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?

A Glimpse of the Past Year, and Some Reading Plans

Welcome, welcome, 2017! It’s already been 8 days into the new year and it might be a little too late for me to post a recap on my reading and blogging activities of the year 2016. But since this blog has been creepily quiet (quiet?) for some time, I can absolutely not leave it empty still and do nothing to cheer it up a bit for the año nuevo. So now I’ll be doing some recap, and tell you what I have in mind (sort of) for my next reading plans.

Reading and Blogging Recap

2016 was the year of J-Lit and local books for me. I’d set myself to read Japanese literary works for the 2016 Japanese Literature Reading Challenge and managed to accomplish 8 books at the end of the year… by the month of August, I mean. That’s less than what I had expected when I started the reading for said challenge. So many things got in the way: boredom, my rekindled spirit for learning Spanish, a sense of obligation to read The Black Book—one of my must-read books of 2016!—and the failure to finish it before the year ended, Agatha Christie (yes, she and her unputdownable Poirot mysteries!)… Oh, well, whatever my excuses were, I failed. That’s the point. But still, 8 is more or less 27% of the overall 29 books I read last year (it’s actually 31, but I count Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy as one). As for the local books, I reached the highest peak so far last year, which was 13 books. And that’s 44% of the entirety. It was really something. If you’re someone who scarcely read any works of your own country’s literature and suddenly you can finish 13 books in a year then that’s quite a deal. Trust me.

So, what about the other 8? Well, I read 1 Chinese literary work (I planned to read some Jin Yong but didn’t manage, or wasn’t encouraged enough, to accomplish the mission), 3 English books (all Agatha Christie’s), 3 American fiction books (Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector was the best, such a shame I didn’t make a review of it), and 1 book of contemporary German literature.

wp-1483846758581.jpegNext question: among those 29 books I devoured in my little quiet room, which ones made into my top list? Okay, just because I read 13 Indonesian books that didn’t mean I loved all of them, or at least most of them. No. Only two could make me gape in awe: Hujan Bulan Juni (always! Mr. Damono! Never disappoint me!) and Sepotong Senja untuk Pacarku. I loved M. Aan Mansyur’s poetry books (Melihat Api Bekerja and Tidak Ada New York Hari Ini), but the thing is… I’m not really into poetry (what an excuse! ;p). I wanted to love Puya ke Puya by Faisal Oddang and Eka Kurniawan’s Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger) because the hype was so high and people were talking about them but no, they didn’t really work for me. Sitti Nurbaya was great, but the narrative wasn’t so very captivating. As for the others… let’s just not talk about them.
The third book which got into my favorite list last year was Christie’s Murder on the Links. It blew my mind that I couldn’t sleep, literally. I’m a sleepyhead and I always go to bed before 10 pm, 9 pm even. But this book had really dragged me way into midnight because I WANTED TO KNOW WHO THE CULPRIT WAS! No wonder people call the Dame a genius. For the fourth and the fifth ones, I must point two classic Japanese works: Rashomon and Botchan.  If you’ve been following me through my rambling on this blog from the very first start then you’ll understand. I like it when an author slap me in the face with the bitter reality of life so I can learn something, and Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Natsume Sōseki could really do that with their respective masterpieces. They’re just incredible.

Phew! That’s the reading. What about my blogging activities? Well, I have to say that I sort of lost my spirit toward the end of the year. Five books went unreviewed: Mysterious Affair at Styles, Tidak Ada New York Hari Ini, Smokol, Dan Sepi pun Menari di Tepi Hari, and The Shell Collector. I read them when I was in the throes of reading frenzy but unfortunately lacked the will to write any reviews. Some of you might wonder why there aren’t any reviews of Puya ke Puya and Sitti Nurbaya then if it’s only those 5 books that went unreviewed. Don’t worry, I’ve planned to make a special write-up on those two in the very, very near future. Just wait.

Oh, that’s not all. There’s something worse: I didn’t do the plan I’d made earlier last year to join the collective BBI blog posts on as many monthly themes as I could manage. I ended up posting articles for the themes of March, May, June, and July only. Four months! Only four out of seven possible monthly themes I could have joined. Blame it on my laziness. The bad news is, this year BBI hold a very, very interesting challenge, Read and Review Challenge 2017, but I don’t know if I’ll be joining it at all.

2017 Reading Plans

I would have asked her what her plans were, and she would have gracefully brushed back her hair and said, “Plans?”—as if that was a word I had invented.

—taken from The Moons of Jupiter

If someone asks me what my plans are for this year’s reading activities I will probably say the same as what Nichola does in Alice Munro’s short story quoted above. But I have some things in mind already. I do. I really do. The thing is, I don’t know if I can, or will, truly pursue them.

1. The first and foremost, I will, no, I have to, finish The Black Book. This is the first time ever, ever, that I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s work without so much interest and enthusiasm. I have started the book in September (that’s four months ago!) and am still now stuck on page 320 (of 466 pages). I will not blame it on some other books I read in between, because honestly, the narrative is so exhaustingly long and tiring. It’s been Pamuk’s signature style actually and I’ve been used to it, and the premise is interesting, too. So there shouldn’t be any reasons for the delay. But… well, I don’t know. Time. Perhaps that’s what I need. And some remembrance of my love for the writer and the country he is living in.

2. Second, I will (have to) read and finish the free books I acquired last year: Eka Kurniawan’s Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, and Mimpi Bayang Jingga by Sanie B. Kuncoro. Free books are not easy to get (that’s a fact, I tell you), and I think it’s time to be responsible for my penchant for free stuff and eat them all.

3. Last year was the year of J-Lit, so I want this year to be a Spanish one. No. I will not spend the whole time reading Spanish/Latin literature only, but I want to know more about it, to get to know deeper about it. I have a stack of Marías, Allende, Gabo, Vargas Llosa, and some other books by various Spanish/Latin writers and I want to devour them one by one. You may guess that it comes as a result of my recent learning Spanish—that’s partly true. You cannot go learning the language without learning the literature. Moreover, it’s about time that I widen my reading horizon, don’t you think?

4. Some say, “When you get what you want, will you be happier?” Yes, that question might as well apply to me. Last year I was lucky enough to get almost all of my wish-list books, but then I just left them and went reading the other books. Why? I have no idea. But this year I’ve promised myself to start reading them. Not all of them, of course. But I’ll try to read some and make reviews of them. Wish me luck 🙂

Ah, well. Those are my plans, if you ask me. A year consists of 365 days but time often flies without our realizing it, and suddenly… puff! The year ends and we get nowhere, we read nothing. I hope it won’t happen (again) and I hope I will have a stronger will to make reviews so I will be able to write better in English and liven up this dull blog.

Bye for now. ¡Feliz 2017 para todos! Happy reading and blogging!

The Girl on The Train

Setelah gemparnya novel Gone Girl karya Gillian Flynn, sebuah novel thriller psikologis yang plotnya digerakkan oleh tokoh utama wanita berkarakter “ganda” dan tidak bisa dipercaya sudut pandangnya, para pecinta novel, khususnya novel berjenis sama, seolah mendapat suntikan candu dengan hadirnya The Girl on The Train karya Paula Hawkins. Bahkan, novel ini sering disebut-sebut sebagai “the next Gone Girl”. Julukan tersebut bisa dianggap berlebihan, tetapi agaknya tidak juga jika melihat alur The Girl on The Train yang juga dibangun dari sudut pandang tokoh wanitanya yang tidak bisa diandalkan. Namun tentu saja, buku ini memiliki gaya penulisan dan cara bercerita yang berbeda, juga kejutan yang mampu membuat pembaca menaikkan alis dan membelalakkan mata.
Rachel Watson mengalami depresi berat setelah bercerai dari suaminya, Tom Watson. Ketidakmampuannya memiliki anak dan kesedihannya yang berlarut-larut karena masalah tersebut menjadikannya seorang pecandu alkohol, yang kemudian membawa pernikahannya pada kehancuran. Ia bahkan dipecat dari pekerjaannya karena mabuk berat dan bersikap tidak sopan saat menemui klien perusahaannya bekerja. Meski begitu Rachel masih menjalani “rutinitas sehari-harinya” seperti biasa: berangkat “kerja” dengan kereta pukul 08:04 pagi dan pulang naik kereta pukul 17:56 sore. Di tengah-tengah perjalanannya itulah ia selalu melewati deretan rumah di jalan Bleinheim, area tempat tinggalnya dulu semasa masih bersama Tom. Bukan hanya bekas rumahnya yang selalu ia lihat setiap hari, tetapi juga rumah yang tak jauh dari sana, rumah nomor 15 yang dihuni oleh sepasang suami-istri yang tidak dikenalnya, yang dalam khayalannya ia beri nama Jason dan Jess. Suatu saat, dari dalam kereta, Rachel melihat “Jess” berciuman dengan lelaki lain, dan ia pun berasumsi bahwa wanita itu telah berselingkuh dari suaminya. Anehnya, besok malamnya wanita itu, yang kemudian diketahui bernama Megan, menghilang. Rachel langsung menyimpulkan bahwa Megan kabur bersama sang kekasih gelap. Ia berusaha memberikan informasi tersebut kepada polisi, tetapi polisi tidak menanggapinya dengan serius karena ia dianggap sebagai “saksi yang tidak bisa diandalkan” mengingat kondisinya yang selalu mabuk. Dan toh ia sering tidak ingat kejadian-kejadian atau apa yang pernah dialaminya akibat kehilangan kesadaran total ketika sedang mabuk. Sialnya, sebenarnya Rachel sedang berada di daerah tempat tinggalnya dulu saat Megan menghilang di jalan tersebut. Namun ia tidak ingat apa-apa yang dapat memberinya petunjuk ke mana wanita itu pergi… dan dengan siapa.

The Girl on The Train ditulis dari sudut pandang tiga tokoh wanita yang berbeda: Rachel yang depresi dan pemabuk, Megan yang liar dan gelisah, serta Anna yang perebut suami orang dan suka berprasangka buruk. Bisa dibilang ketiganya bukanlah karakter yang “baik”, bukan karakter yang likable. Tetapi justru di sinilah, pada karakterisasi inilah, pesan-pesan novel karangan Paula Hawkins ini terletak. Di luar kisah misteri yang disajikan, sang penulis, melalui tokoh-tokoh wanita tersebut dan apa yang mereka alami, menunjukkan betapa wanita harus hidup tertekan di bawah stereotip/beban yang diberikan oleh masyarakat. Jika seorang wanita tidak bisa memiliki anak, maka pasti dialah yang disalahkan. Belum lagi wanita pada umumnya selalu merasa tidak sempurna bila belum/tidak memiliki anak. Hal ini tecermin dalam penuturan Rachel pada salah satu bab, “perempuan masih benar-benar dihargai untuk dua hal saja—tampang mereka dan peran mereka sebagai ibu. Aku tidak cantik dan aku tidak bisa punya anak, jadi apa yang tersisa untukku? Aku tidak berguna.” Pembaca / orang pada umumnya pasti juga akan memandang buruk pada Megan yang liar dan tidak bisa diam di rumah menjadi “istri yang baik”, sementara yang diinginkannya adalah kebebasan, cinta yang tulus dan tidak mencekik, serta kedamaian setelah yang dialaminya di masa lalu. Dan di antara ketiganya, Anna pastilah tokoh yang dianggap paling buruk karena telah merebut suami orang lain. Tidak bisa dibenarkan memang, kecuali jika pembaca mau menyalahkannya pada nafsu dan sang suami yang tidak setia.

The Girl on The Train merupakan karya yang menarik, selain karena dituturkan dari sudut pandang tokoh yang tidak berkarakter baik dan tidak bisa dipercaya serta isu-isu gender yang diselipkan di dalamnya, novel ini sendiri mengusung ide cerita yang cemerlang: benarkah seseorang/sesuatu itu memang seperti yang kita kenal/ketahui? Ataukah sebenarnya selama ini kita hanya mengira-ngira saja? Ide ini, layaknya ide cerita-cerita misteri lainnya, dikembangkan menjadi plot padat yang penuh dugaan dan kecurigaan. Mau tak mau, semakin narasi berjalan maju pembaca menjadi semakin sulit menetapkan siapa yang bersalah dan apa yang telah terjadi. Sayangnya, alur berjalan lambat sehingga ketegangan yang diciptakan penulis terasa seperti kurang greget. Namun itu tidak masalah, karena toh narasi yang dibangun dengan rapi oleh Hawkins tetap membuat pembaca tidak sabar untuk menyelesaikan buku ini dan mengetahui jawaban dari semua pertanyaan. Lagi pula, ada kejutan di akhir cerita. Kejutan yang masuk akal, tapi tetap tak terduga.

The Girl on The Train memang layak dibaca oleh semua pecinta novel misteri, khususnya novel thriller psikologis. Hampir semua unsur di dalamnya, plot, karakter, pesan-pesan dan akhir ceritanya menunjukkan kualitas yang mumpuni dari penulisnya.

RatingL 3.5/5

[Wrap Up Post] 2016 Japanese Literature Reading Challenge

Di awal-awal mengikuti Japanese Literature Reading Challenge awal tahun ini, saya sangat bersemangat. Saya sudah tahu harus membaca apa karena saya punya “timbunan” buku-buku fiksi/sastra Jepang di rumah yang belum dibaca. Selain itu, di perpustakaan yang sering saya kunjungi juga banyak terdapat buku-buku sastra Jepang. Terutama, yang membuat saya bersemangat luar biasa adalah hadiah voucher buku yang dijanjikan si penyelenggara.

Sebagai #rakyatmiskin, tentu saja saya langsung ngeces melihat nominal hadiahnya. Tetapi, apa mau dikata, seiring berjalannya tahun 2016, semangat saya luntur sedikit demi sedikit. Mungkin karena saya tiba-tiba suka baca Agatha Christie, mungkin karena saya jadi lebih sibuk belajar bahasa Spanyol, atau mungkin karena saya merasa harus segera membaca dan menyelesaikan novel The Black Book-nya Orhan Pamuk (yang sampai sekarang belum selesai juga). Atau, bisa jadi, karena saya sudah agak-agak eneg saking seringnya saya membaca novel-novel Jepang. Intinya, merasa butuh istirahat sejenak dari karya sastra Jepang. Jadi, jika awalnya saya sangat getol mengejar poin dengan berharap bisa membaca buku-buku karya sastra Jepang sebanyak mungkin, akhirnya justru hanya membaca dan meresensi beberapa buku saja. Ini dia daftarnya:
1. The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa

2. Rashomon: A Story Collection – Akutagawa Ryunosuke

3. Beauty and Sadness – Yasunari Kawabata

4. Ground Zero, Nagasaki: Stories – Seirai Yūichi

5. Revenge – Yōko Ogawa

6. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

7. All She Was Worth – Miyuki Miyabe

8. Botchan – Natsume Sōseki

Nah, itu dia buku-buku sastra Jepang yang “berhasil” saya lahap dan resensi tahun ini (tautan akan membawa kalian ke resensi saya). Yah, walaupun total hanya delapan buku (dan poinnya entah berapa, terserah si penyelenggara yang menghitung, hehehe), saya tetap berharap saya bisa menang tantangan ini. Jadi pemenang kedua juga nggak apa-apa, yang penting dapat voucher buku. Ya biar bisa beli buku baru lah, hehehe. Soalnya kalau nggak dapat gratisan, saya nggak bakalan bisa beli buku baru. Maklum, lagi kere.
Eits, walaupun tahun ini saya membaca karya sastra Jepang hanya demi mengikuti tantangan dan dapat hadiah, tidak berarti saya tidak mau lagi membaca karya sastra Jepang ke depannya. Tantangan tahun ini justru menjadi pembuka mata bagi saya karena ternyata, selain Haruki Murakami yang suka ajaib nulis bukunya, dan Yasunari Kawabata yang setelah saya baca dua bukunya pun tetap saja menurut saya tulisan beliau tidak ada istimewanya, ada banyak karya sastra Jepang lain yang bagus dan menarik. Jadi sangat ingin mencari dan membaca lebih jauh.

Bagaimana dengan kalian? Seberapa banyak buku karya sastra Jepang yang kalian baca tahun ini?

Bahasa Kita, Bahasa Asing

Bagi narablog buku yang mengenal saya, atau yang sudah sangat mengenal saya, pasti tahu mengapa atau apa tujuan saya membuat resensi buku dalam bahasa Inggris di blog ini. Mungkin perlu saya tegaskan lagi bahwa awalnya saya membuat blog yang berisi resensi buku-buku yang saya baca sebenarnya saya ingin mencari suatu medium untuk melatih dan mempraktikkan terus-menerus bahasa Inggris yang sudah saya pelajari selama ini. Bagi saya bahasa asing adalah sebuah ilmu, yang jika tidak dilatih dan dipraktikkan secara berkesinambungan, lama-kelamaan akan terlupa. Jadi, tidak ada maksud sama sekali untuk sok bule, atau istilah “kasarnya”, sok English. Lagipula, untuk artikel lain di luar resensi biasanya saya menggunakan bahasa Indonesia.

Saya sangat mencintai bahasa Inggris, tapi, sebagai orang Indonesia dan seorang penerjemah, bagi saya sangat penting untuk lebih mencintai dan melestarikan bahasa sendiri, yaitu bahasa Indonesia. Seiring dengan berjalannya waktu, segala sesuatu yang ada di dunia ini memang harus berkembang. Begitu pula dengan bahasa. Tetapi itu tidak berarti bahwa kita bisa mengembangkan bahasa secara “semena-mena”, mengadaptasi dan menyerap bahasa asing begitu saja seolah-olah tanpa pertimbangan yang matang, bahkan seakan-akan tanpa pertimbangan sama sekali. Saya tidak mau bahasa Indonesia menjadi seperti bahasa Turki modern yang sering diolok-olok karena banyak mencomot dan mengadaptasi bahasa Prancis hanya supaya kelihatan “Eropa”. Memang, bahasa Indonesia adalah hasil percampuran dari banyak bahasa, mulai dari bahasa Arab, Cina, India, Inggris, Portugis, Belanda, Melayu, dan berbagai bahasa lain yang bangsa penuturnya pernah mendiami tanah Nusantara ini. Namun, setelah melewati berbagai masa dan bertahun-tahun lamanya, bahasa-bahasa itu menjadi satu dan membentuk bahasa Indonesia yang kita kenal sekarang ini, bahasa Indonesia yang pakem.

Jika bicara tentang perkembangan bahasa Indonesia, yang saya bayangkan, dan saya inginkan, adalah berusaha keras mencari padanan kata yang tepat untuk kata-kata dan istilah-istilah asing yang tidak ada dalam bahasa Indonesia karena memang perbedaan budaya membawa perbedaan cara berpikir sehingga apa yang ada dalam budaya Barat, atau budaya luar mana pun itu, belum tentu ada pula dalam budaya kita. Ini persoalan yang pelik, dan saya sendiri mengakui bahwa ada banyak istilah asing yang tidak ada padanannya dalam bahasa Indonesia. Kalaupun ada, pasti terdengar aneh, tidak wajar. Dulu saya juga kaget dan merasa tidak nyaman ketika pertama kali mendengar kata surel (singkatan dari surat elektronik, padanan dari kata email dalam bahasa Inggris), unduh (padanan kata untuk kata download), unggah (untuk kata upload), dan daring (singkatan dari dalam jejaring, padanan untuk istilah online). Tetapi kemudian saya berpikir, demi kelestarian dan kemajuan bahasa Indonesia, penerjemahan kata-kata ini haruslah diterima. Maka dari itu, saya girang bukan kepalang ketika belum lama ini muncul padanan kata untuk kata blogger (narablog) dan contact person (narahubung). Saya berpikir: Wah, akhirnya! Namun, setelah itu kegirangan saya memudar saat tiba-tiba saja kata viral “disahkan” menjadi kata dalam bahasa Indonesia. Terus terang saya tidak setuju, sama sekali tidak setuju. Ketika saya sibuk berpikir apakah padanan kata giveaway dalam bahasa Indonesia, kata viral tiba-tiba masuk tanpa permisi.

Mengapa saya tidak setuju? Karena menurut saya, selama suatu kata atau istilah asing masih bisa diterjemahkan, kenapa tidak? Jika dalam bahasa Indonesia kita bisa mengatakan “dengan cepat menyebar luas”, kenapa harus nekat memakai kata dalam bahasa Inggris? Apakah karena begitu pemalasnya kita sebagai sebuah bangsa, sampai-sampai kita tidak mau bicara panjang lebar dan main comot kata saja asalkan singkat dan gampang diucapkan? Mental macam apa itu? Yang semakin membuat saya sedih dan kecewa adalah ternyata akhir-akhir ini telah terjadi banyak penyerapan dan pengadaptasian kata-kata dan istilah asing ke dalam bahasa Indonesia secara mentah-mentah. Mulai dari yang masih bisa diterima akal dan perasaan saya sebagai penutur bahasa Indonesia, sampai yang sudah masuk pada tahap “saya tidak mau memakai kata/istilah itu dalam tulisan-tulisan maupun terjemahan saya”. Mulai dari kata fesyen (yang diserap dari kata fashion), sampai kata ACC yang langsung berubah menjadi asese yang, maaf saja, di mata dan telinga saya seperti omongan orang kampung tidak berpendidikan yang mencoba berbicara dalam bahasa Inggris.

Saya memang tidak punya kuasa dan daya untuk membenarkan atau menyalahkan kata dan istilah dalam bahasa kita, tapi paling tidak saya punya pendapat sendiri. Sah-sah saja kan, punya pendapat sendiri? Nah, berikut adalah beberapa padanan kata versi saya, menurut pertimbangan saya sebagai penerjemah dan penutur bahasa Indonesia, juga pertimbangan satu-dua ahli.

  • Viral = dengan cepat menyebar luas / merajalela

Pertimbangan: menurut kamus Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary edisi kedelapan milik saya, arti kata viral adalah “like or caused by virus”, seperti atau disebabkan oleh virus. Jadi, bisa dibayangkan sesuatu yang “viral” mempunyai sifat menular dan/atau menyebar luas dengan cepat. Memang belum ada kata padanan dalam bahasa Indonesia yang tepat bisa menggantikannya hanya dalam satu kata saja. Tapi saya lebih memilih menerjemahkannya secara “masuk akal” ke dalam bahasa Indonesia, walaupun hasilnya jadi panjang lebar.

  • UFO = BETA (Benda Terbang yang Aneh)

Pertimbangan: istilah BETA saya temukan pada laman Wikipedia Indonesia saat mencari padanan/pengganti kata UFO. Jika saya tidak salah ingat, istilah ini ditemukan oleh seorang pengamat keantariksaan. Saya pernah memakai istilah ini saat menerjemahkan majalah National Geographic untuk anak-anak.

  • Fashion = mode

Pertimbangan: ini adalah pendapat salah seorang penerjemah senior, dan saya setuju dengan beliau.

  • Schedule = jadwal/rencana

Pertimbangan: sepanjang saya hidup sebagai penutur bahasa Indonesia dan pembelajar bahasa Inggris, setahu saya arti kata schedule adalah jadwal. Di luar itu, menurut kamus Inggris-Indonesia karya John M. Echols dan Hassan Shadily, schedule berarti daftar (perjalanan/pekerjaan) atau rencana. Lalu, bagaimana ceritanya sampai muncul kata skedul? Apa pula pertimbangannya? Saya berdoa semoga tidak akan ada instansi resmi, badan publik, atau perusahaan yang menggunakan kata skedul. Bisa bayangkan jika istilah “jadwal penerbangan” diganti menjadi “skedul penerbangan”? Naiknya pesawat, tapi omongannya seperti orang-orang yang naik gethek.

  • ACC = persetujuan resmi

Pertimbangan: istilah ini merupakan singkatan dari kata accord yang dalam kamus bahasa Inggris versi Oxford maupun Merriam-Webster berarti formal agreement. Jadi, padanan katanya? Persetujuan resmi, titik. Jika Anda ingin mengatakan di-ACC, bisa diganti dengan kata disetujui. Namun jika Anda merasa keberatan menulis panjang-panjang, lebih baik tetap menggunakan istilah aslinya. Cara ini masih lebih terhormat daripada menjadikannya “asese”, kalau menurut saya.

  • Gentleman = pria sejati / pria terhormat

Pertimbangan: sama halnya dengan istilah di atas, lebih baik tetap menggunakan kata dalam bahasa aslinya yaitu gentleman, karena padanan katanya sulit sekali dicari dalam bahasa Indonesia. Di zaman modern ini, secara umum kata gentleman berarti pria yang santun, berpendidikan, dan berperilaku baik (terutama terhadap wanita). Karena masih sangat sulit mendapatkan padanan kata atau istilahnya dalam bahasa Indonesia, maka menurut saya lebih baik tetap menggunakan kata gentleman untuk sementara waktu sampai ketemu istilah yang tepat dalam bahasa Indonesia, daripada mentah-mentah menyerapnya menjadi jentelmen. Atau, kalau mau, Anda bisa menggunakan istilah pria sejati, mengingat bahwa selain ciri-ciri di atas, seorang gentleman biasanya juga memiliki sifat “kesatria”. Dulu waktu saya masih menerjemahkan novel-novel historical romance, yang notabene berlatarbelakang zaman dahulu, saya sering menjumpai istilah gentleman, dan biasanya istilah ini dikaitkan dengan pria yang berasal dari kalangan atas, sehingga saya rasa penggunaan istilah pria terhormat pun tidak salah.

  • Dubbing = sulih suara; Speaker = pengeras suara

Seperti kata jadwal yang merupakan padanan kata yang sudah umum untuk kata schedule, maka kita semua tahu bahwa kata dubbing dan speaker juga sudah ada padanan istilahnya dalam bahasa Indonesia yang umum dipakai selama ini, yaitu sulih suara dan pengeras suara. Jadi saya rasa tidak perlu diserap mentah-mentah menjadi dabing dan sepiker. Dan saya jelas-jelas tidak akan menggunakan dua istilah aneh bin ajaib ini. Jangan harap.

Bahasa suatu bangsa adalah cerminan budaya dan cara berpikirnya. Contohnya dalam bahasa Inggris dan bahasa-bahasa Eropa (paling tidak bahasa Spanyol, yang juga sedang saya pelajari), ada banyak tenses karena para penuturnya adalah orang-orang yang sangat menghargai dan tepat waktu. Tidak seperti kita orang Indonesia yang harus menggunakan kata kemarin, besok, sekarang, nanti, dsb untuk menunjukkan kapan suatu hal terjadi. Melihat perkembangan bahasa Indonesia sekarang, saya jadi berpikir: apakah cara berpikir dan mental kita sebagai sebuah bangsa, alih-alih semakin maju, justru semakin mundur? Melihat kata-kata serapan baru yang terdengar ajaib yang disahkan dalam kamus besar, saya jadi berpikir: kenapa lama-kelamaan kita jadi semakin (sok) bule? Karena globalisasikah? Karena semakin tak punya harga dirikah? Jika harus menyesuaikan kata-kata dan istilah-istilah asing sedangkan sulit sekali mencari padanan katanya dalam bahasa Indonesia, kenapa tidak mencari referensi dalam bahasa-bahasa daerah kita? Bukankah kita punya banyak sekali bahasa daerah? Seperti bahasa Jawa misalnya, kata saking (sebegitu) dan goblok (bodoh) sudah diserap menjadi bahasa nasional. Bukankah kata “bung” (sapaan untuk lelaki) juga berasal dari bahasa daerah di Indonesia Timur? Saya sering melihat, membaca, dan menggunakan kata itu untuk mengartikan sapaan “man” dalam bahasa Inggris.

Intinya, saya sedih dan kecewa. Amat sangat kecewa. Saya hanya bisa berharap ke depannya tidak akan terjadi lagi penyerapan maupun pengadaptasian semena-mena semacam ini. Saya berharap, kelak pencarian padanan kata dan istilah asing dalam bahasa Indonesia bisa lebih bijaksana daripada sekarang.

Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel

At a time when racial/religious intolerance toward others has rapidly become a daily spectacle almost everywhere, we totally need to sit down and read something thought-provoking like Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel, the prose version of a widely popular poem with the same title by one of the most famous senior Indonesian writers, Sapardi Djoko Damono. Some readers with little perception might merely find the novel a cheesy romantic love story, and failed to see the criticism of people’s common narrow-mindedness Mr. Damono throws at almost everybody in his almost every page. It’s not only about race/tribe, or religion, it’s also about our (Indonesian) deeply rooted idea: in marriage, love only will not be enough.

Pingkan and Sarwono love each other, so much so that you might be sick of them. But there are doubts, and hindrances. Sarwono is a Javanese Muslim, while Pingkan is a Christian, of Manado descent. When they don’t talk about jazz and poems they talk about their identity, which is a dangerous topic everyone should talk about in a hush, at least in this country of ours. But they are not some bigoted people who get so much as a twitch in their eyes when someone says something about their religion or tribe. They talk about it in an open, hilariously smart way that you won’t think they’re trying to offend each other. Their love is stronger than anyone’s attempt to put people into boxes labeled with their identities. Even stronger than Pingkan’s extended family’s secret evil plan to separate them and make her marry another man with the same background as her. Still, Sarwono has his doubts, not about their future but Pingkan’s faithful heart. He’s always in doubt. He’s jealous and melancholic and writing poems for newspapers just so she can read his helpless love for her. When Pingkan, a lecturer in Japanese, is sent to study in Kyoto by her department, Sarwono can’t help but feel sad and jealous of other men in Japan who might get her attention.

Hujan Bulan Juni is indeed a romantic book, mostly describing how deep Sarwono’s and Pingkan’s love for each other is and how jealous and hopelessly melancholic he can be, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of sting to shock readers and make them see. As hinted earlier, Mr. Damono uses tribal/racial and religious issues a lot as the background of the story and cannot stop rambling about them throughout the book. He even makes Sarwono a lecturer in anthropology who endlessly does research on tribal and religious conflicts in the east part of Indonesia where it’s not such an unusual thing for those kinds of conflicts to happen, and what he finds out is predictably unpleasant. Through Sarwono’s voice, Mr. Damono seems to want to say that all these conflicts are obviously so pointless. Nothing will we get from them but more and more conflicts and disintegration. Idealists always say something about keeping our unity and tolerance, but in reality, under the perfect surface, most of us still see people of different tribe, race, and religion as liyan (the word for others in Javanese), and we secretly do not want “us” and “them” to become one. And the identity problem doesn’t stop there. Pingkan, described as only half Javanese and a Christian, never thinks that she belongs to any tribe, often confused about who she really is. When other people think it’s hard to accept the unity inside the country, she feels it’s very difficult to accept the unity inside herself. Unity, it seems, is a very slippery thing.

The novel is told from a third person’s point of view, although we might occasionally sense Mr. Damono taking more of Sarwono’s side when it comes to expressing emotional thoughts, making the book sound more male and lose the balanced voice it could have had. I don’t mind, though, because I love the critical, romantic tone he sets for the story. It’s just what I’d prefer to get when reading a novel. And the humor is brilliant, too, it’s truly clever and I could really get it like it was my own joke. I don’t mean to sound boastful, but I have been for a long time suspecting that Mr. Damono and I are actually of the same mind. That’s probably the reason why I always subjectively love his works. Speaking of his works, Hujan Bulan Juni also has the same short, dense, effectively punching narrative as his other ones. It’s briefly elaborate, with five chapters only: some of them are quite long while others only go so far as one or two page. It’s safe to say that it has the economy of a short story because even though you can finish it in a blink it still has an effect on you. What I found lacking about it is the editing. Always the editing. I can never understand what it is with Mr. Damono’s books and editing. Every time I read his fiction work it’s always poorly edited—the sentences, the spellings, almost everything. And this time I had to deal with some missing sentences and paragraphs that sometimes the prose read incoherently. Other thing I found a bit depressing was its lack of focus. I have to say that Mr. Damono seems to not really know where to put his emphasis on: the racial/religious issues, or Sarwono’s acute jealousy?

Be that as it may, Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel is still a marvelous work. I will never regret making it one of my best reads this year, and also one of my favorite books ever, along with Mr. Damono’s Trilogi Soekram, of course.

Rating: 4/5

The Mussel Feast

The Mussel Feast, written by the German author Birgit Vanderbeke just before 1989, may or may not be a reliable account of living in a divided Germany back when the Berlin Wall was still up and sturdy, but it definitely showcases the life of a family that lives a dangerously double life under a patriarchal tyranny. Telling from a first person point of view, the narrator without the least hesitancy pulls the reader deep into her monologue so they can get an insight into what her family is actually like. Unfortunately, this firm attitude is not followed by a certainty in what the main issue is.

The narrator, the daughter of said family, welcomes the reader to her home when it’s already the time to make preparation for their special dinner. It is special because they will be celebrating her father’s promotion at the office, which is virtually in the bag. And every time there is something to celebrate they will have a mussel feast, for mussels are her father’s favorite dish, though none of the other family members care for them much. However, it’s quite unlikely that he will be home any time soon, because even after the exact dinner time, which is six on the dot, he doesn’t show up. He is never late, they never have dinner late, except when he is away on business. This is very rare, and the three of them—the mother, the son, and the narrator—have to wait until he comes home for there is no way they will have dinner without him. The waiting drags terribly on and on, and still the father doesn’t show up. It is at this point then that the narrator starts to lay bare everything about her family: her mother’s habit of switching to “wifey mode” when her father is nearly or already at home and why she would do that, the story of their move from the East Germany to the West, their usually failed attempt to become a proper family according to the father’s ideals. And finally, as they are getting tired of waiting, the narrator hints at her family’s tiredness in dealing with the father’s controlling attitude; and when the waiting seems to almost come to an end, the narrator cannot tell whether her family is happy and looking forward to his arrival.

Through her brief, dense, no-holds-barred monologue, the narrator describes each character of her family members. But mostly, along her continuous ramblings, she tries to make it clear for us to see that her father is a tyrannical, chauvinist, haughty man who cannot take no as an answer and is attempting very hard to make his family impossibly perfect in every way. This horrendous nature alone has already rendered the father dominant both in his family and the narrative, and it’s made all the more unbearable by the narrator’s unrelenting depiction of him, so much so that he seems to overshadow all other characters, even the bold, stubborn, rebellious, smart narrator herself. That’s not what particularly draws me to it, though. It is the way the narrator appears to allude to communism, the nature of East Germany, by giving the portrayal of her father. At first it is only vague, but then it’s nearly vivid as the narrator and her mother and brother look almost relieved when the father is not coming back, because what’s the West fears of most is anything related to the USSR.

And that’s the point where The Mussel Feast is perilously ambiguous in the issue it wants to deliver. In one way, looking at the already-laid-bare character of the father, the book seems to intend to display the characteristics of something, some idealism, that people see as terrifying and thus are happy to be separated from (imagine the narrator and her mother and brother are freedom-loving people of the West in opposition to the always-controlling, dictatorial father). In the other way, however, it looks like Vanderbeke wants to put forward some gender issue. It is perfectly clear in the sexist way the father look down on his “repellent”, physically ungirlish daughter and in the hope that his son will become the manly, smart boy he deems “normal”. It is also showed in the way the mother always switches to her “wifey mode” every time the father is coming home, and the fact that she is the one who does the housekeeping stuff because it is not the father’s “thing”. A cry for feminism is practically echoing throughout the narrative, so loudly that we cannot help but hear the sound more clearly than the issue of warring isms that kept dividing the Deutchland before it finally was united again. Well, that’s said, Vanderbeke has really it in her to create an engrossing writing. The ramblings might only look like a bunch of uncontrolled recollections, but it actually is a focused monolog delivered by the narrator not to tell readers about her family, but to show them the kind of life she lives back when her country is severely divided by isms and the silly desire to self-claim what’s the best to implement. The premise is pretty brilliant, and it has a flowing plot and sarcastically hilarious tone, even when the narrator has to tell of her hard times. All the characters are vividly drawn, too, making us able to see that this is the “real” family, a family that is so naturally pretentious and secretly troubled.

Though ambiguous in some ways, The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke is a light yet very thought-provoking story. The narrative is wearing sometimes, especially when we have to follow wherever the narrator’s recollections take us to, but it’s not boring. It’s simple and nice, and if you have time, you can finish it in one sit.

Rating: 3.5/5

Introduction to Hercule Poirot: A 2-in-1 Review

It is an inevitably shameful fact that I was so belated in recognizing Agatha Christie’s world-famous detective stories, the Hercule Poirot mystery, but I just hope it wasn’t too late. It’s not that I never knew the Dame, only between the recent craze for the modern TV adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and pursuing my wish list books, somehow I didn’t have time to even think to get my hands on them. I did eventually, though, find myself an opportunity to read one, randomly picking Murder on the Links, and I was instantly captured. It is safe to say, I think, that I’m not safe from its beguiling plot and intricately woven mysteries, as were millions other people before me. And thus, I picked up without the slightest hesitation another Poirot book, which was Death on the Nile, to devour. So this post is especially dedicated to elaborating my opinion and impression after reading my first (and not last, I hope) Hercule Poirot mysteries.

2011 Indonesian edition's cover
2011 Indonesian edition’s cover

Murder on the Links begins with Captain Hastings meeting a mysterious acrobat girl on a train back from Paris. This accidental meeting is already mysterious enough to be put aside, but unfortunately that has to be forgotten for a moment. Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective famous for his small body and funny mustache, and Hastings’ close friend, received a letter from someone named P.T. Renauld, who is very well-known for his tremendous wealth. The letter sounds as if the rich man is in unimaginable danger for knowing a certain secret. Thus, Poirot and Hastings immediately set out for Merlinville where the Renauld family spend their summer in France. But when they get there, Mr. Renauld has already died. Stabbed in the back, literally. Mysteries swirl around wildly, suspicions thrown at everybody, including Mr. Renauld’s secret lover, Mrs. Daubreuil, and his own son, Jack Renauld. But if it’s true that Mrs. Daubreuil is the murderer, why would she do it when she can always blackmail her victim? And if it’s Jack Renauld, does he really have a strong enough reason to do the horrible crime?

2011 Indonesian edition's cover
2011 Indonesian edition’s cover

Unlike Murder on the Links, Death on the Nile has a somewhat different approach to introducing the case. It, perhaps in an attempt to explain its premise and strengthen its foundation, tediously tells the background of Linnet Ridgeway, the young and unbelievably rich woman who is used to have everything her own way, including when it comes to love. She has no qualms about snatching away her best friend’s fiancé, and that unquestionably triggers hatred and vengeance in the heart of Jacqueline de Bellefort, that friend of hers. Subsequently, of course, the deep loathing Jackie has for her friend spurs her to do the unthinkable. She threatens to kill the woman she deems to have betrayed her, she follows her and her new husband everywhere, even to Egypt. And there, right on the Nile, the unthinkable really comes to reality. Upon Jackie’s argument with Simon Doyle, the man who becomes the problem, Linnet Ridgeway, or Mrs. Doyle, is found dead in her bed on the ship taking them along the river. But then, considering the evidences and alibi, is it really Jacqueline who does it?

Every detective has their own way of solving cases, and Hercule Poirot is no exception. He is not one to rely on theories, because he thinks theories sometimes do not accord with facts. He uses his “little grey cells”, as he puts it, not just observing things but thinking them through, too. He doesn’t care to do deduction, for in his cases the mysteries are so intricate that doing deduction might be very much prone to misleading conclusions, and accusing the wrong person. The cases of Murder on the Links and Death on the Nile prove to be almost impossible to solve that readers will always be in the dark until Poirot decides to reveal everything at the end of the story. Unless, of course, we can be faster than him and really, really use our little grey cells. What’s unique about Christie’s method of investigation in her Poirot books is the presence of Captain Arthur Hastings. He might not be present in all Poirot books, as far as I know, but the fact that he is there accompanying Poirot in some of his investigations cannot be deemed insignificant. Somehow Hastings’ simple, rather sentimental imagination forms an assumption on the course of action taken by the culprit and thus provides the reader with a glimpse of clue, and much fun, too. Such a shame this isn’t applied in Death on the Nile, where we will only meet Colonel Race who doesn’t seem to have any significance nor do anything but standing silently beside Poirot and leaving everything to him.

I may not have read many crime/mystery novels yet, and I am definitely still new to Agatha Christie, but I can tell that the mystery in both Murder on the Links and Death on the Nile is a creation of a genius. Who would have thought that, instead of narrowing the suspects of the crimes to one or two persons, Christie would wildly cast doubt upon almost everyone except the investigators? The way Christie twists and turns her storylines has seriously made the reader have so many suspicions and nearly accuse the wrong character. Every individual seems to have a reason to harm/kill the victim, and those reasons are usually made to make sense. But that’s where Christie lays her trap. It is as if the reader is persuaded, seduced even, to believe that someone with some motive is the killer, which more often than not is not the case. What’s more captivating, the mysteries are not only vastly numerous but also arranged in puzzling layers. And the plot is fastly paced, too, which is something that I like most in a crime novel. Christie wastes no time in exploring every each character, they are described through their gestures and dialogues, while every fan of hers must have known that there are a lot of characters in each of her books.

All I can say is that I am truly, deeply fascinated. Murder on the Links and Death on the Nile are really incredible, unbelievable. Though I prefer the former to the later one. And now I’m looking forward to reading more Poirot books, and more of Christie’s work.

Rating: 4/5 for Murder on the Links, 3.5/5 for Death on the Nile.

Overall rating: 3.75/5

Man Tiger

English edition's cover
English edition’s cover

Man Tiger (or Lelaki Harimau in its original title) is Eka Kurniawan’s second novel and his second work to be translated into English. Longlisted for 2016 Man Booker International Prize, it concerns the life of the lower class and disintegration of family values caused by complexities in human beings. Here, as in Beauty Is A Wound (Cantik Itu Luka), Kurniawan leans on magical realism—a fact proven by his use of a white tigress resided in the body of a young man—to help embellish his realistic narrative. Unlike his previous book, though, Man Tiger is less complicated and less attention-gripping, to my thinking. It’s rather simple, in its prose style if not in its idea.

The story opens with news of Margio, a young man of 20 years old, committing a murder. The victim is Anwar Sadat, a figure of the village well-known for his promiscuous behavior. But since the first time the reader has been dimly convinced that it’s not the reason Margio sinks his teeth into and rips at the middle-aged man’s jugular to his death. The loose morals of his art-loving neighbor is barely Margio’s concern. He even often helps him at home, doing odd jobs for extra cash just as youngsters usually do. So it’s very obvious that there is no reason at all for him to suddenly kill Anwar Sadat. But he’s done it. Not less shocking, and appalling, is the way he does the killing. It’s not the way any human murderer will choose to end their victim’s life. His reminds everyone of the way a beast, here particularly a tiger, attacks its prey and finishes it off. It especially bewilders Major Sadrah, who has for some time seen Margio carrying an old, rusty samurai sword everywhere, to see the young man eventually puts aside his newly-found Japanese weapon and goes the wild way. So the mystery now revolves around two questions: Why the biting? And why Anwar Sadat, not his father, the one he hates most?

One look at the first pages, which elaborately describe the land and neighborhood of a village that will be the setting of the whole story, and the reader will quickly get that this would be about the lower-class people. The way Kurniawan tells of how the land is found and later how the neighborhood is built on it is not far from harsh criticism focusing on the problems those people often have to deal with: the poor living conditions, the dispute over land ownership, the low incomes, fighting against the wicked capitalists. As the story moves forward, the descriptions are narrowing to the poor conditions of Margio’s family, and this is the point where Kurniawan gets really sharp. Margio’s family is the true embodiment of poverty, of a reality where so many villagers with big dreams coming to big cities only to find themselves trapped in high unemployment and finally have to content themselves with low-income, unskilled jobs. Even worse, they are almost homeless, in a sense, building temporary houses on a disputed land just to have a roof over their heads. And once you live in poverty, there will definitely be a possibility of domestic violence. It’s like something you cannot run away from. And from domestic violence springs another problem: norms deviation and disintegration of family values. People with conventional thoughts will expect faithfulness and familial togetherness. But life is complex and humans are even more so. There is not a certain answer for what’s right and what’s wrong when it has come to this.

Man Tiger is not as extraordinary as Beauty Is A Wound, in my opinion, although it has rather neater narrative. Kurniawan cleverly makes the plot layered in a string of subplots to reveal the mysteries one by one, intending perhaps to present the whole story as some kind of whydunit fiction. It’s so seamless, the way he arranges it all, and very shrewd, too. So shrewd it is that he manages to keep the answer of the why till the end of the story. Admittedly, the element of surprise really works here. It is not, however, a grand creation in its entirety. Perhaps it’s because the premise is somewhat unexceptional: domestic violence spurred by the shattered dreams of prosperity. Or perhaps, it is the development of the premise that prevents it from becoming something more than this. It is pretty boring, too, at the opening, a bit stretching too long for an explanation of everything but the background of Margio’s family, which Kurniawan puts later after the half of the book. And that is not all. If there is one thing which is as bothering, it is the holes I found in some parts. One or two holes at least, and one of them is where Major Sadrah seems to recall seeing Margio carrying a samurai sword some time before the young man kills Anwar Sadat, but then there is no further explanation about the weapon. I don’t know if it’s intentional, or if Kurniawan really forgets about it after all.

Despite it all, Man Tiger is still the work of Eka Kurniawan that I know, with its explicit sex scenes and dark, subtle humor. It’s quite disappointing on the one hand, but also relieving on the other. So it’s pretty hard to decide whether this work is good or not. But it’s definitely not as good as Kurniawan’s first novel.
Rating: 3.5/5