Andrea Hirata’s Laskar Pelangi is just a fascinating tale of reaching dreams and the existence of miracle. It was first published in 2005 and has won national and international acclaim. It is one of the most widely read Indonesian literary works, one which has and continues to gain a very wide readership. It is its theme of “reaching dreams”, I believe, which is responsible for its huge success. Reaching dreams, however undeniably common, is what everyone is struggling for today. Hirata has cleverly altered his personal experience into something people desperately need to read to boost up their morale.
Told from Ikal’s point of view, Laskar Pelangi’s first pages present his lamentation over his boring, unmoving life. But then at some point his grumbling takes him to memories of his childhood, where life can be so bitter and hopeless. Back when he is a kid, living in a poor isolated village in Belitong with extremely minimum educational facility, Ikal is stepping on to a narrow, winding path towards what we would call “dreams of education” as he enters an almost-closed school, SD Muhammadiyah. With only ten students, including Ikal, the school can finally run, relying on what limited facility they have. Page after page, event after event, ordeal after ordeal that befall those kids, the Laskar Pelangi, emanate an atmosphere of determination and persistence no matter how hard they have to stand up on a shaky ground.
In any case, the kids of Laskar Pelangi are basically depicted as unflawless people with unflawless lives. Taking a look at Lintang, who is the smartest and the brightest of all, we have to uneasily agree that life doesn’t always turn out as we want it to. This unpredictability of life is clearly evident as those kids grow up: some becoming a very successful figure, some working as a labor, some frustrating over his job, some drowning into mental illness. This is the point where Hirata’s humbly telling us that life can be as much miraculous as disastrous. Nevertheless, Laskar Pelangi is not a novel which leads its reader to mournful pondering. Its characters, its plot, its implied message drive its reader to hope, to move, to work, and to be optimistic no matter what.
Hirata, as Ikal, narrates his dream saga in a culturally witty style, making it hilarious to follow. Impressively, this point of view doesn’t make it illogical in how the story is arranged. I found it more of a recollection of his childhood with personal understanding of his friends’ characters poured into vivid and clear sentences, random yet unpuzzling, rather than of a carefully structured narrative. So unfortunately, the slow movement and occasionally incorrect sentence composition make the writing a little bit weak and clumsy. Being a new author at the point of writing this novel, it could be slightly excusable. However, some readers might not want to let it go.
All things considered, Laskar Pelangi could be precisely perceived as a great debut novel from Andrea Hirata. Leaving aside the debate out there over whether or not it is worth being called a “literary work”, and its inevitably reckless flaws, Laskar Pelangi is still a great work of fiction (if you want to call it so), a great story of pursuing and reaching dreams, a great mean of retaining hopes and optimism. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is in need of good and inspiring read.