After Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy ended with the disappointing Maryamah Karpov, what could Andrea Hirata possibly do to disarm the angry readers? Criticism was so raging out there and had Hirata made one more mistake, the readers would never have forgiven him. So Padang Bulan is his answer to all the critics. Published as a package of double stories in 2010, Padang Bulan has more or less redeemed his previous flop. As the continuation of his former quartet of novels, so he claimed, Padang Bulan once again talks about the importance of hard work and persistent endeavor in achieving our aim.
The novel unfolds with an introductory story of Enong, a young girl whose father dies all of a sudden while their family is living in poverty and starvation. Enong, dreaming of mastering English language and becoming an English teacher, has to give up everything and assume the responsibility of being the breadwinner of her family. The first chapters of the book see her struggles to get a job and her failures in them. Her consistency and unrelenting endeavor then successfully take her to be the first ever female tin miner.
However, the book is apparently not about Enong, not in essence. True to Hirata’s words, Maryamah Karpov is not the end of Ikal’s story, and definitely not the end of his long love saga. This may seem awkward and failed to satisfy our curiosity over the end of Enong’s story, but Hirata has his own reason.
Narrating in a sequence of recollections, as always, here Hirata picks up exactly where he left off in Maryamah Karpov. After having a quarrel with his father over his father’s disapproval of his love for A Ling, Ikal decides to leave his home and choose to be with A Ling instead. It’s so unlucky him, however, that A Ling leaves him just right after their last encounter. Rumor has it that she will soon get married to another man. Irked and jealous, he wonders how she could turn her back on him and choose another man. Heartbreak leads him to insanely promise to beat that other man in any game so A Ling will come back to him. His desperation and dogged perseverance encourage him not only to try too hard, but also do unthinkably stupid things ending up in miserably silly circumstances. And at the end, all those endeavors are to no avail.
While the character of Ikal is as much hard worker as in every novel written by Hirata, Enong is the one who catches my attention most. She is really the embodiment of the marginal people in society who has to put aside her dreams for fighting in the harsh reality where earning money and clawing her way out of poverty are very much difficult. Her being the first ever female tin miner and the breadwinner of her family delivers an echo of what feminism and/or gender equality should take form, in which a woman can possibly compete with men and assume the so-called male responsibility. It is such a shame that she must appear briefly without any clarity in her ending.
I have to say that Padang Bulan is not as special as Laskar Pelangi. Nor Edensor, for that matter. The story is enjoyable and entertaining, yet somehow gives almost nothing to the reader. Had Hirata given Enong more room to explore her character and story, it would have been better and richer. I believe that the struggle of a marginal woman and hard work can be hand in hand to present a marvelous tale. But here, Hirata decided not to do so. Instead, he talks merely about Ikal’s foolish behavior and endeavor to have his true love back. However, the narrative is not bad. Not as strong as Laskar Pelangi’s, though. And to my amazement, it is still well written in a witty, hilarious way.
If you’re Andrea Hirata’s fans, you don’t want to miss this book. Padang Bulan may not as a great compensation for the sloppy Maryamah Karpov as I have expected, but it is at least better in every way. I don’t think this book is highly recommended, but you can at least try it.