fiction, review

Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi

26645719467_57e1339154It is not uncommon for us to enjoy adventure/fantasy books, but perhaps it’s pretty hard to find the real gem here in Indonesia, much less the historical one with a grand journey and multiple characters and truly enjoyable narrative that sucks the reader right up from the very first page. Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi by Yusi Avianto Pareanom is certainly such a one. Pareanom really has it in him to do just that: making his reader sit tight in their chair while devouring his rich tale till the end. It wouldn’t be proper to call Raden Mandasia vastly extravagant for its lack of thorough descriptions here and there, but it has its own charm that strike almost everyone in awe.

Long before embarking on a grand voyage to the barely heard of yet widely famous for its ethereally beautiful princess Kingdom of Gerbang Agung, Sungu Lembu has held a grudge against the Kingdom of Gilingwesi for what it did to his land and family back in the past. He’s sworn that he’d do anything to take his revenge on his prime enemy King Watugunung, even if it seems so impossible. Hence the need for going on the long, unpredictable journey in which he’s following Raden Mandasia, the twelfth prince of Gilingwesi with a rather eccentric hobby of stealing beef whom he accidentally met in a gambling house, on the equally impossible mission to stop an impending war. Together, they are going through an adventure that both exciting and challenging yet sometimes inexplicably absurd: fighting pirates, bumping into a Chinese man who cannot speak their language but insists on engaging them in conversation, watching a holy messenger being swallowed by a monstrous whale, meeting a conceited cook who has been serving roast pork to his master everyday for ten whole years, running from a stormy wind in the desert as they lose their horses, entering the tightly guarded palace of a princess in a eunuch’s skin (yes, skin), only to see their aim crumbling all around them along with Gerbang Agung’s city wall the soldiers of Gilingwesi break down and the fall of dead people from the sky. The result of the unavoidable war is so far from being decided. And, not unlike the mission Raden Mandasia was carrying, Sungu Lembu’s heartfelt hatred is starting to turn the different path.

At a glimpse Raden Mandasia looks like an adventure story following two young men who are making journey together with respective missions of their own, one to save a kingdom and the other to destroy it in secret. Others may look at it as an historical martial arts novel, since in some senses it quite resembles those written by Jin Yong, with historical backgrounds strewed everywhere (albeit very vaguely blurred), training and practice of martial arts being performed by the main character, and fighting scenes littered so many parts of the book. But it might actually be an historical fantasy fiction, a form of made-up tale set in the past complete with based-on-true-tradition kingdoms, otherwise fictitious kings and queens, princes and princesses, wars, though minus weird creatures, mystery or myth, and magic. It might be a blend of those three, however, considering the so many various elements making up this wonderful, exciting, vulgarly funny fictional creation. It’s so hard to decide what kind of book this actually is, but for sure it’s not an out-and-out story of physical adventure, despite the writer’s insistence on throwing the characters from one place to another, from one experience to another, from one out-of-this-world event to another, from encountering one interesting person to another, etc. It’s a quest for an answer, the true answer, to what is war and what is the act of revenge (or is it truly worth it), to what is important and what will be in vain, what is true and what is false (much like the nature of the tale itself) and where the thin line lies.

Yusi Avianto Pareanom has truly showed his writing prowess with Raden Mandasia, its subplots are excellently and carefully structured, its characters are all gray but not without conscience, the historical, cultural and geographical backgrounds are veiled ever so cleverly that they leave the reader guessing: where is it? who is it? what is it? At some point in the story I found myself trying so hard to uncover where is it actually the Kingdom of Gerbang Agung until I realized that it actually is the place I’ve been wanting to go to. From front to back Pareanom presents a very neat storyline in which he takes upon himself to become both the narrator and the protagonist, telling his tale precariously from the first person’s point of view, where he has to relies upon encountering and listening to other characters’ stories to gather and arrange all installments of the entire narrative. It’s surely not an easy task for an author not to get caught in a trap of writing using this kind of POV, but Pareanom nailed it. And he did it with hilarious tone and an unadorned, vulgar style of telling that have readers staying in their seats while laughing and cursing just like the narrator does. Raden Mandasia is an extensive work without being grueling nor boring, complicated without being confusing, it’s a masterpiece without asking to be so. Such a shame, however, that even with its strong climax and trying-to-be-epic battle scenes, its ending fails to conclude the story elaborately and satisfyingly, seeming to run too fast instead. It is understandable if the writer wanted to end it as briefly as possible without having to prolong it anymore, but still.

At the end, Raden Mandasia Si Pencuri Daging Sapi is a very rare work of fiction. We might have had this kind of adventure tale somewhere in our contemporary period of literature, but this novel by Yusi Avianto Pareanom is absolutely one of a kind. Despite its lack of detailed descriptions of almost everything and fast-foward ending, it’s still an engrossing book everyone can and should enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

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fiction, review

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir: Sebuah Komedi Sejarah

40500774525_b90bc2836fKetika mendengar kata pahlawan, mungkin yang terpikir oleh kita adalah sifat-sifat seperti gagah berani, berbudi pekerti luhur, kuat secara fisik, cerdas, serta rela berkorban untuk membela kebenaran dan membasmi kejahatan demi kepentingan orang banyak.

Pahlawan adalah panutan, contoh, idola, sosok manusia tanpa cela yang “didewakan” dan dipuja-puja. Karena itulah seorang pahlawan selalu dijadikan protagonis atau tokoh utama dalam kisah-kisah klasik maupun dalam kisah-kisah masa kini yang masih memakai patokan lama demi menyampaikan moral cerita kepada pembaca dengan lebih mudah dan gamblang, mengingat pahlawan selalu putih dan penjahat selalu hitam.

Namun bagaimana jika karakter yang dipasang sebagai protagonis memiliki sifat-sifat ambigu? Tidak hitam, tetapi juga tidak putih? Bagaimana jika alih-alih kepentingan orang banyak, sang protagonis hanya memikirkan diri sendiri? Bagaimana jika alih-alih berdecak kagum, sang protagonis justru membuat pembaca muak?

Di zaman modern, formula tokoh protagonis sudah banyak bergeser, tokoh-tokoh dengan karakter ambigu semakin banyak dipasang sebagai pemeran utama. Adhitya Mulya pun menghadirkan formula modern yang sama dalam karya terbarunya, Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir: Sebuah Komedi Sejarah.

Berlatar tahun 1667 pada masa kekuasaan V.O.C. (perlu diketahui bahwa pada saat itu Nusantara belum diduduki oleh negeri Belanda, karena V.O.C. merupakan perusahaan swasta berskala multinasional), Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir bercerita tentang pencarian pusaka sakti peninggalan kerajaan Majapahit nyaris 400 tahun sebelumnya.

Lantaran berpotensi bencana, para arya (yang dulu merupakan pengikut setia Raden Wijaya) dan keturunan mereka diwajibkan untuk mengembalikan pusaka sakti tersebut ke tempat asalnya sebelum genap 4200 purnama. Setelah melewati ratusan tahun dan banyaknya arya serta keturunan mereka yang berguguran, delapan dari sepuluh pusaka berhasil dikembalikan ke tempatnya di Pulau Sangeang. Akan tetapi, ketika pusaka kesembilan dan kesepuluh hendak diambil untuk “diantarkan pulang” oleh ketiga keturunan arya yang tersisa, mereka harus berebut dengan seorang admiral V.O.C. yang licik dan ambisius, yang terang-terang memiliki segala sumber daya untuk merenggut pusaka tersebut demi mimpi meraih kuasa lebih.

Jika pembaca mengira tokoh protagonis di sini adalah ketiga keturunan arya yang tersisa—yang berjiwa kesatria, pandai bela diri, dan rela berkorban apa pun demi menjalankan tugas mulia—ia salah, walaupun bukan pula sang admiral yang jelas-jelas berhati kotor. Di antara kedua belah pihak, sang protagonis adalah bajak laut bernama Jaka Kelana, yang digambarkan bukan orang baik-baik (lantaran profesinya), sering kali konyol, kadang kala tolol, pengecut dan tidak memiliki ilmu bela diri apa pun, suka memuji diri sendiri (mungkin pembaca akan lelah dengan omong kosongnya bahwa dia ganteng, padahal menurut deskripsi tidak), dan telah melakukan berbagai macam tindak kriminal mulai dari perampokan bersenjata, pencurian, penculikan, sampai pembunuhan.

Di tengah perebutan pusaka antara ketiga arya dan sang admiral, Jaka Kelana muncul sebagai “pahlawan”, yang membantu ketiga arya mengembalikan pusaka sakti terakhir ke tempatnya dan dengan segala daya upaya menumpas makhluk misterius yang hendak menghancurkan seluruh keturunan Raden Wijaya (makhluk yang bisa jadi mengingatkan pembaca pada naga tidur dalam The Hobbit). Orang macam Jaka Kelana-lah yang kemudian rela berkorban demi menuntaskan misi yang mulia, meskipun dia berbuat demikian lebih karena insting daripada niat menyelamatkan orang banyak.

Jaka Kelana merupakan sosok antihero, protagonis abu-abu dengan karakter yang ambigu. Dia sama sekali bukan sosok idola yang patut dicontoh, apalagi memiliki sifat kepahlawanan sebagaimana lazimnya. Namun dia dirancang sebagai tokoh yang menonjol dan menggerakkan cerita, juga yang menyelesaikannya. Dialah sang pemecah kebuntuan dan “pembasmi kejahatan”. Selain itu, Jaka Kelana juga bukannya tanpa karakter yang (sedikit) mulia. Selain setia kawan, Jaka seseorang yang dapat diandalkan dan sopan (bahkan begitu sopannya hingga terlihat konyol). Sifat-sifat inilah yang menjadikannya bernuansa hitam dan putih sekaligus.

Namun jika kita mau melihat lebih jauh ke belakang pada sejarah (sejarah dalam konteks buku ini, tentunya), Jaka tidak sendiri.

Dalam kisah Bajak Laut (yang tentu saja hanya fiksi belaka), tokoh Raden Wijaya yang selama ini kita kenang (atau kita kenal) sebagai kesatria pendiri sebuah kerajaan digambarkan sebagai sosok yang gila kekuasaan dan rela menghabisi pengikut setianya karena tak ingin kehilangan kekuasaan itu (yang ada hubungannya dengan pusaka sakti yang mesti dikembalikan). Sang raja pertama Majapahit pun dikisahkan tidak ragu-ragu memalsukan catatan sejarah agar generasi yang akan datang hanya mengetahui kehebatan dan kejayaannya, dan bahwa para pengikutnya telah berkhianat dan memberontak, walau sebenarnya tidak demikian.

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir memang hanya kisah rekaan berlatar sejarah masa lalu yang ditulis dengan gaya komedi demi mengundang tawa. Tetapi pembaca tidak hanya dapat mentertawakan kekonyolan adegan dan dialog tokoh-tokohnya, karena tindakan yang diambil oleh Raden Wijaya dalam kisah ini juga dapat menjadi bahan lelucon.

Apa lagi yang lebih lucu dari seorang penguasa, yang demi menjaga kekuasaan dan nama baiknya, tanpa rasa bersalah memutarbalikkan fakta sehingga mengacaukan keaslian sejarah? Apa lagi yang lebih lucu dari kenyataan bahwa kita tidak akan pernah tahu sejarah yang sebenarnya karena bisa jadi ada banyak orang seperti tokoh Raden Wijaya dalam kisah ini? Bahwa apa yang fiksi dan nonfiksi hanya dipisahkan oleh satu garis tipis? Jika memang demikian, bukankah kisah sejarah benar-benar telah menjadi komedi? Jika memang demikian, bukankah sejatinya setiap pahlawan bukanlah pahlawan, layaknya Jaka Kelana dan Raden Wijaya?

Bajak Laut & Purnama Terakhir mungkin bukanlah karya yang dirancang untuk menjadi bacaan yang serius, tetapi justru karya seperti inilah yang seharusnya dianggap serius.

N.B.: resensi ini pernah ditayangkan sebelumnya di Jurnal Ruang.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

The Girls

41396137951_8e2e70a170Manusia dan identitas tidak dapat dipisahkan. Salah satu makna identitas adalah apa yang melekat pada diri kita, cirri khas yang menunjukkan siapa kita, dari mana asal kita, apa status kita, dan, sering kali, termasuk ke dalam golongan apa kita. Identitas secara tersamar dapat berupa kepercayaan yang dianut, pakaian yang dikenakan, bahasa yang digunakan, tingkah laku atau perilaku, maupun gaya hidup.

Emma Cline menyodorkan kisah yang cukup unik dalam karya fiksi debutnya, The Girls (diterbitkan dalam bahasa Indonesia dengan judul Gadis-Gadis Misterius), berkenaan dengan krisis identitas akibat kegelisahan dan kejemuan masa remaja yang lantas bersinggungan dengan budaya lain yang mempertontonkan identitas nan beda tapi nyata.

Cerita baru benar-benar bergulir pada 1969 dengan kehidupan Evie Boyd, seorang remaja berusia empat belas tahun, yang terkesan tidak menyenangkan: pertemanan yang hanya direkatkan rutinitas, rasa suka bertepuk sebelah tangan terhadap kakak sang sahabat, keluarga kaya yang tidak harmonis hingga tercerai-berai. Sampai suatu saat diam-diam muncul dalam diri Evie perasaan ingin memberontak, ingin merambah sesuatu yang lain, sesuatu yang tidak menjemukan.

Perasaan ini semakin kuat ketika tanpa sengaja ia melihat segerombolan gadis aneh dan misterius di taman, yang tampak dipimpin oleh seorang gadis berambut hitam dan lebih tua dari Evie sendiri. Mereka berpakaian kumal, memakai cincin-cincin murahan, terlihat tidak peduli dengan kehadiran orang sekitar (si gadis berambut hitam sempat menurunkan leher gaunnya hingga memperlihatkan sebelah payudara), dan sangat dekat dengan satu sama lain bak keluarga. Yang membuat Evie lebih tercengang adalah tatkala mereka membongkar tempat sampah di luar sebuah restoran dan mengambil sisa-sisa makanan yang “sekiranya masih bias dimakan.” Bagaimana mungkin ada orang yang mengambil makanan yang sudah dibuang ke tempat sampah? Kecuali dia seorang pengemis. Tetapi gadis-gadis itu bukanlah pengemis.

Di tengah kepenatan Evie menghadapi sang ibu yang berusaha keras bangkit dari keterpurukan setelah bercerai dan mencari pendamping baru (sampai-sampai mengabaikan perasaan putrinya sendiri), Evie akhirnya berbuat nekat: mendekati si gadis berambut hitam, yang kemudian diketahuinya bernama Suzanne, dan memasuki lingkaran gadis-gadis hippie yang tinggal secara komunal di peternakan bobrok di sebuah bukit di Petaluma.

Di sana Evie benar-benar menemukan apa yang ia cari, yaitu sesuatu yang tidak lazim baginya: kumpulan orang (kebanyakan gadis) yang tinggal bersama tanpa ikatan, anak-anak yang entah bagaimana statusnya, pakaian kotor dan seadanya, rumah yang hamper tanpa perabotan, ganja yang dikonsumsi melebihi asupan makanan, cinta yang diumbar secara bebas, serta seorang pemimpin bernama Russell yang dipuja-puja.

Bagi Evie yang bosan dan lelah dengan kehidupannya, semua itu tampak mewah dan menarik luar biasa. Selama dua bulan, ia pun lebih sering tinggal dan menghabiskan waktu di peternakan dan menjadi bagian dari mereka, menjadi seperti mereka. Sampai suatu rencana kekerasan yang tak disadarinya mendorongnya keluar dan melihat kenyataan dari sudut pandang yang berbeda.

Dalam Gadis-GadisMisterius, Emma Cline secara lihai dan memikat menangkap serta menggambarkan karakteristik yang merupakan identitas kaum hippie di Amerika Serikat, setidaknya mereka yang tinggal di California Utara. Hidup di peternakan di bukit—dengan rumah yang nyaris kosong, duduk beralaskan tanah, anak-anak dibiarkan bermain di kolam—sedikit banyak merepresentasikan prinsip kembali-ke-alam yang mereka pegang. Begitu pula dengan pola hidup bersama dalam satu kelompok tanpa status apa pun yang menunjukkan praktik communal living. Hal lain yang dapat mengidentifikasi kelompok tersebut adalah penggunaan obat-obatan seperti LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide, biasa disebut acid) serta ganja secara sembarangan dan rekreasional, juga penerapan free love (cinta yang bebas) yang kemudian menjadi cikal bakal free sex (seks bebas).

Cline juga secara mendetail menambahkan bus sekolah yang dicat ulang sebagai kendaraan mereka. Hampir segala hal yang dapat kita identifikasikan dengan kaum hippie tersaji secara samar tetapi juga gamblang di saat yang bersamaan, digambarkan dari sudut pandang Evie yang sarat decak kagum akan hal-hal yang tidak konvensional. Cline bahkan sampai memanfaatkan pembunuhan yang dilakukan Charles Manson, yang merusak nilai-nilai perdamaian dan anti peperangan kaum hippie dengan tindakan kriminalnya, sebagai inspirasi aksi bagi Russell dan kelompoknya. Atau, bias jadi, Cline memang sengaja menceritakan kisah nyata ini dalam bentuk serta dengan sudut pandang yang berlainan, meskipun kisah tersebut tidak menjadi focus utama narasinya.

Namun, selain penggambaran kaum hippie yang menunjukkan bagaimana bentuk dari identitas diri mereka, Emma Cline juga memperlihatkan bagaimana tokoh Evie Boyd mengalami krisis identitas akibat kegelisahan dan kejenuhan yang dialaminya. Sebagai remaja yang masih terombang-ambing dalam pencarian jati diri, serta terkoyak akibat perceraian orangtua, Evie mencari sesuatu yang dapat melegakan hatinya, suatu tempat di mana ia dapat melepaskan beban. Kebebasan gaya hidup yang ditawarkan kaum hippie, yang bahkan untuk mendapatkan sesuatu mereka hanya tinggal “mengambilnya” saja, mengiming-imingi Evie janji akan kehidupan yang lepas dan tanpa beban: beban dari sekolah yang monoton, ibu yang menekan, persahabatan yang lekang.

Akan tetapi, jika dilihat lebih dekat, meski telah memilih bersama kaum hippie, Evie tetap tidak terlihat seperti bagian dari mereka. Ia juga tidak dapat sepenuhnya berpikir sebagaimana mereka berpikir, dan terkesan asing berada di tengah-tengah mereka. Seolah-olah Cline ingin menunjukkan bahwa mengadopsi atribut tertentu dan bergabung dalam kelompok tertentu bias jadi dapat memberikan identitas tertentu kepada diri kita, tetapi bias jadi juga tidak. Bila atribut-atribut tersebut tidak benar-benar melekat pada diri kita, maka kita belum tentu akan menjadi seperti orang-orang yang memiliki identitas tersebut. Layaknya orang yang mahir berbahasa Inggris belum tentu berasal dari Negara berbahasa Inggris, atau orang yang berkeyakinan tertentu belum pasti terlahir di Negara asal keyakinan tersebut.

Gadis-Gadis Misterius karya Emma Cline seakan hendak membuktikan bahwa identitas diri merupakan hal yang pelik. Ini bukan sekadar perkara atribut-atribut yang dimiliki atau gaya hidup yang dijalani. Bukan pula semata soal ingin tidaknya kita merengkuh ciri khas dan gaya hidup tersebut. Seperti karakter Evie yang sangat cinta kebebasan tapi tak pernah bias sepenuhnya menjadi hippie, atau karakter Russell yang justru mencemari prinsip cinta damai yang dipegang oleh kaumnya sendiri. Identitas bias dibilang sesuatu yang cair, layaknya karakter manusia yang tidak melulu hitam dan putih.

N.B.: resensi ini pernah ditayangkan sebelumnya di Jurnal Ruang.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Dear Life

41117546631_28ca98d1c7Here Alice Munro provides readers with bitter insight into what a real life might become when it treads along a twisted road toward somewhere unknown, or, rather, unpredicted. Dear Life has fourteen short stories people might just expect from the Nobel laureate, but they will have to be ready for more than that. For they might encounter characters they will hate so much, or ones they will hate so much to love, and unsettling narratives they will want to scream at, but which they think possible and not gruelingly unusual.

Of all the short written accounts, the last four are said to be Munro’s fictionalized versions of her childhood memories. Despite this, the other ten are not necessarily deprived of the familiar setting I’m sure is Munro’s own surroundings through her lifetime. So however fictitious those ten stories are, there is still something personal about the writer in each of them, something that we can draw some conclusions from about what life she’s lived in some ways. There’s more to them, though, than merely personal hints on what actually formed her narratives. There is the characters, ones that are often sketches of infidel people as in To Reach Japan, Leaving Maverly, Gravel, and Carrie. But they are not such bad people, nor does Munro try to depict them so. They are people who cannot help what they do, or who just follow where the road takes them to. Sometimes it’s the road they wish to travel, sometimes it’s doubtfully not.

Speaking of taking the road in front, Train is the most gripping tale of all for its character’s indecisiveness—if it could even be called indecisiveness. Jackson, a young soldier coming back from the war, only goes with the flow, going where the wind and the railroad take him. He doesn’t plan his life, nor does he decide anything to do, he lets his path and any circumstance prevailing decide it for him. When he stops at a ranch on the way home, he never knows that being agitated by a restless cow will lead him to so many years of life there, at first doing some repair work for the ranch owner and then for her neighbors, and later living with and caring for her as her friend and family. He doesn’t intend to do so, nor does he intend to do so forever, for when there is a hint of it ending sooner rather than later, he takes a turn and nips it in the bud. Later on, he even takes a more twisted path as he almost encounters his past girlfriend, if we could call her so, for he doesn’t want to face his awkward past, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to face the fact that their relationship is more complicated than he wants it to be.

Pride is another compelling story, especially for its physically and psychologically imperfect character. “Imperfect” may be a simple, negative word, but it can always strike your pride and makes you want to cast out people around because their existence and help will only make you feel like an incapable person unfit for anything and even for being independent. It is, more or less, what Munro seems to project the main character to be, for it is what the reader gets from his nature, from the way he behaves and thinks. He lives alone with his mother, as Oneida, one of his townspeople he’s quite acquainted with, does with her father. When the man falls sick, Oneida takes care of him, whether he wants her to or not. As he gradually recovers, however, things get awkward for he doesn’t wish to get anymore of her helping hand, especially when she offers to live with him in his empty house now that his mother has passed away. He refuses it, he rejects it, for pride or anything else that prevents him from feeling pity for himself. But then he realizes that it is Oneida who deserves pity more.

Closely scrutinized, with Dear Life Alice Munro seems to want to hold a mild, subtle and yet firm rebellion against the society, religion, even against fate that has its title to mold and direct what lives people should live. The narratives she presents to readers suggest that they are somewhat stirred by characters unwilling to comply with any rules but their own, even creating no path but their own. They seem so unbounded, unrestrained like those in the last four stories (The Eye, Night, Voices, and Dear Life), where she, to some extent, describes herself as a rebellion who cannot just say yes to her mother’s orders. This notion seems affirmed when in the story Haven Munro ironically tells about a man called Uncle Jasper who cannot live without confirming to his religion’s strict rules and customs. He is so adamant that his own sister only gets his cold shoulder, even until to her grave, and his wife can only be the “yessir” robot for she fears he might treat her the same way or explode unreasonably. If this is not a criticism of common radical obedience, I don’t know what.

Alice Munro doesn’t try to be smart in her use of language or style, she appears to be modest at most: simple, humble, to the point, though she is at the same time not deterred from complicating the plots and/or obscuring the storylines, like those of Leaving Maverly, Train, and Pride. She cleverly manages to trick readers into believing in her simplicity and text readability while the context of each fictional narrative is so much more than that. Zooming them in, however, those stories are most likely not made up of events with any chronological orders, but rather of the complicatedness of the characters inhabiting their realms. It is those characters who drive the plot motors, it is them who create such complexity which leads to secret love affairs, troubled childhood, lost, suspicion that at the end the reader comes to a feeling of bitterness. Or probably they come to no end at all, for our dear life is so full of mystery.

Like it or not, Dear Life is a book that somehow, inexpicably, can make readers rather feel bad at the end, and yet it has the beauty that not many stories have. The impression it makes on the reader is then generally as complicated as its own contents.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Apa Yang Fana Dan Kesombongan Kita

Sudah sejak pertama kali mencicipi karya Bapak Sapardi Djoko Damono (Trilogi Soekram kala itu), saya tahu beliau akan menjadi salah satu penulis favorit saya. Banyak pemikiran beliau yang tertuang dalam bentuk fiksi pada kumpulan novel pendek tersebut yang nyeleneh, tapi justru itulah yang menarik perhatian saya. Siapa lagi yang menganggap Datuk Meringgih pahlawan dalam novel Sitti Nurbaya, sementara pada umumnya dia dianggap sebagai tokoh antagonis, lantas menggandengkannya dengan si Sitti? Siapa yang berani mempertanyakan demokrasi, dan menganggapnya semata “barang impor” dari Barat? Siapa pula yang berani mempertanyakan aksi demo tahun 1998? Jujur, pemikiran-pemikiran nyeleneh yang tersusup dalam Trilogi Soekram inilah yang sangat kuat menggetarkan saya sampai-sampai saya tertawa membacanya, karena saya lebih banyak setuju daripada kurang setuju.

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Maka tidaklah mengherankan jika sejak saat itu pula saya mengejar karya-karya beliau, terutama yang dalam bentuk fiksi, dan saya baca satu per satu. Karya-karya Pak Sapardi tidak pernah mengecewakan saya, meski ketika membaca Pingkan Melipat Jarak saya agak terganggu, itu pun bukan karena pemikiran beliau, melainkan karena narasi yang tidak jelas. Yang jelas, tak (atau belum) satu pun karya Pak Sapardi yang membuat saya marah hingga mendepak beliau sebagai salah satu sastrawan pujaan saya. Dan tidak mengherankan pula bila setiap kali beliau pulang kampung ke Solo untuk mempromosikan bukunya, saya akan selalu hadir andai tak ada halangan. Saya mungkin tidak terlalu mengejar kesempatan untuk berfoto bersama atau meminta tanda tangan beliau, tapi saya ingin sekali bisa melihat beliau dan mendengarkan pemikiran-pemikiran beliau secara langsung. Dan jumpa penggemar dalam rangka promosi novel Yang Fana Adalah Waktu minggu lalu merupakan salah satu kesempatan emas tersebut, terutama ketika banyak dari hadirin yang melontarkan pertanyaan-pertanyaan yang memicu Pak Sapardi mengeluarkan opini-opini beliau secara blakblakan dan agak meledak-ledak.

Mbak Indah, moderator acara, membacakan sepenggal novel Yang Fana Adalah Waktu sebelum acara dimulai.

Salah satu pertanyaan yang menarik datang dari kawan saya, yang intinya adalah mengapa ada kata-kata kids zaman now dalam buku Yang Fana Adalah Waktu, dan apakah memang perlu memasukkan istilah gaul itu ke dalam karya sastra? Mungkin tidak akan aneh bila Pak Sapardi memberikan jawaban yang nyeleneh, tetapi saya rasa cukup mengejutkan bahwa alih-alih menganggap istilah kids zaman now sesuatu yang menyimpang dari kaidah bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar, beliau justru menganggap frasa tersebut suatu produk bahasa yang “canggih”, lantaran terdiri dari dua kata bahasa Inggris dan satu kata bahasa Arab (saat saya dan beberapa dari hadirin mengatakan bahwa “zaman” merupakan kata dalam bahasa Indonesia, beliau langsung menyalahkan, tetapi memang harus diakui di situlah letak kebodohan dan “kebutaan” kami). Lebih jauhnya, Pak Sapardi menjelaskan bahwa sastra adalah seni berbahasa, dan apa yang tertulis dalam karya sastra adalah bahasa lisan, yaitu bahasanya orang-orang biasa, bahasa manusia pada dasarnya. Mengingat bahasa lisan bersifat fana sedangkan tulisan bersifat abadi, maka orang-orang zaman dulu mencetuskan untuk mencetaknya dalam bentuk gambar (gambar adalah huruf, huruf adalah gambar) agar tidak punah/hilang. Apa yang diucapkan manusia itulah yang kemudian dituliskan, dan lebih jauhnya digunakan dalam menghasilkan karya sastra. Maka kesimpulannya: sah-sah saja memasukkan bahasa gaul ke dalam karya sastra.

Dengan ini Pak Sapardi seolah ingin menegaskan bahwa sebenarnya tak perlu ada batasan antara “bahasa sastra” dan “bahasa populer”, yang ada hanyalah perubahan zaman, perubahan penggunaan bahasa, dan apa yang mudah/sulit dipahami. Sebagai contoh Pak Sapardi membandingkan puisinya dengan puisi karya Chairil Anwar, keduanya tentu menggunakan kosa kata dan gaya penulisan yang berbeda karena mereka hidup (menulis) di zaman yang berbeda pula, tapi toh karya keduanya tetaplah puisi. Apakah, hanya karena puisi Pak Sapardi menggunakan bahasa Indonesia yang modern dan santai, lantas puisi beliau bukanlah karya sastra? Tentu seyogianya kita tidak memandang dengan cara demikian. Sudah sepantasnya bahwa karya sastra mengikuti perkembangan zaman, bahwa setiap karya sastra mempunyai “zaman”-nya sendiri-sendiri, dan bahwa karya sastra adalah karya yang populer.

Menanggapi pernyataan terakhir di atas, salah seorang hadirin bertanya haruskah karya sastra bersifat populer? Menurut Pak Sapardi itu bukanlah sebuah keharusan tetapi keniscayaan. Pak Sapardi bercerita bahwa dahulu di Inggris muncul pengelompokan seni menjadi seni kelas atas, menengah, dan kelas bawah sebab terdapat perbedaan strata dalam masyarakat sebagaimana yang disebutkan. Apa yang dibaca kaum pembantu yang hampir-hampir buta huruf tentu saja berbeda dengan apa yang dibaca majikannya yang lebih berpendidikan. Pertunjukan balet tidak mungkin ditonton kaum pembantu, hanya oleh mereka-mereka yang berasal dari kalangan atas (yang pergi menonton dengan mengenakan tuksedo dan gaun), karena toh kaum pembantu tidak akan bisa mengerti/menghayati balet yang memang tidak diajarkan kepada mereka. Padahal semua orang tahu tari balet, jadi artinya tari balet adalah tarian yang populer. Contoh lain adalah wayang. Semua orang Jawa dan hampir semua orang Indonesia pasti mengenal wayang, yang berarti wayang bersifat populer, tetapi apakah semua orang menikmati wayang? Belum tentu. Pertunjukan wayang hanya dapat dinikmati oleh orang-orang yang paham betul cerita-cerita wayang saking sudah sering menonton atau mendengar cerita-cerita wayang sedari kecil. Jadi, jika boleh saya simpulkan, yang menjadi perkara bukan apakah suatu karya seni (apa pun itu) bersifat populer atau eksklusif, tetapi penggolongan masyarakat beserta tetek bengeknya, termasuk pendidikan. Karya seni lazim bersifat populer karena dikenal oleh khalayak luas, tetapi siapa yang bisa menikmatinya? Tentu hanya orang-orang yang memahaminya. Semua orang kenal William Shakespeare, tapi siapa yang bisa menikmati karya-karyanya? Tentulah orang-orang yang mampu memahami karya-karyanya, yaitu mereka yang terbiasa atau terdidik untuk membaca karya-karya tersebut.

Penjelasan beliau sedikit banyak mengingatkan saya pada cerita-cerita karangan Jane Austen, yang menurut saya tidak ada bedanya dengan cerita-cerita bergenre roman sejarah karya penulis-penulis zaman sekarang seperti Sabrina Jeffries, Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens, dll. Pola narasinya pun sama. Saya juga samar-samar teringat suatu artikel yang mengatakan bahwa kategori “literary fiction” dan “popular fiction” di luar negeri hanyalah “akal-akalan” penerbit demi penjualan.

Selain soal bahasa/karya sastra, satu pertanyaan yang menarik menyangkut pandangan Pak Sapardi perihal adaptasi novel ke dalam bentuk film, karena tampaknya si penanya kecewa dengan film hasil adaptasi novel Hujan Bulan Juni. Menurutnya, film adaptasi tersebut mengurangi esensi novelnya. Jawaban Pak Sapardi atas pertanyaan ini boleh dibilang tidak istimewa, karena saya sendiri pernah mendengar seorang sutradara juga mengatakan bahwa novel dan film merupakan dua jenis media yang berlainan, dan cara mengerjakannya berlainan, sehingga apa yang dihasilkan pun berlainan. Rasa-rasanya tidak adil jika pembaca/penonton menuntut isi novel dan film haruslah sama. Akan tetapi, yang menarik dari jawaban Pak Sapardi adalah penjelasan beliau mengapa novel dan film (walaupun adaptasi) tidak akan pernah bisa sama. Beliau menjelaskan dengan memakai contoh novel Sitti Nurbaya karya Marah Rusli. Beliau sedikit menjabarkan penggambaran tokoh Sitti Nurbaya yang berkulit begitu putih bening hingga ketika minum akan terlihat air mengalir di tenggorokannya. Nah, jika penggambaran ini diadaptasi mentah-mentah ke dalam layar, maka filmnya tidak akan menjadi film drama tetapi film horor. Lalu bagaimana jika di dalam novel digambarkan seorang wanita memiliki mata seindah janda yang baru bangun pagi? Bagaimana sang sutradara harus menerapkan penggambaran itu dalam filmnya? Apakah dia harus memakai aktris yang sudah janda? Tentu saja tidak.

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Satu hal lagi yang menarik adalah perihal judul dari buku terakhir trilogi Hujan Bulan Juni. Mengapa Yang Fana Adalah Waktu? Selain karena dipilih oleh kru di penerbitan, judul ini ada kaitannya dengan apa yang fana dan apa yang kekal dalam dunia dongeng. Pak Sapardi berkata bahwa waktu akan selalu berlalu, zaman berubah, tetapi tokoh dalam dongeng akan selalu abadi, seperti tokoh Sitti Nurbaya selalu diingat oleh pembaca dari dulu sampai sekarang dan kelak sampai kapan pun. “Saya akan mati, tapi Pingkan akan abadi,” ujar beliau terkait tokoh Pingkan dalam trilogi ini.

Sayang seribu sayang, kisah Pingkan dan Sarwono ini tidak akan “abadi” karena tidak akan berlanjut lagi, lantaran Pak Sapardi sudah telanjur menjanjikan bahwa kisah ini hanya akan menjadi trilogi. Jadi, bagaimanapun akhir cerita Yang Fana Adalah Waktu, maka begitulah akhirnya. Mengambang atau tidak, pasti atau tidak.

Saya memang, sampai artikel ini ditulis, belum membaca novel Yang Fana Adalah Waktu, tetapi perbincangan (atau lebih tepatnya sesi tanya-jawab) pada acara jumpa penggemar dalam rangka promosi buku tersebut bagi saya sangatlah berkesan. Bahkan jauh lebih berkesan daripada acara peluncuran resmi novel Suti yang saya hadiri sekitar dua tahun lalu di tempat yang sama. Sungguh bahagia dan puas rasanya mendengarkan jawaban dan pemikiran seorang Sapardi Djoko Damono dalam menanggapi pertanyaan-pertanyaan hadirin, yang menurut saya tak kalah menggelitik. Penjelasan-penjelasan yang beliau berikan memicu saya untuk berpikir. Benarkah selama ini kita telah begitu sombong, memisah-misahkan “karya sastra” dan “karya populer”? Benarkah selama ini kita telah terlalu sombong, memisah-misahkan “bahasa sastra” dan “bahasa populer”? Benarkah selama ini kita telah sangat sombong, menganggap bahasa Indonesia adalah bahasa Indonesia, dan bukannya bahasa asing-bahasa asing yang “diambil” oleh masyarakat kita yang terdiri dari berbagai bangsa, yang menghuni gugusan pulau yang dulunya merupakan tanah kosong tak berpenghuni? Benarkah selama ini kita sebagai pembaca telah teramat sombong, menuntut setiap adaptasi berupa film harus sama dengan novel yang diadaptasinya?

Tampaknya, kita harus merenungkan hal-hal ini kembali.

N.B.: Disarikan dan dirangkum dari sesi tanya-jawab pada acara jumpa penggemar bersama Bapak Sapardi Djoko Damono di Balai Sudjatmika, Gramedia Surakarta, 21 April 2018.

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others

BBI’s Seven-Year Itch

Hari ini ulang tahun Blooger Buku Indonesia yang ketujuh. Tepat tanggal 13 April ini tujuh tahun yang lalu komunitas narablog buku tersebut didirikan yang konsep awalnya sebenarnya sangat sederhana, mengumpulkan data blog-blog yang isinya khusus mengenai buku. Seiring berjalannya waktu komunitas ini semakin berkembang, menerima semakin banyak anggota dan semakin tertata sistem keanggotaan serta kepengurusannya. Semakin beragam pula isi blog para anggota, mulai dari resensi buku, kuis berhadiah buku atau voucher buku (giveaway), artikel mengenai tema tertentu, trivia mengenai buku, sampai wawancara dengan penulis, sesama narablog buku, atau tokoh lainnya. Komunitas ini bukan semata komunitas daring yang hanya bertemu di dunia maya, tetapi juga komunitas luring yang sering bertemu (baca: kopdar) di dunia nyata.

Blogger Buku Indonesia juga bukan semata komunitas senang-senang yang tidak bermanfaat atau menghasilkan apa-apa, karena banyak anggotanya yang—lantaran begitu sering menulis di blog sendiri—akhirnya menjadi penulis di luar blog mereka. Banyak yang resensi buku karyanya dimuat di media cetak (yang cenderung sulit dimasuki), pun di media daring yang memang sering memuat resensi buku. Banyak pula yang akhirnya menjadi penulis buku, atau yang karya tulisnya masuk ke dalam antologi-antologi keluaran penerbit terkenal. Komunitas ini telah berkembang dari sekumpulan orang yang membahas karya penulis menjadi sebuah komunitas yang banyak anggotanya sendiri menjadi penulis. Berawal dari menulis, berakhir dengan menulis pula. Dan mungkin kelak akan lebih dari itu.

Akan tetapi, sebagaimana hubungan suami-istri yang sering kali mengalami kendala/surut di tahun ketujuh, Blogger Buku Indonesia pun tampaknya mengalami kendala/surut yang sama persis di tahun yang sama. Awal surutnya aktivitas komunitas ini sudah sangat terasa ketika kegiatan Secret Santa, yang biasanya diadakan setahun sekali bertepatan dengan Hari Raya Natal, dengan segala pertimbangan yang entah apa saja, mulai ditiadakan di akhir tahun 2016. Setelah itu aktivitas daring komunitas ini semakin berkurang: pengurus yang tidak pernah berganti dan semakin malas mengurus, event yang semakin jarang bahkan tidak diadakan, banyak anggota yang semakin malas membaca dan menulis resensi atau apa pun itu di blog masing-masing, bahkan ada anggota yang keluar dan/atau menghapus blog bukunya. Singkat kata, gairah komunitas ini semakin menurun, kemudian melakukan “perselingkuhan”, alias melakukan kegiatan selain membaca dan menulis di blog. Memang tidak semua anggota demikian, tetapi jelas sekali gairah BBI semakin dan semakin menurun.

Mungkin setiap hubungan, kegiatan, atau situasi apa pun itu memang ditakdirkan untuk mengalami pasang-surut, dan itu sudah lazim. Saya sendiri, harus saya akui, sudah sangat lama tidak mengisi blog buku saya dengan tulisan apa pun. Terakhir kali saya mengunggah resensi buku di bulan Oktober tahun 2017 lalu, itu berarti sudah lima bulan lamanya. Saya pun semakin jarang membaca buku, karena sibuk berselingkuh dengan menonton serial/film silat. Baiklah, saya memang sangat sibuk bekerja setengah tahun lebih belakangan ini karena banyak proyek berdatangan, dan itu bisa saja saya jadikan alasan untuk tidak membaca atau menulis resensi seperti biasa. Tetapi rasanya tidak adil jika menyalahkan pekerjaan saya karena: 1). di awal karier saya, saya bahkan jauh lebih sibuk daripada sekarang dan saya masih sempat membaca dan menulis resensi walaupun hanya satu paragraf sehari; 2). entah kenapa setiap kali ada waktu untuk beristirahat setelah bekerja 12 jam dalam sehari, saya lebih memilih untuk berselancar di internet dan menonton serial silat. Kalaupun sempat membaca, saya hanya membaca komik silat—mudah dibaca (karena lebih banyak gambar daripada tulisan) dan menghibur.

Jadi intinya, sebenarnya tidak ada alasan bagi anggota BBI, setidak-tidaknya bagi diri saya sendiri, untuk melupakan kegiatan membaca dan mengisi blog bukunya. Namun begitulah, setiap hal pasti ada pasang-surutnya. Ada yang bilang komunitas BBI sekarang sedang mati suri (sambil berdoa tidak mati beneran), ada yang bilang sedang off saja, karena toh banyak anggota lainnya yang masih rajin membaca dan menulis di blog bukunya kendati gairah komunitas sedang menurun dan tidak ada aktivitas apa-apa (selain mengobrol yang tidak-tidak di grup WhatsApp, tentunya :D).

Lantas, bagaimana nasib Blogger Buku Indonesia ke depannya? Tidak ada yang tahu, kecuali Tuhan tentu saja. Saya hanya berharap komunitas ini tidak ada akan mati, dan kelak bisa bangkit kembali: para anggotanya ramai-ramai membaca dan mengisi blog, mengadakan kuis, menuliskan laporan peluncuran buku atau wawancara, juga artikel dengan berbagai macam tema. Saya juga berharap kelak ada penyegaran dalam tubuh kepengurusan (yang, tentu saja, tidak bisa mengandalkan saya si pemalas ini), sehingga para anggota yang sudah (terlalu) lama menjadi pengurus bisa beristirahat dan ada ide-ide baru yang dibawa ke dalam komunitas. Saya berharap komunitas Blogger Buku Indonesia bisa seperti dulu lagi, syukur-syukur bisa lebih baik lagi.

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fiction, review

The Shell Collector

36957532463_91281909daHope springs eternal, no matter what happens. Or, rather, no matter how little or even no possibility there is. The eight short—sometimes quite long—stories making a list in The Shell Collector drive home, instead, a bitter fact that it is often so pointless to have any hopes at all. Why? Because life is just the way it is and what actually happens is not what you want to happen. This is not pessimism. This is reality, in a way. The unpleasant one, though. What you should do is merely to get over it. Move on. Do something else, if you still have energy even to use your brain and think. Why does it sound so bad? Not really, if you succeed in moving on and having another hope to cling to.

Anthony Doerr’s 2002 collection will definitely shred the reader’s heart into pieces with its beautifully merciless pieces of prose. However, due to my incapability to summarize and tell all of the eight stories, I think I’ll settle for writing briefly three which could truly shake me personally. So Many Chances was the first among them. You could say it’s the most pessimistic one, especially when somewhere in the middle of the story a mother says:

“Life can turn out a million ways, Dorotea […] But the one way life will not turn out is the way you dream it. You can dream anything, but it’s never what will be. […] The only thing that can’t come true is your dream.”

It might sound so annoyingly hopeless, as if peope do not have to bother to hope at all. But the narrative gives readers the reason when Dorotea, the said mother’s daughter, is being let down by the fishboy she likes—and whom she thinks returning her immature feelings—as he’s gone without a word. She also has to feel the same disappointment when her father turns out to be working as a cleaning man in a boat as he has been before, and not the shipbuilder he has told her to be. Thus, their family’s moving to the seaside town is something pointless and obviously unnecessary.

The second to spin my head around was For A Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story. It seems to remind us of our jealousy toward others, when they appear to be a lot better than us, achieving bigger things than us, and doing something we can only dream about that we start to feel so small and useless. Rosemary is a short, rather fat girl who is absolutely nothing like her sister Griselda—tall, slim, having achieved big in volley. Her irritating envy drives her almost off the edge, not telling their mother when Griselda has gone without saying anything with the metal eater stopping by to hold an accentric show in their town. She doesn’t even say a word to their mom when Griselda sends postcards from around the world to tell them where she is and what she is doing with the metal eater. Rosemary doesn’t want their mother to know, not merely because she doesn’t want her to worry a bit about Griselda, but also because she’s angry that her sister can do as she please while she’s stuck in that town, doing nothing better than having a boring job and caring for their mother till the end of her life. Is life fair? Definitely, she thinks it’s not.

And the last one was July Fourth, a hilarious story unlike any other in the collection. It looks like it wants to tell the reader that there’s still hopes and optimism even if you’re doomed to failure in every direction you’re walking to, but not in an emotionally wrenching way. A group of British men challenge a group of Americans to fish and get the biggest fish possible in both continents. While the Brits have always been successful with their feat, the Americans do not get a single big fish, only bad luck and disappointment. But they do not give up. The deadline is the fourth of July, their own independence day, so they rush off. The determined efforts they’re making through the entire story can surely make readers both laugh at their innocent optimism and amazed by their unrelenting hard work.

Anthony Doerr has a unique style of storytelling. His sentences are not something ordinary, not only do they provoke profound emotions and melancholy, but are also capable of expressing the characters’ hidden feelings and thoughts in thorough detail. Even the plot of each story is extraordinarily structured, with complexity of a narrative full of agony and pessimism but also a voiced elaboration that urge the reader to be optimistic despite the little amount of it. All in all, this collection is about small miracles in the midst of difficulties and pain of life. And that storytelling style of Doerr’s can really represent this theme through and through. Reading it, readers will only get the feeling that life is just the way it is; sometimes there are too many troubles and unexpected things that it’s so pointless to have any hopes at all. Nevertheless, it’s also worthwhile to entertain a little bit of optimism inside our heart.

The Shell Collector might be a pretty heartbreaking bunch of stories. It dashes and raises your hopes at the same time. It’s beautiful and painful at the same time. And, either way, it’s still worth reading.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything

34755014963_e93c4f2e6aSometimes, some things are better kept unsaid. It is not, mostly, a matter of being or not being honest; it’s a matter of taking the best measure in the worst condition. And it should not necessarily be the right one either, only the best, for as many people as possible. Narrowing it down to a triangle love affair, where keeping secrets is almost like a cliché, telling your partner that you have another lover might not be the best decision. And perhaps you should just keep it that way, because an invisible wall between two lovers is not like a physical one between two separate parts of a country, and unity is not always an option. Daniela Krien brings this heart-shattering paradox to the surface with her Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything, a grippingly emotional short novel taking place in the 1990’s Germany when the country is finally on the verge of total reunification.

Deep in an unusual village in the less modernized, socialist half that was GDR (German Democratic Republic), a young school girl named Maria is taking up temporary residence in her boyfriend Johannes’ home, a large farm of which house has a somewhat modern taste in furniture. It is in contrast to the Henner’s, a neighboring farm not so far away that has not changed since the war, whose very owner is said to live in seclusion, and a quite mysterious man himself. For a while, Maria is enjoying a quiet life in the Brendel’s farm, with a family half-heartedly accepting her and a dirty little secret about Alfred, some sort of worker there, which everyone seems to know but keep it to themselves.

Her days are never boring, though, what with Johannes showering her with passionate love (and sometimes neglectful attention) and reading and driving together to the West. She even lends a hand in the household chores and farm work. But when she meets, truly face-to-face, Thorsten Henner, everything starts to change gradually. Unwanted desire flares, secret love affair occurs, true love questioned. What’s started as pure passion slowly turns into pure affection and sudden urge to be together forever. However, unlike their country Germany which has eventually come to terms with itself, Maria’s and Henner’s different worlds do not seem to be able to find a way to unite. Maria persists, but Henner knows his place. And as Maria starts to try to break down the wall between them, everything, on the contrary, begins to crumble in ruins.

As it was already implied, Maria-Henner’s difficult relationship and East-West Germanies’ imminent reunification here is like two parallel roads running in two opposite directions. It might be unwise to elaborate more on this, but it’d be interesting to see how the writer, as someone born in East Germany herself, uses the characters as an analogy to describe one ideology vanished at the hands of another. Depicted as politically active, as Krien tells in flashback, Henner is being spied on by the Stasi through his own wife. It does seem like a “same old, same old” pattern of fiction, but that is just how it goes. This spying thing is definitely repressive, but when we look at Henner’s character closely, then there wouldn’t be much difference there. At least in the way he treats Maria sexually at first: commanding, compulsive, cruel to some extent. He is also a solitary person, so out of reach. Everyone can see him but cannot touch him—just like a socialist country living in isolation.

It is quite contrary to Maria, who, despite keeping secrets all the time, is naturally an open and easy-to-get-along-with person. She can even endure boredom in the middle of Johannes’ friends, and live among a bunch of people who impose so much silence and awkwardness on her. She is also very open to Henner’s brutal love and lovemaking, and to his enigmatic nature and all his horrible past. At some point in her childhood, she even despised the Pioneer Camp and called it a prison. She loves modernity, too. In conclusion, she and Henner are poles apart, so much like the East and the West. Be that as it may, there is a strong attraction between them, a powerful longing to unite in the middle of vast and various differences. And, also similar to East-West reunification which demands ideological sacrifice on the East’s part, Maria-Henner’s relationship also demands the same unbelievably huge one. Only the result is contradictory.

Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything is a very heartbreakingly beautiful novel. The narrative, with all its many flashbacks, feels so smooth yet is often blotchy with disturbing scenes and silently emotional monologues. It’s incredibly structured, too, letting the reader see the detailed historical aspect, the painful love affair, the subtly yet distinctly drawn characters, and ponder over the tragic ending—if not mourn for it. Jamie Bulloch’s flawless translation also helps readers much in absorbing the intense story. The book is short but it’s justifiably so. Longer and it would be disastrously dragging.

All in all, this book by Daniela Krien is a superb one. It’s nearly perfect and capable of draining away the reader’s emotion. It’s really a dense and satisfying read.

WITMonth 2017

Rating: 4.5/5

others, review

Xiao Ao Jiang Hu: The 2001 TV Adaptation

They said Zhang Jizhong is a very serious Chinese producer who would make the best effort to produce a remarkable TV series. He doesn’t only think about the financial aspect of a production, but he involves himself in everything and anything. He even joins the cast sometimes, playing one or two characters. And that’s what makes his adaptations of Jin Yong’s popular novels fantastic TV productions to enjoy. It started with Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, or they call it Laughing in the Wind in English for this particular adaptation.

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Shot in 2000, and first broadcasted in March 2001 by Mainland China’s CCTV, Laughing in the Wind received a high rating and popularity, though with rather mixed reviews. It is said to have marvelous scenery and real, jaw-dropping fighting scenes no wuxia TV series ever had. However, on the other hand, it fails to stay true to the book and casts the wrong actors for some roles. Still, it is a great production, an exciting adaptation, and, for some people who loved it, it’s one of the best wuxia series ever made.

There are already many reviews of Laughing in the Wind, but I think I’m entitled to my own opinion, aren’t I? Moreover, as I watched it I couldn’t help having raging thoughts in my mind. So, let’s see how it goes.

The Cast

Li Yapeng as Linghu Chong

linghuchong-blogSome people said Li Yapeng is not the right actor to play the role of Linghu Chong. He’s too serious and melancholic, while the Linghu Chong in the book is a care-free man who never gives any thought to anything. Since I haven’t read the entire novel (I’m only into the first few pages now), I don’t think I have the right to make any judgment. But let’s be fair. The scriptwriter(s) might have their own interpretation of the character, or Li represents it in his own way on screen. He might not be a fun-loving man he should be here, but he’s definitely jokes-loving: he’s funny (okay, rather ridiculous sometimes), he’s naughty and glib-tongued. What’s the best about his portrayal is his facial expressions and funny gestures when he’s in the mood. Some said they are too much, but I’d rather say they are just entertaining. Other great thing about Li is that he can express sadness and love so soulfully. Really. Just look at his face. I think he’s a talented actor, such a shame he’s retired from acting now.

Xu Qing as Ren Yingying 

renyingying-blogEveryone seems to praise her and I didn’t have any complaint, either. I liked the way she portrays Shen Gu (The Holy Maiden), she seems so natural in doing so. She looks so fierce, so smart, independent, with an air of leadership about her. And yet, sometimes, she can be so shy and childish especially when she is with Linghu Chong. Yes, the Ren Yingying here is a very complex character, so complex that at times she can be poles apart within herself. At one time she can be so jealous whenever Yue Lingshan is concerned, at another she can be so understanding and saying something like, “I admire your xiao shi-mei (little sister), it’s your love for her that opens my eyes in the first place.” So contradictory, so inconsistent, and this swing-mood is pretty disturbing most of the time. Having said that, in the way of appearance, Xu Qing really suits the character of Ren Yingying. It’s like this role is truly meant for her.

Wei Zi as Yue Buqun 

yuebuqun-blogIf there is any villain in disguise in the world, then it’s Yue Buqun. And the way Wei Zi performs this character on screen is very much convincing: so subtle yet so vivid at the same time. Just look at how he acts so elegantly indifferent sometimes—with a sigh and lazy gesture and a fan—also the way he talks, and you will see that he is a hypocrite. The least impressive thing about Wei Zi’s portrayal, however, is the way he interprets the “womanish” Yue Buqun after learning Bi Xie Jian Fa (Evil-Resisting Sword Skill). He appears to be less convincing in this, much less than the way Mao Weitao (Dongfang Bubai) and Li Jie (Lin Pingzhi) portray the same character change.

Other Important Characters

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There is not much to say about Miao Yiyi who plays Yue Lingshan in this adaptation. She just acts the way she should as a 16-year-old girl: sweet, childish, and selfish sometimes. Her voice (dubbed or not), really suits her character. But who impressed me more here is Li Jie instead, the actor who portrays Lin Pingzhi . I appreciated how he displays the step-by-step changes in his character: from a spoiled young master, to a heart-broken and full of revenge young man, and finally to a sinister, womanish fighter who masters Bi Xie Jian Fa. However, Dongfang Bubai is still the best male/female character that left deep impression in me.

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As perfect as an ensemble might be, there must be imperfection somewhere. Some actors just do not fit their roles. Sun Haiying who plays Tian Boguang was miscasted. He acts and looks too silly to be a well-known, ferocious rapist. And the worst failure of all is the character of Ren Woxing, who’s badly played by Lu Xiaohe. Once again, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how his character should be. But to my thinking, a leader of a huge, evil sect should have an air of dignity about him, leadership, and harsh manner. Instead, Ren Woxing here merely looks like a silly old man who laughs a lot through to the end of his life.

The Plot

They say there are three ways of adapting a novel into the big/small screen: stay true to the book; pick a part of the book and develop it into a lengthy narrative; or make an entirely different plot based on the idea of the book. The plot employed in this particular adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu doesn’t seem to stray far away from the original story, but in general, it does seem to have its own storyline. Some reviews stated that there are so many changes compared to the novel, and Jin Yong himself felt quite disappointed about it. However, as I haven’t known entirely how the plot should have run, here I’m pointing out what’s wrong with it as a TV series, not as a TV adaptation.

First of all, to snare an audience into a visualized story, an opening scene should have certain charm and captivating narrative, not merely a marvelous cinematography and beguiling characters. Unfortunately, Laughing in the Wind fails to do this. Whether or not it follows the opening scene of the book, its first five episodes run too fast and feels so awkward to watch. It’s suddenly this way and suddenly that way most of the time, with a lack of clarity in what it wants to deliver. Those who have read the book might be able to understand what’s going on or if some scenes are cut or shortened, but what about those who haven’t? Luckily, after the fifth episode, the storyline runs rather well and understandable, but only until the 30th episode. Afterward, the story starts to falter once again throughout the last 10 episodes. The idea in which Ren Ying Ying kidnapping Yi Lin in episode 31 doesn’t seem to have any significance, and episode 37 is the worst episode of all. Even episode 40, the last episode, although featuring a nice climax and ending, also runs too fast in the first 15-20 minutes. In conclusion, there is definitely something wrong with the scriptwriting. Something like being in a hurry. Like they have to end it in episode 40 and not more.

The Fighting Scenes

What makes Laughing in the Wind a great wuxia novel adaptation, and an amazing wuxia series, is undoubtedly its fighting scenes. There have been nothing like them before. The kungfu movements are seriously choreographed, the fightings are nicely shot, and at times they are made colossal. When these scenes are too complicated, fast, and shot from a far angle, they will be done by stuntmen. But when they are filmed in slow motion, quite simple, and taken from close angle, the actors will do them on their own. Since this is a wuxia story involving sword skill, the use of swords is very fundamental. The actors have to carry their swords everywhere they go and be able to play with them. When you look at the screen closely, you will see that all the actors are capable of swinging and playing deftly with their swords. No, they do not use stuntmen to do that. It’s them. They must have painstakingly practiced it over and over before shooting. And Xu Qing, in particular, is the most skillful one to do this.

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And of course, as there are a lot of fighting scenes in this series, I couldn’t help but memorize some and make them my favorites. The fighting in the rain, where Linghu Chong uses Dugu Jiu Jian (9 Swords of Dugu) to blind the masked men making an ambush on his Huashan School fellows, is no doubt one of my favorites. It might not have the best kungfu choreography, but it looks so dramatic and beautiful to watch. Other best fighting scene in this series is, of course, the massive attack Cheng Bu You and co. launch on Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying at the Bamboo Hut in Luo Yang. It’s so exciting, visually engrossing, nicely choreographed, and very dramatic at the same time. The fighting between Linghu Chong+Ren Yingying+Ren Woxing+Xiang Wentian versus Dongfang Bubai also brings about the same excitement and sense of awe, it’s just such a shame it is not well-edited. I noticed that some scenes are not in coherence, so they seem awkward and do not run smoothly. But I liked it when they end the fighting with pink petals of flowers raining upon them. Really, the director does know how to entertain an audience.

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Petals of flowers raining upon Linghu Chong

Last but not least, every fighting scene involving Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying. That is, those in episode 13 and 14. I know this might sound so silly but I found those fighting scenes a bit romantic. I think I caught a sense of love-and-hate aura between them. But, well, maybe it was just me.

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Linghu Chong vs Ren Yingying

The Love Story

Everyone who loves wuxia series, and especially those who are fans of Jin Yong, must have known that Yue Lingshan is Linghu Chong’s first love, and even when he’s with Ren Yingying he still cannot forget her. I read somewhere that the character of Ren Yingying is supposed to come out rather later in the story as Po-po (granny), when Linghu Chong feels brokenhearted over his xiao shi-mei. However, this adaptation decided to let Ren Yingying appear earlier as herself, giving room for both she and Linghu Chong to know each other in advance. From the first time they meet, it is quite obvious that the Holy Maiden has a secret interest in Linghu Chong. She even helps to cure him in episode 3, releases him (together with Yue Lingshan and Yi Lin) in episode 5, and setting Ling Pingzhi free of Yu Canghai’s hold in episode 6. What else the reason she would do all that? But only Yue Lingshan has a room in Linghu Chong’s heart, so he is not aware of Ren Yingying’s intention. Moreover, she is someone from the demon cult. They are predestined to be sworn enemies.

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Linghu Chong and Ren Yingying

As the story progresses, though, their relationship becomes more complicated. Separated by the notion of good and evil, and definitely having no hope whatsoever, Ren Yingying tries to get close to Linghu Chong through every way possible, without revealing her true feelings of course. It is displayed in episode 13 through to episode 16, when they somehow walk between love and hate, and reaches its climax in episode 18. After that, the rest is history.

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The tragic death of Yue Lingshan

However, it is still hard for Linghu Chong to love Ren Yingying wholeheartedly, and this is shown through his expressions and dialogues. Only after Yue Lingshan dies can Linghu Chong let go off his feelings for her and devote all his love and attention to Ren Yingying only. I do think this torn-apart emotion when someone is caught in a triangle love affair needs a great deal of acting skill to express it, and, once again, Li Yapeng has it in him to do just that.

The Scenery/Setting

Some people said that the scenery in Laughing in the Wind is one of the plus points of the series, and I couldn’t agree more. I particularly liked Si Guo Ya (The Repentance Hill), Hei Mu Ya (Black Wood Cliff), and the hills where Qu Yang+Liu Zhengfeng / Ren Yingying+Linghu Chong play the song Xiao Ao Jiang Hu at the beginning and end of the series.

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But overall, every spot the shooting took place is real and breathtaking, even the front hall of Songshan School and the Hanging Temple of Henshan School.

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The Soundtrack

As far as my experience watching wuxia TV series, I never knew of a single one actually having traditional/classic Chinese music as their soundtrack/background song. No, not one. But Laughing in the Wind has it, not only for the opening and ending themes, but also the score throughout the series. I especially loved the song entitled You Suo Si, the one which is played by Po-po (or Ren Yingying) every time Linghu Chong feels restless, and also the song called Tian Di Zuo He. I really liked the sound of the zither in them. So classy and classic. As for the ending theme, which is performed by Liu Huan and Faye Wong, I have to say that it didn’t leave pretty good impression in my ear. However, visually, it is a marvelous production in itself. If you just sit and watch the video, you will recognize how every single note seems to fit the edited scene displayed.

Well, all things considered, this 2001 CCTV’s adaptation of Xiao Ao Jiang Hu is truly one of the best wuxia TV series I’ve ever watched. It’s like a modern classic. It has almost everything I need, and want, in this genre. If it was not for the clumsy plot I might have given it a higher rating, 4.5 maybe. But it barred me from doing so.

Rating: 4/5

comic books, fiction, review

A Thousand Ships

35563773995_fd0f1ed35b_oThe war between Troy and Achaea is perhaps the most famous one in classic literature, the most memorable, the most talked-about, the most retold in modern era. It doesn’t only revolve around revenge, dignity and heroism, but also passion and reckless love. It has been so often reproduced in many forms of popular culture, and now it appears in the form of graphic novel, entitled A Thousand Ships. It doesn’t exactly retell the story of the Trojan War, but the beginning, how it comes to the horrific end. Eric Shanower, the illustrator responsible, has made a tremendous effort to represent the old legend in pictures, and tried his best to formulate a narrative adaptation to accompany his drawings which would be easily fathomable.

It all starts with Paris going to Troy to win back his precious buffalo taken by the King’s representatives to offer to God. Things are getting complicated when he learns that he is not actually the son of his father, but that of the King of Troy, Priam. He was supposed to be left to die after his birth, for the prophesy didn’t hold something good about him. But he is not dead, and raised instead by the old man responsible for the horrible task into a young, handsome man. In short, when the truth is finally revealed, Paris is welcome at his homeland as the long-lost prince, and his real father embraces him with love. As the time goes by, his recklessness and natural character as a spoiled young boy bring imminent disaster to the kingdom. When he is supposed to set off for Sparta to free his father’s sister Hesione, he can’t help but fall blindly in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, and deadly set to take away home the most beautiful woman in the world. Menelaus is greatly offended, no doubt, and determined to wage a war against Troy to take back his wife. And at this point, the role of Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother and the Grand King of Achaea, is on display. The great king takes it upon himself to mobilize his friends and allies from various small kingdoms and even looks for Achilles, the one foretold to bring victory to the Achaea’s side. And this is only the beginning.

As a myth, as an age-old legend well-known through generations and nations, the Trojan War has been told and retold by various writers, poets, and even playwrights. It has even been adapted into the big screen. So many versions available, so many approaches have been employed to deliver the story that sometimes the curious audiences cannot decide which one is true, or which one is to their favor. Eric Shanower might not present the truest version, or the best one, but his graphic-novel adaptation of the Greek myth at the very least tries to make it simple for the reader to get the general picture. It is indeed easy to understand and very much entertaining. The narrative, and how Shanower arranges it into a well-organized structure, is very informative, though it might not follow the complicated, already blurred, inexplicable origin.

As it is a graphic novel, it is only natural that readers would have pretty high expectation especially of its drawing quality. And Shanower doesn’t disappoint a bit. Every picture is created in meticulous detail, every character is sharply drawn, they’re even quite graphic sometimes that I believe this is not for children. However, subjectively speaking, they are not to my taste. Perhaps I’ve been too used to Japanese-manga/Chinese-manhua style of comic books to accept the way of the American. So however good the drawings might be, I cannot say that I liked them, especially—what a shame—those of Paris and Achilles, the two main protagonists in this famous War of Troy. I expected Paris to have a truly handsome facial character, but he turns out to look dumb and dull. The same disappointment brought about by the character of Achilles, who is supposed to be so handsome that he looks girlish instead. I didn’t find him handsome, nor too beautiful to manage to hide himself among girls.

A Thousand Ships is not a disappointment of a work. Only it is not to my favor and didn’t live up much to my expectation. It is well-structured, though, and makes for essential bits of information about the Trojan War. That said, I will just keep it in the corner of my distant memory.

Rating: 3/5