Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas

34135013895_b46a7651dc_oJudul                : Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas

Penulis             : Eka Kurniawan

Cetakan Ke-3  : Desember 2015

Penerbit           : Gramedia Pustaka Utama

ISBN                   : 978-602-03-2470-8

Tebal Buku      : 250 halaman

Format               : paperback

Rating                 : 4/5

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.

Drupadi

33828926655_9a7f05b53b_oWanita sering kali tidak punya pilihan, dan tidak bisa berkata tidak. Sebelum banyak dari kaum perempuan di zaman modern menangisi kenyataan ini, kisah-kisah wayang Jawa kuna sudah sejak lama menyiratkannya, dan kisah Drupadi dalam epos Mahabharata adalah salah satunya. Seno Gumira Ajidarma menuliskan kembali kisah sang dewi nan cantik cemerlang ini dalam sejumlah cerita pendeknya, yang kemudian dijadikan satu sehingga terbaca sebagai sebuah novel yang utuh. Ditemani ilustrasi-ilustrasi apik karya Danarto serta bait-bait puisi yang memantik akal dan rasa, buku yang diberi judul Drupadi ini tidak hanya berbicara tentang penderitaan yang harus dialami wanita, tetapi juga peran dan apa yang sanggup mereka lakukan dengan kekuatan tersembunyi yang mereka miliki.

Di buku ini kisah Drupadi dimulai ketika ia diarak dengan segenap upacara kebesaran menuju gelaran sayembara yang diadakan sang ayah, Prabu Drupada, untuk mencarikan suami baginya. Belum apa-apa pembaca sudah disuguhi kenyataan pahit di mana Drupadi, sebagai seorang wanita, tidak berhak untuk memilih suaminya sendiri, karena yang akan menjadi suaminya adalah siapa pun yang memenangkan sayembara tersebut. Pesertanya pun dibatasi hanya dari golongan yang sederajat atau yang tidak lebih rendah dari Dewi Drupadi sendiri. Secercah harapan muncul ketika Arjuna memenangkan sayembara, karena walaupun akhirnya ada seorang pria yang berhasil “memiliki” dirinya, Drupadi jatuh cinta pada pandangan pertama pada sang kesatria yang tengah menyamar. Dapat menikah dengan pria yang dicintai merupakan kebebasan tersendiri, tetapi bukan lagi saat pria itu justru kemudian menolak untuk menikahinya dan melempar tanggung jawab untuk mempersunting dirinya kepada saudara yang lain. Jadilah Drupadi dari seorang putri yang tak bisa memilih suaminya sendiri menjadi sebentuk tanggung jawab yang dilempar-lempar di antara para Pandawa karena tidak ada yang mau menanggungnya. Drupadi hanya bisa tertunduk dan diam, tak mengungkapkan pendapat maupun keinginannya. Karena sekalipun ia mempunyai keinginan dan harapan, wanita seakan-akan tidak dikodratkan untuk memperjuangkan dengan cara mengungkapkannya. Maka pada akhirnya orang lainlah yang menentukan nasib Drupadi, menjadikannya istri dari kelima Pandawa bersaudara sekaligus.

Drupadi tertunduk. Apakah perempuan diandaikan tidak punya kemauan? Tentu seorang perempuan memiliki kehendaknya sendiri. Namun meski dirinya hidup di antara para bijak, selain kepada perempuan tidak pernah diajukan pertanyaan, perempuan sendiri tidak akan memperjuangkan kehendak dan cita-citanya dengan cara menyatakannya.

Dalam kisah ini, menjadi seorang wanita yang bersuamikan lima orang bukanlah balasan atau jawaban dari praktik poligami di mana seorang pria boleh memiliki lebih dari satu istri. Di sini, Drupadi justru menanggung beban harus bersikap adil kepada kelima suaminya (walau hanya mencintai seorang saja) dan menurut kepada kelimanya pula. Ia tetaplah seorang istri yang, sedikit banyak, merupakan properti dari para suaminya dan dengan demikian menjadikannya bagian dari diri kelima Pandawa. Ia tetaplah seorang wanita yang tak bisa berbuat apa-apa kala salah seorang suaminya, Yudhistira, mempertaruhkannya di atas meja judi dan menyerahkan nasibnya pada dadu yang berputar. Dan benar saja, ketika Yudhistira kalah di tangan Sangkuni, sebagai bagian dari properti sang suami, Drupadi pun harus ikut diserahkan kepada Kurawa bersama seluruh negeri Indraprastha. Sekeras apa pun ia menolak, bukanlah takdirnya sebagai seorang istri dan wanita untuk bisa lepas dari suratan menjadi “milik orang lain”. Belum cukup penderitaannya sampai di situ, ia diperkosa beramai-ramai di hadapan kelima suaminya sendiri serta harus ikut mengembara bersama mereka di hutan saat terbuang dalam penyamaran.

32946376464_713f388337Namun Seno Gumira Ajidarma tidak hanya menceritakan derita yang mesti dialami Drupadi sebagai seorang wanita. Dalam bab berjudul Wacana Drupadi, SGA menggambarkan betapa sang dewi sudah tak sanggup lagi memendam dendam di dalam hati dan menuntut kelima suaminya agar menuntut balas kepada para Kurawa. Dari tuntutan Drupadi inilah berkobar Perang Bharatayudha, di mana Kurawa dikalahkan oleh Pandawa dan Drupadi dapat memenuhi sumpahnya: mengeramasi rambutnya dengan darah Dursasana. Dari sini dapat dilihat betapa perang bisa terjadi “hanya” karena dendam dan tuntutan dari seorang wanita. Tetapi dari sisi lain juga dapat dilihat betapa balasan dari menghinakan seorang wanita mampu menyeret seratus orang kesatria beserta seluruh pasukannya pada kematian. Ini adalah kekuatan wanita, kekuatan tersembunyi yang tidak diperoleh dari penempaan fisik maupun penggunaan senjata.

Seno Gumira Ajidarma mampu menceritakan ulang kisah wayang Jawa yang berakar dari legenda India ini dengan sangat sederhana tetapi dengan gaya bahasa yang sangat apik dan dramatis. Dan meski terkesan sangat singkat dan plotnya melompat-lompat, novel ini mampu menerangkan karakter dan menangkap peran seorang Drupadi dalam kisah peperangan yang didominasi oleh kaum lelaki dengan lugas dan terperinci. Novel ini menggambarkan dua sisi wanita (kuat dan lemah) yang tak terelakkan, layaknya dua sisi kehidupan (baik dan buruk) yang sudah menjadi suratan dan hanya dipisahkan oleh sebuah garis tipis berwarna abu-abu. Novel ini juga seolah ingin menyatakan bahwa pria dan wanita seharusnya setara dan sederajat, bahwa bukan hanya wanita yang memiliki kewajiban terhadap suami tetapi juga sebaliknya. Pesan inilah, selain gaya bahasa dan ilustrasi-ilustrasinya, yang membuat novel Drupadi terasa sangat indah dan menggugah.

Rating: 4/5

Pengakuan di Hari Jadi

Tidak terasa sudah enam tahun Blogger Buku Indonesia berdiri, dan sudah enam tahun pula saya bergabung menjadi anggota. Sering kali, setiap kali BBI berulang tahun, saya selalu terkenang masa-masa awal komunitas narablog buku ini berdiri, yang juga merupakan masa-masa awal saya bergabung dan hanya mengenal satu-dua orang teman. Dulu di masa-masa awal itu, bisa dibilang komunitas ini sedang aktif-aktifnya: admin Twitter tidak pernah absen dan selalu mencuit ulang tautan resensi/artikel anggota setidaknya di awal/akhir pekan, selalu saja ada kegiatan posting/baca bareng (walaupun saya tidak pernah ikut), dan masih ada event yang namanya Secret Santa di setiap Natal/akhir tahun (meski saya tidak pernah ikut juga). Karena jumlah anggotanya masih sedikit, masing-masing jadi mudah akrab dan sering sekali mengobrol di Twitter, entah apa saja yang diobrolkan. Saat itu (dan sekarang pun masih) saya bukanlah anggota yang aktif mengikuti kegiatan ini-itu ataupun kenal dengan banyak anggota lainnya, tapi saya bisa merasakan atmosfer kedekatan dan keaktifan di tubuh komunitas BBI.
Sekarang keadaan sudah berbeda. Jumlah anggota sudah bertambah banyak, tapi seiring dengan itu bertambah banyak pula anggota yang “menghilang” dari Twitter, admin juga tidak seaktif dulu lagi, banyak yang sudah tidak/jarang aktif di blog buku masing-masing, bahkan ada anggota yang keluar. Jika bicara tentang keluar atau mengundurkan diri dari BBI, terus terang, ini jujur sejujurnya, saya pun beberapa kali terpikir untuk berhenti menjadi anggota komunitas ini. Ada banyak alasan, mulai dari perbedaan pendapat dengan satu maupun hampir semua anggota, merasa bahwa keanggotaan saya di sini tidak ada gunanya, sampai atmosfer yang tidak lagi terasa akrab. Ketika terjadi perbedaan pendapat antara saya dan anggota-anggota yang lain, saya hanya bisa diam dan tidak berani mengungkapkannya pada siapa pun karena seakan-akan semua anggota (paling tidak yang aktif di Twitter dan saya kenal) satu suara dan berlawanan dengan saya. Saya jadi tertekan: saya harus bicara pada siapa? Jika saya buka suara di Twitter, saya takut justru akan memancing perang cuitan, karena memang sudah menjadi tabiat hampir semua warganet bersikap lebih frontal dan galak di media sosial. Saya tertekan dan jadi merasa tidak punya teman. Saya hanya bisa diam dan malah menceritakannya pada sahabat saya yang notabene bukan anggota BBI. Ini terjadi sudah lama sekali, tapi saya masih ingat.

Kadang-kadang saya juga merasa keanggotaan saya di BBI tidak ada gunanya, tidak tahu kenapa. Mungkin karena sayanya yang kurang aktif, mungkin karena kurang kenal banyak anggota, mungkin karena saya merasa bahwa dengan atau tanpa BBI saya tetap bisa menulis resensi di blog saya. Entahlah. Dan kadang pula, ada ganjalan atmosfer yang sudah tidak lagi terasa akrab lantaran banyak anggota yang sudah tidak aktif lagi di Twitter. Kenapa saya tidak pindah saja ke Instagram, Facebook, atau WhatsApp seperti yang lain? Karena saya mencegah diri saya agar tidak melakukan apa yang dilakukan orang lain, alias mengikuti arus.

Lantas, kenapa selama enam tahun ini saya masih bertahan? Apa alasan dan pertimbangan saya? Untuk pertanyaan ini saya juga tidak tahu jawaban pastinya. Mungkin, ini mungkin saja, karena saya menyamakan menjadi anggota BBI dengan ikatan pernikahan. Pernikahan terjadi antara dua orang yang berbeda yang terlahir dari dua orang ibu yang berbeda pula, jadi tidak mungkin seratus persen cocok. Saudara kembar saja bisa berbeda, apalagi anak orang lain? Dalam pernikahan pun kadang-kadang ada rasa hambar di satu titik saking kita sudah terbiasa dengan orang yang ada di samping kita, atau mungkin saking sepasang suami-istri itu jarang bertemu. Tapi pernikahan bukanlah tempat untuk “mencari bahagia”, tapi untuk berkomitmen. Jika tidak siap dengan segala perbedaan dan kehampaan suatu hubungan, memang sebaiknya tidak/tunda dulu menjalin sebuah ikatan.

Yah, mungkin itulah alasan saya tetap berada di komunitas BBI ini: komitmen. Saya sudah ada di sini sejak komunitas ini berdiri, dan saya akan tetap ada di sini sampai komunitas ini tidak ada lagi. Insyaallah. Dan dengan ini, saya ingin mengucapkan selamat hari jadi yang keenam untuk Blogger Buku Indonesia. Bagaimanapun, BBI adalah rumah bagi saya di mana saya bisa “berkumpul” dengan orang-orang yang sehobi dengan saya, yaitu membaca dan menulis. Semoga kita bisa semakin menghargai perbedaan, kembali akrab, dan semakin kuat demi ikut memajukan dunia literasi Indonesia. Perjuangan untuk mengajak orang agar gemar membaca (dan senang menulis) belum berhenti selama statistiknya masih menyedihkan. Saya juga ingin meminta maaf jika selama ini saya sangat pasif, jarang sekali blogwalking, dan tidak mengenal dekat para anggota yang lain. Semoga komunitas kita ini semakin maju! 🙂

I Don’t Give a D***

I’ve wanted to put this nagging thing on my mind into words for so long and blog it up here but found myself not having the heart to do it. Now, I’ll be doing it for a thousand words or so. Watch out, you may not like it.

People have favorite writers, so do I. But most of the time they have “favorite people” whose works they just happen to read, or love to read. These “favorite people” have some favorable qualities or likable personalities that make readers adore them even more than their works. These qualities/personalities can be certain charming characters (inspiring, wise, sympathetic, or simply having a heart of gold), or they can be their sex/gender (“I read this book because the author is a woman” doesn’t seem to be a rare expression these days). I’m not accusing people of not having literary taste or something, but sometimes you just can’t help it, can you? Because when you think the books these “favorite people” produce are so great and inspiring you will go to the bookstore and spend what little money you have to buy them and read them enthusiastically till midnight, but when you finally discover that these “favorite people” are a******* (or that they use pseudonyms and are actually not the person you think they are) you will have a doubt and eventually stop reading their books no matter how marvelous they are. You may think that I’m merely talking nonsense here, but I was, and am, a witness to this nonsense.

Years ago, at least that I remember, a best-selling author had just released the English edition of his book under a huge literary publisher in the United States. After quite some time, a blogger put his doubts on his blog over the nature of the release, saying loud and clear that actually the book was published by a small press and not a big player. He also severely criticized the many changes occured in the translated version, pointing out that the US edition might have not been translated from the original manuscript but was merely an adaptation. The author went mad at the “accusation”, and at the blogger, too, of course, and called his lawyer straight away to sue said blogger. It blew up and went viral on the Internet. Everyone on Twitter were condemning him mercilessly and ceaselessly, calling him arrogant and some other names and swore to God that they would never, ever again read his books. I remember feeling disappointed. I understood that it was not the best attitude of an author, but I have to say that it was not the best attitude of a reader, either. People left him, but I stayed. I stayed for the sake of his work. I stayed because I knew he was not the only one to make such a horrible mistake, or the only one to try keeping a good image but failed. I stayed because I knew being a writer in the book industry is a complicated thing. Really, sometimes I wonder what people’s reactions will be if the gossip that J.K. Rowling is actually not J.K. Rowling is true. Will they leave her and promise to never read her books anymore? And what about those senior male writers they said always trying to get into young female writers’ pants? If this rumor proves to be true, and we find out who those male writers are, will we leave them, too?

Writers are not gods, they make mistakes and they sin. If you look at what they are more than you do what they write, you’ll only tear your heart apart because all human beings are sinful, we are all sinful. So I don’t think we should read books for the authors’ “outer” image, or for their sex/gender, for that matter. I know the campaign to read more female writers today is all about making balance in the book industry, since the literary world has been indeed ruled by men for so very long. I am a woman and I can understand the need to do so. But I don’t want to be a gender-bound reader. I want to read a book only if it’s worth reading. What if a book, written by a female writer, is badly written? People hail women writers but they diss E.L. James, and every romance writer there is in the book industry, for they think romances they produce are a bunch of crap. If you really think you should read more female writers, then you should read E.L. James, not despising her on every article you write. So, I do think we should appreciate writers more for their capabilities than their sex/gender, if this is truly about “gender equality”.

You may think I’ve gone out of my mind, but it’s just not in my nature to judge a book by its author. I don’t care if it’s a he or a she, and I absolutely don’t care if he/she is a complete a****** or a wiseguy giving you some spiritual enlightenment on social media. Most of my favorite writers are men and one of them (yes, that best-selling author) was damned by almost the entire readership for his incapability to put his arrogance in the right place. From what I read on online newspapers and literary magazines, I could tell that Orhan Pamuk is not a charming person, but I love his books because they can equally reflect the social/cultural issues in my country; and I do not adore Sapardi Djoko Damono because we share the same cultural background (as Javanese people coming originally from Solo) but because we share the same opinion about everything and anything and have the same sense of humor, too, as reflected in his fiction works. I like Isabel Allende not because she is a woman, but because her Tripartite are a bunch of masterpieces and could really speak to me. In short, I don’t give a d***. For me it’s their works that matter, not their personalities. They can go to hell for whatever reason and I will still read their books if those books are truly great and inspiring. As E.M. Forster put it, “I am more interested in works than authors.”

I realize that it’s totally pointless to address this issue on my blog. But I just want people to know. Well, whoever those who actually read my blog. And I do not wish for anything, for I know everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. And this is mine.

Dijual: Keajaiban

32918651421_ddb0ce58f9_oNine different writers from various Asian countries with nine different stories. Dijual: Keajaiban is an anthology that provides you with this wonderful miracle. Despite the geographical question you might be left with after perusing the list of writers contributing to the collection, the nine short pieces bring you thought-provoking ideas, deep, vividly drawn characters, emotional plots and thoughtful messages. This book is something we can call a hidden gem, something that might not be popular among readers (here in this country) but has the value of a treasure.

All the stories contained in this book are of high quality, there is no doubt about it. But there are four that can truly tear your heart apart, or at least leave you dead silent and aware of the reality around you. The first one is also the first to welcome readers to the collection, a very subtle love story by the Chinese Nobel laureate, Gao Xingjian, entitled In the Park. It’s about a couple of childhood friends who meet again when they are grown up and are talking about their past and present, while watching a restless woman waiting for the man she loves nearby. The way Gao composes the dialogs tells us how both of them are actually in love with each other, unluckily, destiny doesn’t seem to want to see them together. But there has to be someone to blame, and the woman doesn’t conceal the fact that she intends to do so. However, it is not this attitude, or the subtle conflict being told she has with her male friend, which pulls the reader to the depth of the narrative, but the idea of how women, even in a personal love affair, has always to be on the losing side. It is crystal clear from what the woman says to the man:

“If the woman falls in love first, it’s always unlucky.”

The second lump-in-the-throat story of the book is Qismati and Nasibi by Naguib Mahfouz. Imagine you have a Siamese twin sibling and you cannot get away from the fact, much less from them. Characteristically, you both are so different you might as well be two different people born from two different mothers, and nothing unites you but your conjoined bodies. You cannot help but hate each other and fight almost everyday, sometimes willing to take the defeat only to get spurred again and determined to get what you want without an ounce of care about your twin’s feelings. Life is like a hell on earth, so much worse than that even. Unfortunately, even death cannot do you apart.

To Look Out the Window by Orhan Pamuk is as much heart-breaking. With its rather flat narrative, it surprisingly has the ability to set fire to the reader’s heart and make what seems to be a simple idea of family affair feel more moving and profound than any other Pamuk’s story ever did. Told from a first-person point of view, this long short story talks about a father secretly leaving his wife and children without so much as a word but telling his youngest son, who doesn’t have the faintest idea of what actually happens, not to tell anyone about his leaving for Paris. It appears, though, as the story progresses, that he leaves them for another woman. Pamuk is very clever in how he employs the viewpoint of an innocent little boy to elaborate his creation of a plot and describe the feelings of adults around him. On the one hand, it indeed makes it seem like nothing is really happening, but on the other, from the way the little boy relates his mother’s state of mind and conversations we can tell that she is suffering from severe depression and trying hard to deal with it, and to find out what she should do next. It’s a very sad story, and it’s my most favorite of all.

Yusuf Idris’ A Tray from Heaven is also moving, but in its own funny, stinging way. It hilariously relates the life of an old man named Syaikh Ali—poor, jobless, uneducated, with no family at all. His bad temper never leaves the people of his village upset, instead, they think his rage and the way he takes it out on his poverty are funny and entertaining. Until one day he gets them into a panic because he takes it out on God and curses Him for he hasn’t eaten the whole day. His neighbors are all afraid God will retaliate against the entire village for his foolish act. So on their own initiative, they give Syaikh Ali any food they have in store on a tray. And they keep doing it every time he gets cranky and starts to verbally attack the Almighty.

All characters inhabiting each story in Dijual: Keajaiban are portrayals of ordinary people, they are there to reflect our complicated, gray life with all the bitter-sweet: poverty, patriarchy, destiny, humanity, and, of course, miracles. They are, in some ways, not the center of the story where they live and look alive, but they are the center of attention to the reader. It is through their existence, then, that readers are able to look into the depth of each narrative and find out what the writer wants to say. This is especially true of The Blind Dog (R.K. Narayan) and Miracles for Sale (Taufiq el-Hakim). Both the blind dog and the priest are not the narrators, nor are they the aspects we should give more emphasis to, but it is through their characterizations that we see the messages and criticisms expressed strongly in each of the storylines.

With the exception, unfortunately, of Yukio Mishima’s The Seven Bridges, every short story put into this anthology is very affecting and incredibly moving. The writings grip you, so much so that you need to pull yourself together to carry on reading. This kind of prose needs undoubtedly a superb writing technique and a perceptive mind, and the translated version needs a superb translator to do it. Tia Setiadi could really do it. It seems like he could naturally catch the tone used by each writer and follow their writing styles. It read so smooth and natural, as if those stories are his own. There are, however, some questioning diction and several sentences translated too much literally. It was a little annoying but fortunately it occured only rarely. No harm done. What actually bothering is the line-up of writers the publisher, or the editor, chose to get their stories put together into this “all-Asian” collection. There are two writers from Egypt and one from Turkey. When the entire literary world, people in general, and even Turkish people themselves think of Turkey as a European country, the editor of the collection put Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate, into the list. Perhaps, it’s just perhaps, the editor thought that since Turks were originally coming from Central Asia, and the majority of the land geographically lies in Asia, then Turkey is fundamentally an Asian country. But what about the two writers from Egypt? The last time I checked, this country is still located in Africa. Why were they chosen to contribute their pieces to the book? Is it only because they write in Arabic? If so, then it sounds like Isabel Allende is thought of as a writer from Spain just because she writes in Spanish while in fact she comes from Chile in South America. I’d rather have writers from South Korea or South East Asia. We’ve got plenty here.

Having said that, I’d still like to thank the editor and the publisher for bringing out Dijual: Keajaiban. It really is a miraculous book, some kind of hidden gem that will make you feel rich only by reading the whole nine stories.

Rating: 4/5

Melipat Jarak: Sepilihan Sajak

32572055191_8df2ceb2fb_oMelipat Jarak: Sepilihan Sajak comprises Sapardi Djoko Damono’s selected poems written and published between 1998 and 2015. Quite different from Hujan Bulan Juni, his other book of selected poems released back in 2014, this one’s central theme is more of nature, God and spirituality, and old age. There is no so much as a hint of human love and romanticism in each and every one of the seventy five works contained in this book. But instead of being boring and lifeless, I found Melipat Jarak so heart-shredding and profound.

The collection opens with Catatan Masa Kecil, 4, a paragraphed poem about a little child who only knows of, and is so fond of, the number zero. It is intriguing how Mr. Damono, as an old man himself, explores the mind of a child and presents, if not writtenly imagines, that child’s take on numbers. The style may not be the prime quality for it’s not surprisingly new, but it is something that brings out the storytelling goal of the poem to the surface. Without it, the reader might not catch the reminiscent tone intended for them to sense; it would merely be verses and rhymes. And we won’t find this paragraphing in the opening poem only, but also in some others, like Sepasang Lampu Beca, which needs to bring up into view its “hidden narrative”.

In stark contrast to the first poem of the collection, many of Mr. Damono’s other works here talk about old-age life. Anyone already read his poetry books before must have been familiar with a piece entitled Ada Berita Apa Hari Ini, Den Sastro?, a nine-part poem telling of an old man who has been retired from his job and from everything else and the only thing he does everyday is reading newspapers at the terrace of his house without anyone, not even his own neighbors, paying attention to him. It emanates loneliness and elicits sadness, describing a kind of life where we will be only doing boring things, recalling the past, reading news and stories of other people on papers while totally ignored by those in reality, waiting for death to come to us. Reading this poem, the reader might get the feeling that it will happen to them one day, especially when there is no one beside us anymore. Interestingly, Mr. Damono describes this purgatory not only in one or two poems, but in many numbers, including Sebelum Fajar, which is very much heart-breaking, and Old Friends, a brief, funny poem about a lot of old people sitting in a wait for their turn at a hospital.

As I have mentioned earlier, many a poem in Melipat Jarak brings up the subjects of nature, God, and spirituality. They are so many that they seem to be the soul of the book. Sometimes these themes of God and nature are blended together into one, like what we find in the poem Surah Penghujan: Ayat 1-24. This isn’t so because of the title, nor the form that replicates the verses in the Koran, where God speaks to humans, but for it subtly describes the power of God transforming into changes of seasons which cannot be denied no matter how hard humans refuse them. In others, like the ones entitled Tiga Sajak Ringkas Tentang Cahaya (about the light of the moon and sun) and Sajak Tafsir (where every element of nature denies the way others describe its shape, name, and role in this world), Mr. Damono purely talks about the nature and how it works. Meanwhile, in poems like Sajak-sajak Kecil Tentang Cinta, Tentu. Kau Boleh, and Sajak dalam Sembilan Bagian, he channels out his creativity solely into the subject of God, spirituality, and how he interacts with the Almighty.

As engrossing as those poems mentioned above might seem, none of them bears uniqueness as attractive as Malin Kundang and Sudah Kubilang, Jangan Kamu ke Sana, which are meant to represent the “alternative narratives” of an Indonesian folklore, Malin Kundang, and a well-known Western fairy tale, Cinderella, respectively. It is not the only time for Mr. Damono to tinker with folklores, legends, or fairy tales for he has ever done it with the story of Ramayana in his 2-in-1 short story collection, Pada Suatu Hari Nanti, Malam Wabah, but still they are fascinating creations. In Malin Kundang, the betraying son is not cursed into a stone, instead, people of his land warn him against coming back home so he can dodge the bullet. While Sudah Kubilang, Jangan Kamu ke Sana is a totally different take on the happily-ended, popular love story. There are, on the other hand, pieces of which uniqueness is more on the form than the content; some poems like Sunyi yang Lebat, Tiga Percakapan Telepon (something I’ve never discovered before), Sebilah Pisau Dapur yang Kaubeli Dari Penjaja yang Setidaknya Seminggu Sekali Muncul di Kompleks, yang Selalu Berjalan Menunduk dan Hanya Sesekali Menawarkan Dagangannya dengan Suara yang Kadang Terdengar Kadang Tidak, yang Kalau Ditanya Berapa Harganya Dikatakannya, “Terserah Situ Saja…”, Urat Daun, and Dialog yang Terhapus. Their meanings are somehow unfathomable, but the beauty of their verses and rhymes is undeniably fun and enjoyable.

I cannot say I know much about poetry—the techniques, the figure of speech, the rhyme patterns and all that stuff—but overall I enjoyed Melipat Jarak so much. All the poems contained in this collection seemed to speak to me in every way, though it’s not to say that I could understand every one of them. Now I’ll close this review with some quote from one of my favorite numbers here, Dongeng Marsinah, a quote that is more powerful than that of Descartes:

“Ia suka berpikir,” kata Siapa,

(“She likes to think,” says Who)

“itu sangat berbahaya.”

(“that’s very dangerous.”)

Rating: 4/5

Workshop Penulisan Resensi Bersama BBI

Hari Minggu lalu, tanggal 26 Februari 2017, salah seorang teman dari Blogger Buku IndonesiaBZee, mengajak saya untuk mengadakan semacam workshop penulisan resensi buku untuk anak-anak usia sekolah (SD sampai SMA) di perpustakaan lokal langganan kami, Perpustakaan Ganesa. Tanpa pikir panjang, saya langsung mengiyakan. Kenapa tidak? Saya melihat ada banyak manfaat dari acara ini, selain anak-anak sekolah bisa belajar menulis resensi buku, acara ini sedikit banyak juga bisa melatih mereka untuk menulis, menulis apa pun itu.

Untuk materinya, BZee meminjam materi yang dulu pernah digunakan saat Workshop Menulis Resensi dari Hati dari Mas Helvry, kemudian kami sunting dan beri sedikit tambahan demi kejelasan dan kemudahan anak-anak. Selama beberapa hari kami melakukan persiapan. Yang dimaksud dengan “persiapan” di sini adalah saling berkirim surel dan SMS demi mematangkan konsep acara dan materi presentasi. Di hari H-nya, awalnya kami melihat ada banyak yang mendaftar, tapi ternyata yang benar-benar datang lebih sedikit jumlahnya dari yang tertera pada kertas pendaftaran. Tapi tak apa, yang penting adalah antusiasme dari mereka yang benar-benar hadir dan mengikuti acara kami.

Maaf, nama acara sama tulisan di background-nya beda 😀

Setelah acara dibuka oleh pihak Ganesa, BZee langsung memulai dengan menyapa anak-anak dan bertanya apakah mereka pernah mendengar yang namanya resensi. BZee kemudian menjelaskan, dengan bantuan silde PowerPoint yang sudah dibuat sebelumnya, mengenai apa itu resensi dan apa bedanya dengan sinopsis. Penjelasan BZee dilanjutkan dengan alasan mengapa kita menulis resensi, terutama setelah kita selesai membaca sebuah buku. Ada empat poin yang kami tekankan, yaitu untuk melatih kreativitas terutama dalam menulis, memaknai dan menilai buku yang sudah dibaca, dan terakhir untuk merekam buku apa saja yang sudah kita baca. Kalau soal ini, teman-teman narablog pasti juga sudah tahu :). Selanjutnya, saya menjelaskan bagian apa saja yang diulas dalam sebuah resensi (kami bedakan untuk resensi buku fiksi dan nonfiksi), struktur sebuah resensi, media tempat menulis resensi (media massa dan pribadi), saran-saran dalam menulis resensi, dan apa saja yang harus dihindari ketika kita menulis resensi. Setelah saya selesai, BZee memberikan sedikit tambahan dan contoh demi menambal penjelasan saya.

Nah, yang menarik dari acara ini adalah kami juga mengadakan praktik langsung menulis resensi buku di tempat. BZee menyediakan kertas dan pulpen bagi anak-anak yang ikut serta, dan mereka pun kami ajak untuk menuliskan resensi dari buku yang mereka bawa atau yang sudah selesai mereka baca di rumah. Waktu yang kami berikan kira-kira setengah jam saja (karena acaranya sudah molor sekali :p), tetapi kami juga tidak menuntut mereka untuk menulis resensi yang utuh dan bagus. Selain karena keterbatasan waktu, anak-anak yang ikut bisa dibilang masih sangat awam dalam menulis resensi, jadi tidak adil rasanya kalau kami menuntut hasil yang baik dan sempurna. Di tengah-tengah menulis itu, banyak dari mereka yang maju ke depan dan bertanya, “Gimana ini, Mbak?”, atau “Ini bener ga, Mbak?”. Ada juga adik salah seorang peserta yang entah kenapa, mungkin karena saking aktifnya, dia suka maju ke depan cuma buat ngegodain saya sama BZee, hahaha. Yah, anggap saja itu hiburan selingan, ya :D.

Nah, kembali ke praktik menulis resensi. Setelah kami melihat dan menilai satu demi satu hasil tulisan peserta, saya bisa menyimpulkan satu hal: ternyata rata-rata dari mereka masih belum bisa sepenuhnya membedakan antara sinopsis alias ringkasan cerita dengan resensi yang titik beratnya adalah pembahasan dan penilaian terhadap buku yang dibaca. Ada beberapa anak yang sudah bisa menuliskan kekurangan dan kelebihan dari buku yang mereka baca, tapi hanya sebatas pada menuliskan apa yang bagus dan apa yang tidak bagus saja, tanpa memberikan penjabaran lebih detail mengenai mengapa mereka menganggap hal itu bagus atau tidak bagus. Intinya, mereka masih belum bisa memaknai dan menilai sebuah buku. Yah, semoga saja kelak, seiring dengan berjalannya waktu dan bertambahnya usia mereka, mereka bisa lebih pintar memaknai dan menilai buku-buku yang mereka baca, dan bisa menulis resensi dengan lebih baik lagi.

Di akhir acara BZee memberikan hadiah bagi tiga anak dengan resensi terbaik (versi awam, tentunya :D), sedangkan saya memberikan “wejangan” agar mereka tetap berlatih menulis resensi supaya bisa semakin mahir ke depannya. Bagi yang belum dapat hadiah, tidak berarti karya mereka buruk. Mereka hanya kurang dalam satu dua hal dan mesti terus berlatih untuk menambal kekurangan mereka.

Sebagai tambahan, saya ingin mengungkapkan rasa bahagia saya hari Minggu lalu di sini. Karena saya sangat cinta dunia tulis-menulis sejak kecil, saya senang sekali waktu BZee bertanya kepada anak-anak yang ikut serta kenapa mereka mau mengikuti acara kami dan kemudian beberapa dari mereka menjawab, “Karena suka nulis.” Saya jadi terharu. Dan salah satu pemenang hadiah dari kami, yang tulisannya saya nilai, sangat menarik perhatian saya karena untuk ukuran anak SD yang masih kecil sekali, hasil tulisannya sangat luar biasa. Memang, resensi karyanya belum utuh dan belum sempurna, tapi tulisannya sangat mulus dan lancar, seolah-olah dia sudah sangat terbiasa menulis. Belakangan kami berdua baru tahu kalau ternyata dulu dia pernah menang lomba menulis sinopsis di tempat yang sama.

Nah, anak-anak seperti ini tentunya memerlukan bimbingan lebih dari guru dan orangtua mereka masing-masing agar kelak hasrat dan kemampuan menulis mereka semakin tajam dan berkembang. Saya berharap mereka tidak berhenti sampai di sini, saya berharap mereka akan terus banyak membaca dan aktif menulis karena saya yakin dengan begitu insyaallah mereka akan punya masa depan yang cerah, terutama di dunia literasi.

Saya ucapkan terima kasih kepada BZee yang sudah mengajak saya mengadakan workshop menulis resensi ini. Walaupun hanya acara “kecil-kecilan”, tapi menurut saya acara ini penting sekali dan saya merasa terhormat bisa ikut ambil bagian dan “berbagi ilmu”. Saya juga ucapkan terima kasih kepada Perpustakaan Ganesa yang sudah menyediakan tempat dan perlengkapan untuk presentasi bagi kami berdua sehingga workshop dapat berjalan dengan lancar :).

The Old Man and The Sea

old-man-and-sea-2There are only a small boat, an old man, a wide, seemingly endless sea and nothing else. Ernest Hemingway could have created a boring piece unworthy of reading time we try so hard to spare, but The Old Man and The Sea is worth so much more than that. With Hemingway’s deftness in narrative building and the character’s thought-provoking, sometimes funny monolgue, the 1952 classic proves to be a work bigger than its size (at least, the size of my copy). It’s simple but deep and complicated in what it wants to deliver, it has only two human characters but their presence says more than their number, and its conclusion is all but you need to face the fact that life is not what you think it is.

The Old Man and The Sea tells the story of an old fisherman named Santiago who has been through eighty four days without catching a single fish that he is dubbed salao, the worst form of unlucky. But he is far from being disheartened, instead, the bad days only spur him on to go and set sail again on the eighty-fifth day, with what fishing gear he has and no one keeping him company. The boat trip seems to go on as usual and he does what he normally did. He does wish to catch a big fish, that’s what his aim, but he never thought that he would manage to bait a very huge marlin. He is certainly not prepared for it, and he tries with all his might to handle the shocking catch while navigating the wild blue sea at the same time. It’s obviously not an easy task to beat such a large animal and bring it home, especially when it seems to stay stubbornly strong despite the hook stuck inside its mouth and drags the old man along with his boat over la mar. With his only self and his equipment, Santiago has to face the challenges that lie before him before everything he has started ends well as it should. But, will it?

“But, he thought, I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck any more. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

The Old Man and The Sea is about struggle and hard work, about dreams and hopes that never cease to flare, about dogged perseverance in trying to achieve our aims. But it is not, unfortunately, about getting them easily. But that’s what Ernest Hemingway wants the reader to see. When Santiago is already halfway toward the end of his taxing journey, fate is suddenly playing tricks on him and he has to wrack his brain, take on patience, and keep calm and sane. Reaching dreams is not a piece of cake, there will be challenges, obstacles, and twisted roads our eyes fail to see laying before us. Determination and patience are not the only qualities, we have also to be smart and emotionally intelligent, and Santiago has shown us he has those. He also shows that, when everything goes wrong and doesn’t end the way he wants it, he still has the humility to accept it.

As a whole, The Old Man and The Sea is merely a simple kind of prose, with conventional, novelistic structure and a lonely man talking to himself almost throughout the plot. But the story is dense and focused and Santiago is a marvelously strong character. Hemingway doesn’t waste his time describing too much; he makes the introduction fast and precise, inviting the reader to the boat trip immediately afterward and follow the character fighting his fight and keeping his chance even if it’s only small and dim. The description of events at sea and the continous monologue cleverly suck the reader into the prevailing situation and make them see, crystal clear, what it’s like to struggle almost to the dying point and end up with merely half success. They result in us vaguely feeling troubled and hurt, unable to accept what reality serves us and yet resigned to acknowledge the truth. The entire story, however, doesn’t leave us hopeless, because Hemingway seems to point out, somewhere in the heart-warming conclusion, that there will always be hopes no matter what.

Though sad, this masterpiece of Ernest Hemingway is really encouraging instead of the opposite. It gives us hopes and reassurance that our belief and hard work will never waste in vain. It might not be a grand creation of a narrative, but it has a punching effect on the reader. More than that, I think it will stay long-lasting as well, as it has always been.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Black Book

black-bookWe might be one of those people in this century whose favorite slogan is “Be Yourself” and who never hesitate to go to any lengths to prove that we are not afraid to show our “true” self. But how true is that self? Or, to be precise, the question should be, “Is it truly ourselves? Or is it someone else we imitate?” The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk may talk about the intense tension between the right and left wings preceding the military coup that took place in the mid 1980’s Turkey, but for the most part it daringly expresses Pamuk’s criticism, as always, of his country’s sense of self. Over the course of the 400-or-so-pages mystery novel, Pamuk doesn’t seem to be able to stop himself from describing how Turkish people, in the modern era, start to leave their “true self” behind and imitate some “other people”. And that, I think, is still relevant to this day, and to anybody on this planet.

Our protagonist here is a lawyer named Galip who lives with his wife and cousin Rüya in an apartment in Nişantaşı, Istanbul. One day he finds her gone, bringing only a few of her belongings and leaving a short letter saying that she will be back soon. But she never comes back, not a day after that, not even two or three days later. Galip starts to have a worrying suspicion that she’s running off to her ex-husband, a left-wing activist she met in her younger days. But then he doubts himself if it all is true and turns to think that perhaps his wife is hiding somewhere with Celâl, her half-brother and Galip’s much older cousin, for apparently Celâl is also missing. Unable to sit still, Galip sets out to go and find them, searching the entire city, following traces and clues, trying to decipher signs and letters while at the same time pointing out how the people of his city, of his nation, have changed their ways and gestures. Between Galip’s slow and meticulous investigation, Celâl’s pieces of writing will appear and tell readers (both of his columns and of the book itself) the way of his thinking and thus adding to all the clues and signs already mounted up to the highest peak. So instead of shedding some light on the case, they only succeed in getting the reader into a trap and making them all the more confused about the nature of mystery.

It is throughout this draining search for meaning of signs that Pamuk keeps hammering into us the importance of asking ourselves, “To be, or not to be, oneself?” The question haunts us every time we turn a page down from the first chapter up to the last. Like the one entitled Bedii Usta’s Children, for instance, where Pamuk, through the writing of Celâl, talks about a mannequin maker who insists on making mannequins in original Turkish poses and refuses to imitate European mannequins. It is less about mannequin making than it is about struggling to be oneself and be happy with it. In a chapter called The Eye, Celâl creates an imaginary eye and pretends that this eye is following and watching him being someone else, because he longs to do so, to be so. In I Must be Myself, a barber comes to the newspaper office and asks him a bothering question, “Is there a way a man can be only himself?”

And this mysterious question doesn’t stop within the personal range, it widens into the range of nationality and nationalism. At some point, a certain character will say, “To live in an oppressed, defeated country is to be someone else.” By this line, Pamuk appears to intend to make a mockery of the state of his country: defeated at the World War I, scrabbled around for a “new country”, a “new self” under the rule of secularism and Westernization just so they can restore their pride and dignity as a nation but without, as it is clearly seen, caring if they have to pay it with their true identity. To make this shame even worse, in a chapter Pamuk writes that “…it was because they had failed to find a way to be themselves that whole peoples had dragged in slavery, whole races into degeneracy, and entire nations into nothingness, nothingness.” It’s as if he wants to give some kind of warning that once a people loses their identity, they will be buried under other civilizations of the world and cease to exist at all.

With The Black Book, Pamuk seems to want to make fun of popular Western detective novels which, to him, serve no purpose but to please only the authors and have an already definite ending without truly complicated clues. This may sound so cocky but I have to say that The Black Book is indeed a mystery novel not like any other. The structure is very different from those usually in the genre. By means of Pamuk’s signature narrative style—a long, winding one—the mystery the story proposes appears to multiply uncontrollably, overlap each other, and then overflow that the deeper we get into it, the more we’re lost in it. The pursuit of clues and the large number of signs scattered along the storyline do not even result in useful information nor lead to the looked-for answer, instead, they give us a glimpse of something that might, or might not, be the motivation of the crime. Even as the book is drawing to a close, the mystery isn’t still revealed and the answer is not fully satisfying, thus producing a much unsettling conclusion.

I cannot say that The Black Book is the best work of Orhan Pamuk, nor can I declare it to be the best one I’ve ever read. During my reading, I felt stuck at times, didn’t know where one point of the plot would take me to, or if it would take me to anywhere at all. But I have to say it’s very interesting, captivating at some point, and, with its rather cliffhanger, very curious to me. And, the best point of this book is I can relate to it, as Pamuk’s works have always made me feel.

Rating: 4/5

Indonesian Local Culture in Literature: Past and Present

Not so long ago I had a chance to read two Indonesian books, one is a classic and one is contemporary, which are heavily laden with cultural values and traditions: Sitti Nurbaya by Marah Rusli, and Puya ke Puya by one of our young potential writers, Faisal Oddang. Interestingly, though written by authors of different generations and talking about different cultures, the two books bring up the same restlessness. And, to me, that’s quite something.

Sitti Nurbaya (1920) is an Indonesian classic known to and hailed as a masterpiece by everyone in the country, even by those who never actually read the book. Every time there’s a young girl being married off to a man she never desires, we, Indonesians, will immediately, and stupidly, say that the girl suffers the same fate as Sitti Nurbaya. But most people get the story wrong, for it’s not about a girl being married off to some old, notoriously rich man her father picks for her. Set in Padang, West Sumatra (the land of Minangkabau people) the novel unfurls the story of a very young girl named Sitti Nurbaya who suffers a tragic fate in which she has to lose not only her love (by her own choice), but also everything she has. She is the daughter of a very rich merchant, befriending, and later falling in love with, Samsulbahri, a young man of noble birth. They could have been married, if not for her father’s sudden bankruptcy after the conflagration that destroys his shops and the evil scheme his competitor plays against him. The situation forces Nurbaya to forget about her dream and give up her happiness for her father instead. In order to help him pay his debts, she ends her relationship with Samsulbahri (without his knowing it) and marries Datuk Meringgih, who is also a bloody rich merchant in their city. She’s not happy, of course, and before she can see it coming, a fate worse than death befalls her and takes her life.

Unlike the classic, which is a tragic story by nature, the contemporary Puya ke Puya is lighter in its tone, though the story itself is all about the pursuit of heaven in the afterlife. The Tempo’s Best Book 2015 relates generally about what the people of Toraja (it derives from the words to riaja, which means “the people from above”) in South Sulawesi have to do for a family member who has just passed away to be able to find their way to heaven. Rante Ralla, a known noble man of his ethnic group, dies a sudden death while drinking ballo, some kind of alchoholic drink from Toraja. Rante’s son, Allu Ralla, refuses to hold rambu solo, a huge and costly funeral for the deceased, for he has no money and his father hardly leaves him a penny. His uncle urges him to sell their family’s land to the mining company that has been sucking their village dry for years so he can have the money to hold a proper ceremony instead of just burying his father in a low-cost, Christian way. It’s not only about money, though, for Allu doesn’t see any point in performing an “old custom” which is not relevant anymore. Thus, he insists on going on “the modern way”.

If we compare the two novels, even if only at a glance, we will see some differences in what they each tell of. While Sitti Nurbaya is a tragic love story, Puya ke Puya is a tragicomedy about death and family affair. More than that, both represent two different cultures in Indonesia, that of West Sumatra, and of South Sulawesi. The focus is different as well. Somewhat unrelated to the main plot, at some point in the narrative Marah Rusli describes how the society of Padang live under the matriarchal system: when two people get married, it is the family of the bride-to-be who provide the dowry and not the man; in a family, it’s not the father who is responsible for his children, but the brothers of the mother; and usually, the inheritance is passed down from mothers to daughters. Funnily enough, though, this rare system doesn’t seem to stop the nature of the society itself from being chauvinistic. I remember Sitti Nurbaya talks about how a woman should get more education, empowering herself instead of just bearing and rearing children, and how women should not marry too young. I assume, looking at the way she says all this, that the people of West Sumatra, whatever their social system is, is still patriarchal by nature and culture.

Puya ke Puya focuses on another matter. It’s not about how people marry, it’s about how people die. Throughout the multi-points-of-view narrative, Faisal Oddang puts his best effort into describing how the people of Toraja try to keep their traditions no matter what and hold a proper rambu solo for dead people, especially the high-ranking ones, so they can go to and arrive in heaven safely. For this journey, the deceased will need at least a hundred buffalos and pigs as their vehicles and supplies, hence the need for their family to hold said ceremony and butcher all those animals for them. It needs a lot of money, a whole lot of money. The problem is, not every time do the family have that much to carry out the expensive tradition but if they fail to do their “duty”, the spirit of the deceased will surely be lost between the heaven and earth.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, despite the differences, Sitti Nurbaya and Puya ke Puya imply the same restlessness. And the nagging question is, do old values and traditions need to change? In Sitti Nurbaya, the protagonist herself and her father and uncle rue the culture they hold and look up to the Dutch people (who occupied Indonesia in the past) for their progressive way of thinking. Baginda Sulaiman, Nurbaya’s father, insists that the local society of Padang should leave their old ways and do better, while her uncle Ahmad Maulana thinks that they should follow the Western path where it leads to the good example and leave it when it’s bad. He also believes that they should dump everything useless about their customs and keep still the good ones. But all these lamentations are a bit subtle and gentle. Oddang is louder and more progressive in delivering his ideas. He wants change, not just suggests it. Through the voice of Allu Ralla, his main character, he doesn’t hesitate to say that he hates the old ways, that the traditions the people of Toraja hold dear are so burdensome and pointless they have to be left behind.

This is very interesting: both classic and contemporary writers despise the old ways, demanding an immediate and progressive change in the local traditions their societies have been holding for generations. Well, I don’t believe the traditions are still there and whole now, but I don’t think the people of West Sumatra and South Sulawesi have left them altogether, either. Even here in Java island, in the small town I live in, people still hold on to their culture. Though, as part of today’s generation, I don’t understand half of it and hate the rest.

So, what do you think? Do the old values and traditions need to change? Or should they stay the same for the sake of identity? Because, what would people be without cultural identity? But, what if all that stuff is not relevant to the fast-moving world anymore?