As if everything has been plotted, Cinta di Dalam Gelas comes out to rescue Padang Bulan from falling from grace, as it is obvious by the fact that both novels are packaged as one. And just living up to the expectations, Cinta di Dalam Gelas picks up where Padang Bulan left off, especially where Enong’s story ended with a cliffhanger. This book, in my opinion, is way better than its prequel. Andrea Hirata seems to try to make amends immediately for his petty love story by bringing up some more important issue, namely living as the marginal.
The beginning of the story unveils the background of Maryamah—apparently, and surprisingly, the real name of Enong—elaborating as the narrative goes the difficult life and agonized past she has which then shape her to be a very strong woman seeking for the sweet revenge she thinks she deserves. The opportunity presents itself when a chess competition is about to be held in the Independence Day celebration. However, it’s been a custom to have only men joining the said competition. Maryamah has never played chess before, nor does she know how, and almost everyone in the village opposes the idea of women joining the allegedly prestigious competition. But she doesn’t give up. She insists on joining it and, with the help of Ikal and his friends and some agreement with the members of the society, she gets the ticket. Supported by his old friend back when he is in France, an international grand master, Ikal helps Maryamah learning how to play chess. And when everyone doubts her, she shows them how courage and hard work have turned her from a common, marginal, uneducated woman into a female champion in the so-called male arena.
Hirata describes the character of Maryamah in better detail as the plot goes by here than what we perceive in Padang Bulan. Not only strong and capable of standing on her own two feet, Maryamah is also full of determination and never afraid of any challenges in life. Her unhappy, destroyed marriage with Matarom does not break her down, instead, it makes her even stronger and not take any nonsense from men. Though poor and uneducated, not to mention living in a strict patriarchal society, Maryamah doesn’t hesitate to prove herself worthy of respect and equality by constant learning and unfailing endeavor, hence stepping over the gender restrictions.
It is quite unusual for Hirata to present a story about the struggle of a woman, especially one living in the conservative Malay society of Belitong, despite his many novels about the struggle of marginal people. This is the first time in my memory that Hirata brings up such an issue as feminism/gender equality and is critical of it without ever being too much. Maryamah being poor, uneducated, and female is a vivid proof of being marginal and brings her face-to-face with not only one, or two, but a lot more odds than usually stacked against average marginal people. Her “success” and persistence in reaching it can be an inspiration in some ways to the reader.
As always, Hirata narrates his story in a hilarious, witty way, leaving aside the yo-yoing quality of his narrative from one novel to another. Cinta di Dalam Gelas doesn’t seem extravagant to me, to be honest, but its plot is believable and, with Hirata putting Ikal aside for a while, the development of the character of Maryamah gives it a plus point. It just has everything we want in a novel.
All things considered, Cinta di Dalam Gelas is a total remedy for Andrea Hirata’s last two disappointing novels, at least in my opinion. It has something more than merely a story of love or of reaching big dreams. It truly depicts what it is like to be marginal in every sense of the word: poor, uneducated, and being the “second sex”. I can bravely say that it gives light to any readers who are willing to forgive Hirata’s previous flop. This is really a recommended novel for everyone.