all the victims have to endure. It is perhaps to make it more dramatic, sharper that readers can’t help but feel uneasy and disturbed upon absorbing the fear, the restlessness, the insanity brought about by dictatorship prevailed in that era. It is really hurtful to see those things written blatantly on the paper, and Han Kang really pulls it off.

All in all, Human Acts by Han Kang is a book that is so depressing, so sad, so hurtful to read, not only for the dark period the reader has to experience through letters, but also for the way Han Kang wrote and presented it to her audience. If anything, it is a book that forces the reader to see inhumanity clearly through its heavy words.

Rating: 4/5

others

2018: The Year of Good Reads and Bad Habit

The year 2018 has already passed and I’d unbelievably read more than 40 books! This is a record breaking since I’d never read more than thirty books in a year before. But perhaps it’s more due to my determination to finish all volumes of The Smiling, Proud Wanderer manhua series (a.k.a comic books) so it’s not really a record after all. Be that as it may, I’m still pretty proud of myself and particularly happy because among those 40-something books there wasn’t a single disaster. Not once did I ever give a 2-star rating. All of them were marvelous, great reads.

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There were of course some best books among others, some which were so outstanding that I cannot help but pick them as the best of the best for last year. And they were (not in any particular order):

  1. Raden Mandasia si Pencuri Daging Sapi (Yusi Avianto Pareanom)
  2. Gentayangan (Intan Paramaditha)
  3. Hotel Tua (Budi Darma)
  4. Surat Panjang Tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya (Dewi Kharisma Michellia)
  5. Buku Latihan Tidur (Joko Pinurbo)

Yes, they’re all Indonesian books (4 fiction and 1 poetry books). If anyone wonders why my last year’s bests end up without any single foreign/translated book all I can say is that beside those 17 volumes of Chinese and Japanese comic books I finished, I mostly read Indonesian books in 2018. I did read, and like, Human Acts by Han Kang and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, but unfortunately those two fascinating novels couldn’t compete with my choices above. My best 5 last year were truly, truly somehing that were so great, so entertaining, so meaningful and so relatable to me in many ways. I’m currently reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and so far I like it so much, but for my “reading-like-a-snail” habit I might have only finished it in the middle of January.

And oh, for those who are curious, the English edition of Gentayangan by Intan Paramaditha will be released by the UK’s Harvill Secker in 2020. You might want to catch it up.

                   buku-kurang-berkenan

Of course, as much satisfied as I might be with my last year’s reading, there were still some books that didn’t live up to my expectations. They were not necessarily bad or so below my standard, it’s just I thought those books would really blow my mind and be worth my writing a review. But no, they were pretty good, but my slight disappointment made me too lazy to produce even a single word out of my brain. They were Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, Love Her Wild by Atticus, and Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. Yep, you read it right. A book by Isabel Allende, one of my favorite authors. While I loved the Tripartite so much, Eva Luna, in my opinion, was not up there at the same level. The narrative was a little bit boring, the main female character was like she’s going nowhere, and there was too much haste in building the romantic relationship between her and the second male character that I almost couldn’t believe they are truly in love. However, this doesn’t mean that I will not read any of Allende’s works anymore, but perhaps I need time to heal my disappointment and pick up another one.

The year 2018 also marked my new (and unwelcome) habit: polygamous reading. I’m a very focused person. I don’t like to, and cannot, do two or more things at the same time, and yet last year I suddenly jumped into this particular habit of reading two or more books at the same period. I felt like I was easily bored, easily distracted by something else. When I hadn’t done with this book, I would go to the library and borrow that book. When I knew I had to finish a certain book as soon as possible, I’d turn around and read some comics. It was very mentally exhausting but I kept doing it. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I have not done reading the book The Smiling, Proud Wanderer by Jin Yong, because I ended up reading Gu Long’s Seven Killers instead (which I haven’t finished yet!). I hate this and I want to get out of it. Hopefully in 2019 I will not do the same “mistake” again.

Speaking of 2019, I also hope I can read more books (I mean, not comic books) and write more reviews this year. This blog had been a dark pit of almost emptiness as I felt too lazy to write a review for every book I’d read last year. I still kept it alive, yes, but it was not as active as in the past. Hope this year my spirit will kick in and I’ll be writing more book reviews and articles. But, well, that might be a bit difficult since I’ll have to get away from Twitter and watching C-Dramas then XD.

So what’s my reading plan for this year? Well, I’m thinking of reading some Orhan Pamuk again since I haven’t gotten my hands on any of his books for so long and I feel as if I’ve been betraying him. And perhaps I will read more books by women (something I never cared to do before) just because… Other than that, I maybe, maybe, will try and pick up The Smiling, Proud Wanderer again and finish at least one volume of the whole four. Last but not least, I intend to read more foreign/translated books to make up last year’s lack of the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I will still read Indonesian books (fiction or poetry) as it has been my “personal project” to explore my own country’s literary landscape, but this time I want to make some balance. So hopefully I can manage that.

That’s it my review of last year’s reading activity and some reading plan for 2019. I really, really hope there won’t be too many changes and most of everything will be as I have planned. What about you, readers?

-erdeaka-

poetry, review

Buku Latihan Tidur

45524246745_5d12bf6423Some (or most) people might think poetry is some kind of melodramatic literary product, with flowery, figurative language not everyone understand. And there might not be many people who would think that poetry can also be funny, comic even, triggering laughter of its readers. Buku Latihan Tidur by Joko Pinurbo, one of Indonesia’s senior contemporary poets, falls into that category. It is not only hilarious, it’s refreshing, and yes it is thought-provoking but it doesn’t try to take anything seriously. Many poems listed on its table of contents indeed address some serious issues—like religion—but still in a very light, entertaining manner.

Those who are already familiar with the poet (those who aren’t can try and pick up Selamat Menunaikan Ibadah Puisi, some sort of “summary” of his past works) must have known that Pinurbo loves to play with words like someone playing a Rubik’s Cube, the result of which is revealing colorful sides of Indonesian language and what’s funny about it. This tendency is clearly seen in almost every piece of his poems here, but new readers may catch it up directly in Kamus Kecil, the second on the list, where he flips some words, or put two words together with only one letter difference, to show that those words can make up meaningful senteces.

“…

bahwa sumber segala kisah adalah kasih;

bahwa ingin berawal dari angan;

bahwa ibu tak pernah kehilangan iba;

bahwa segala yang baik akan berbiak;

bahwa orang ramah tidak mudah marah;

bahwa seorang bintang harus tahan banting;

bahwa untuk menjadi gagah kau harus gigih;

bahwa terlampau paham bisa berakibat hampa;

bahwa orang lebih takut kepada hantu ketimbang kepada tuhan;

…” —(page 3)

The last line above is particularly funny because it’s mostly true that people are more afraid of ghost (hantu) than of God (tuhan).

In Tokoh Cerita, Pinurbo seems to try to point out how tricky it is to write a story and fill it with characters. He describes himself as an author who sits side by side with his fictional character, then suddenly he crosses out himself and so one character disappears and disturbs the plot. This attempt takes the reader back to the notion that writers often pour out themselves—either their alter ego, part of their personality, or their real-life experiences—into the stories they create. And once they decide to take back their character and let the others run wild, that’s when the storyline starts to get uncontrollable. Meanwhile, Perjamuan Malam is another amusing poem in which Pinurbo jokes about a meal where the dish on the plate (seemingly fish from the way the poet describes it) looks about to say “ouch” when it’s going to be eaten. Here he really makes the most out of his stock of metaphor.

There’s also an irony where Pinurbo thinks (or, seems to think) that people are actually insane in general, and that sanity is something as rare as holidays.

“Kepalaku rumah sakit jiwa yang kesepian

(my head is a lonely mental hospital)

ditinggal penghuninya mudik liburan.”

(all its inhabitants going out on vacation)—(page 18)

It is very intriguing that the poet would really think that way. Or perhaps, he means to refer to himself, what with his “abnormal” tone of poetry and crazy ideas. Whatever it is, this one poem can truly knock the reader’s mind as it points out the contradiction between what’s people generally believe (that sanity is a normal condition) and what’s real (that it is insanity the normal one).

“Apa agamamu?

(what’s your religion?)

Agamaku air yang membersihkan pertanyaanmu.”

(it’s water that cleans your question)—(page 6)

As naturally funny and linguistically comic as it is, Buku Latihan Tidur still can’t help but fall into the dangerous area of religion, which is a very sensitive topic if you see the condition these days. But Pinurbo doesn’t try to set up some doctrine for people to follow. In fact, he tries to show that religion should be relieving, calming, freeing belief and not something that makes people so angry, so intolerant, so snobbish, so hateful and vengeful toward others. Like in the poem Sajak Balsem untuk Gus Mus, where he highly criticizes “religious people” who do their prayers everyday but then chiding, bullying, fighting others and get mad when they’re at the losing side. This subtly harsh criticism can also be found in Kolom Agama. It basically criticizes the national ID card in which we have to fill what our religious belief is for all people to see. What’s the use of it, anyway?  Does it make you a good person? What if the religion stated on the ID card is not the religion the ID card owner holds? There are too many a case like this. Moreover, as the poet implies in this poem, what’s important is not religion, but love.

Buku Latihan Tidur by Joko Pinurbo has not only so much fun, but also so many themes and tricks of how to handle them. It consists only of 80-something pages yet it is so rich: either in its contents or its metaphorical language. Pinurbo doesn’t only entertain us, but he provokes our thoughts. He invites us to come and see many things from a comical angle, from a humorous point of view. He seems to want us not to take anything seriously, but if we think about it, we’ll find things truly funny but most of the time in an ironic way. Joko Pinurbo really has a gift to do that.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review

Surat Panjang Tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya

30686385747_6bc2343305_oDespite its super long title, Surat Panjang Tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya  by Dewi Kharisma Michellia is actually a pretty short novel with a tight plot and practically not so many characters. First published in 2013, the book indeed consists of several long (and short) letters written by the narrator for the childhood friend she is in love with, and through those letters she asks not only her long-lost buddy but also the reader to see her lonely life wrapped up in strangely-engaging, melancholic atmosphere.

The story starts with someone sending a bunch of letters to a man complete with a CD, its record transcript and a note. It turns out that those letters were written by his childhood friend he’s not seen in such a long time. This friend, or, our narrator to be precise, sort of recall—or, retell for the reader—their childhood when they were still very young and thought that they were aliens, two people who did not belong to the Earth, who were not like any other human being. They pledged to be married one day, but that never happened. They ended up going separate ways, and became two people who were poles apart. For her love for him, she never had any relationship with any man but one, and that even ended right before they’re about to get married. She then continued living on her own in solitude, only with her demanding job, messy life style and cancer till the end of her day.

If you think the story is so sad, it’s nothing compared to the melancholy you’ll find in every page and each sentence. The narrator describes herself as a lonely person, an alien who is not like everyone else around her—not following their way of thinking, their customs, not even listening to them. At first she thinks her beloved childhood friend will remain the same, remain like her and they can be together forever—them against the world. But reality has knocked him hard and he’s changed, turning into someone who doesn’t even care about idealism anymore. And so she stays the same alone, experiencing one disappointment after another, witnessing his love for her decaying and vanishing ever rapidly. However, strong or not, she has to go on with her life, forgetting her anger and broken heart when he eventually marries another woman.

But describing loneliness and broken heart is just one thing of so many elements shaping this book. Michellia doesn’t forget to fill it with other disappointments: toward the New Order regime, toward patriarchy and its so-called root in religion, toward her own family. There seems to be so many disappointments in one person that the narrative deserves what melancholy readers feel when they read it. It looks like the writer is purposely exploring and elaborating what loneliness is in the form of someone’s pathetic life.

Hence the need for poetic language, for it is the only tool that can deliver sadness and dramatic atmosphere very well. Readers, however, do not have to worry it will be too much to fathom. Michellia keeps it down and “literal” enough for them to digest so it’s still beautiful and yet bearable. The plot is also enjoyable, with some flashbacks explaining what truly happened in the past and therefore giving the narrator reasons to feel the way she does. The ending is only expected, because there is no other way around, no matter how sad it is.

If there is anything unbearable about Surat Panjang it is the narrator’s—or, rather, the writer’s—tendency to give a bad name to the New Order and religion. It is indeed undeniable that the New Order was not a nice regime where people could live easily and comfortably, but this topic has been discussed in almost every Indonesian literary fiction book that it’s now getting old and boring. In addition, just like everybody else, the writer has no qualms about showing where she stands and blaming religion for the patriarchy that suffocates our society. To me, it is so old and so wrong. If everyone is truly entitled to their own opinion, then I’m going to say this: what’s to blame for patriarchal culture is the culture itself and men’s ego, not any religion.

However far my stand from the writer’s might be, Michellia’s Surat Panjang Tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya is still a very great novel. It’s so melancholic yet so beautiful, and with its tone it manages to drown the reader into its sadness and loneliness, to make them feel what the narrator feels and helpless over her situation. It’s a dramatic book, but not an overly emotional one.

Rating: 4.5/5