fiction, review

The God of Small Things: Memilih Kasih

Indonesian edition’s cover

Siapa yang patut kita kasihi? Seberapa besar dan bagaimana kita harus mengasihi mereka? Pertanyaan ini terdengar sepele, mudah saja untuk dijawab. Rasa-rasanya tidaklah sulit untuk menentukan siapa saja yang pantas memperoleh rasa kasih kita, pun dengan seberapa besar rasa kasih yang mesti kita berikan kepada mereka. Tetapi, benarkah demikian? Novel The God of Small Things karya Arundhati Roy menunjukkan bahwa mengasihi seseorang sejatinya melibatkan naluri yang lebih rumit, pelik, dan kerap kali, keji.

Berlatarkan Ayemenem di negara bagian Kerala, India, karya fiksi pemenang penghargaan Booker Prize 1997 ini menggambarkan―secara mendetail dan memilukan―kebobrokan diri manusia melalui kebobrokan keluarga mereka secara perlahan-lahan dan takterhindarkan. Dari luar, tampak bahwa kebobrokan keluarga ini diakibatkan oleh “perbuatan buruk” serta “kesalahan” orang-orang di keluarga tersebut; tetapi jauh lebih dalam dari itu, kebobrokan ini nyatanya telah datang menghampiri pada saat mereka mulai memilih siapa-siapa saja yang patut mereka kasihi, berdasarkan apa yang disebut Hukum Kasih.

Akibat dari “perbuatan buruk dan kesalahan” yang diperbuat anggota keluarga Kochamma telah tertampang jelas sejak awal cerita―ketika kematian Sophie Mol, sepupu Rahel dan saudara kembar laki-lakinya Estha, tidak hanya membuat mereka berdua dipisahkan (Estha “dipulangkan” ke ayahnya di Calcutta, sedangkan Rahel tetap di Ayemenem bersama paman dan neneknya) tetapi juga membuat mereka dipisahkan dari ibu mereka, Ammu. Sementara Rahel dan Estha mesti menderita trauma hingga dewasa, Ammu terkatung-katung dalam kemiskinan dan mati dalam kesepian setelah diusir dari rumah keluarga mereka―selain karena dianggap bertanggung jawab atas “kesalahan” anak-anaknya, ia juga dianggap telah mencoreng nama baik keluarga dengan menjalin hubungan dengan tukang kayu mereka, Velutha.

Hubungan cinta rahasia antara Ammu dan Velutha tidak hanya berujung pada kematian Sophie Mol, namun juga sendirinya merupakan perbuatan yang (dianggap) sangat salah menurut Hukum Kasih. Velutha berasal dari kasta paria, dari kelas buruh, berpendidikan rendah, dan seorang anggota partai komunis―yang tentunya bertentangan dengan status konglomerat keluarga Kochamma.

Menjalin cinta dengan seorang tukang kayu dari kasta terendah bukanlah satu-satunya “kesalahan” Ammu; di mata keluarganya ia tak lain seorang pembawa masalah: menikah tanpa izin dengan pria dari agama lain, bercerai, lalu membawa sepasang anak kembarnya kembali ke rumah orangtua. Anak-anaknya pun dianggap beban dan anak nakal oleh bibinya, Baby Kochamma. Sementara itu, “kesalahan-kesalahan” yang dilakukan oleh Chacko, kakak laki-lakinya, tidak pernah dihitung―mulai dari menghamburkan uang ibunya sewaktu masih kuliah di Oxford, menikah tanpa memberi tahu keluarga dengan gadis asing, bercerai, lalu kembali ke rumah orangtua dengan tangan hampa, sampai meniduri buruh-buruh perempuan di pabrik makanan awetan mereka―tidak satu pun yang dihitung dan dipermasalahkan oleh ibu maupun bibinya. Semuanya dimaafkan dan bagai angin lalu saja.

Apa yang dianggap salah dan tidak salah dapat dirunut ke apakah orang yang melakukannya adalah mereka yang memperoleh rasa kasih atau bukan; dan siapa yang berhak memperoleh kasih dan siapa yang tidak ditentukan―secara sadar tidak sadar, dan ini sudah mendarah daging―oleh banyak faktor diskriminatif: gender, kasta, agama, status, kelas, seksualitas. Dalam kasus Ammu, lantaran ia seorang perempuan, ayahnya melarangnya kuliah (untuk apa sekolah tinggi-tinggi?) dan inilah alasan mengapa kemudian Ammu memberontak dengan menikahi pria pertama yang mendekatinya. Lantas, setelah menyadari ia menikah dengan orang yang salah, Ammu menuntut cerai. Status cerainya pun dianggap aib sebab ia (lagi-lagi) seorang perempuan, tidak seperti status cerai kakak laki-lakinya yang dianggap biasa saja. Apa yang dilakukan Ammu dianggap salah, sedangkan apa yang dilakukan Chacko tidak.

Kasta dan kelas juga secara mendasar menentukan apakah seseorang pantas dikasihi atau tidak. Dikasihani, mungkin―jika dilihat dari perbuatan ayah Mammachi yang memberikan tanah kepada ayah Velutha dan menyekolahkan Velutha semasa dia masih kecil―tetapi dikasihi? Ini sama sekali tidak terlihat ketika hubungan gelap Velutha dan Ammu terbongkar: Velutha dan ayahnya diperlakukan dengan begitu hina sebelum akhirnya Velutha dipecat. Dan penderitaan Velutha menjadi berlipat ganda lantaran kelasnya―faktor yang berkelindan erat dengan status kastanya dan menjadikannya makhluk terendah di antara yang terendah. Sayangnya, paham komunisme yang dipegang masyarakat Kerala tidak membuat semua manusia “sama rata”, dan agama Kristen Syria anutan mereka yang mengajarkan cinta kasih kepada sesama tidak serta-merta menghapuskan sistem kasta. Bagi mereka, Velutha adalah seseorang yang “tidak pantas dikasihi”, tetapi hanya “pantas dianiaya sampai mati”.

Di luar itu semua, ras dan kebangsaan merupakan faktor penentu yang paling kejam apakah seseorang pantas atau tidak untuk kita kasihi. Sudah menjadi hal yang umum (dan, sialnya, dimaklumi) bahwa kita selalu memandang bangsa kulit putih lebih tinggi: budaya mereka, bahasa mereka, warna kulit mereka. Sophie Mol, perwujudan dari bangsa kulit putih yang dijunjung tinggi di sini, memperoleh rasa kasih yang berlebih dari neneknya (Mammachi) dan adik kakeknya (Baby Kochamma); jauh melebihi rasa kasih yang diterima Rahel dan Estha, walaupun mereka sama-sama anak hasil perceraian dan pernikahan yang tidak direstui orangtua. Rahel dan Estha bahkan diperintahkan agar bersandiwara dan bernyanyi dalam bahasa Inggris dengan baik demi menyambut kedatangan Sophie Mol, sebelum gadis cilik itu meninggal dunia gara-gara mengikuti mereka.

Tindakan pilih kasih ini juga bisa dilakukan oleh korban sendiri, yang karakternya juga mengalami “kebobrokan” (lantaran pernah diperlakukan demikian, kemudian mungkin tanpa sadar juga memperlakukan orang lain demikian): Ammu dan Mammachi adalah yang secara mencolok dicontohkan dalam novel ini. Mammachi, sebagai korban kekerasan dalam rumah tangga oleh suaminya sendiri (Pappachi) memilih dan memilah siapa yang berhak memperoleh kasih berlebih darinya: dalam hal ini adalah anak laki-lakinya, Chacko. Selain karena Chacko adalah anak laki-laki, pemilihan yang terkasih ini dilandasi oleh tindakan Chacko yang seharusnya dianggap wajar sebagai seorang anak: membela dan melindungi ibunya dari kekerasan yang dilakukan sang ayah. Tetapi Mammachi menganggap tindakan Chacko ini “istimewa” sehingga mengasihi (dan memanjakan) Chacko melebihi terhadap Ammu. Mammachi bahkan menoleransi, membiarkan, dan “mengatur” kebiasaan Chacko yang gemar meniduri buruh-buruh perempuan di pabrik awetan mereka.

Ammu juga tak luput dari kebobrokan ini, walau faktor yang mendasari tindakannya lebih “sepele”: Estha lebih pendiam dan penurut, sedangkan Rahel lebih keras kepala dan pemberontak. Estha, tentu saja, mendapat rasa kasih ibu lebih dari yang didapatkan Rahel (walaupun mereka saudara kembar).

Sadar atau tidak sadar, berdasarkan faktor apa pun, besar atau kecil faktor tersebut, kita akan selalu memilih kasih dan mengecilkan mereka yang “tidak pantas” menerimanya. Pilih kasih ini pun bertingkat-tingkat sifatnya, bak piramida. Orang yang paling tidak pantas menerima kasih kita akan duduk di tingkat paling bawah, menjadi yang “mahakecil”―yang dalam novel ini direpresentasikan oleh Velutha: ia memang seorang lelaki, tetapi ia “hanyalah” seorang tukang kayu berpendidikan rendah dari golongan kasta paling rendah yang tidak akan pernah beranjak dari tempatnya yang terendah.

Ammu berada sedikit di atas Velutha. Perlakuan diskriminatif yang diterima Ammu pada dasarnya lantaran ia seorang perempuan, dan semakin buruk lantaran ia seorang perempuan yang ingin lepas dari batasan-batasan tradisi keluarga, agama, kasta, dan aturan masyarakat. Ammu seorang perempuan yang nekat, pemberontak, yang akhirnya menyerah pada gairah hatinya sebab ia tidak tahan lagi dengan keterkungkungan hidupnya, sebab ia ingin bahagia, sebelum tutup usia―yang ia tidak tahu kapan.

Mengapa posisi Ammu masih bisa berada di atas Velutha? Sebab ada kaum perempuan yang nasibnya jauh lebih mengenaskan: para buruh pabrik awetan. Buruh-buruh perempuan ini duduk di tingkat terbawah bersama Velutha: kasta dan kelas mereka memperburuk keadaan mereka sebagai perempuan. Sebagai buruh―dan dengan jenjang kasta lebih rendah―mereka harus “terima-terima saja” ketika Chacko melecehkan mereka satu per satu, lalu diberi bayaran seperti wanita penghibur. Mereka juga tidak dapat berbuat apa-apa, angkat bicara pun tidak, jika tidak mereka pasti akan kehilangan pekerjaan yang sangat mereka butuhkan.

The God of Small Things menggambarkan segala naluri pelik dan keji serta perlakuan-perlakuan diskriminatif ini dengan amat rumit namun apik. Arundhati Roy, dengan gaya berceritanya yang penuh lika-liku, sarat metafor dan humor (yang lucu tapi menyakitkan, menyakitkan tapi lucu), tidak menutup-nutupi inti cerita sedari awal; namun seiring majunya narasi, semakin banyak detail yang terlihat, semakin terkuak setiap karakter yang tampak (apa yang melandasi kebobrokan mereka, apa yang menjadi masa lalu mereka). Roy tidak menuliskan mereka sebagai orang-orang yang sepenuhnya baik atau buruk, sepenuhnya benar atau salah; ia menggambarkan mereka sebagai manusia apa adanya, yang memilih apa yang mereka anggap baik, nyaman, tepat dan terhormat bagi mereka meskipun itu berarti mendiskriminasi, menyakiti, dan merugikan orang lain (dan tentu saja mereka tidak peduli sama sekali).

Sifat dan sikap mereka inilah yang kemudian membentuk pola masyarakat, yang menciptakan jenjang bertingkat-tingkat. Pola dan jenjang ini kemudian diturunkan dari generasi ke generasi, diterapkan pada satu kelompok masyarakat ke kelompok masyarakat yang lain. Pola dan jenjang ini tidak pernah musnah lantaran ada sistem hukum: mereka yang melanggar akan disingkirkan, tak peduli jika itu adalah anggota keluarga mereka sendiri. Pola dan jenjang yang mengakari diskriminasi ini lantas menjadi bibit penyakit yang tidak akan pernah sembuh sampai kapan pun, selama manusia masih memilih dan memilah siapa yang layak dan tidak layak mereka kasihi.

Sebagai sebuah karya, The God of Small Things sungguh luar biasa, baik dalam menceritakan suatu kisah secara mendetail, mendalam, mengharukan serta membuka mata, pun dalam menggambarkan tokoh-tokohnya secara manusiawi namun keji―sesuatu yang sesungguhnya, dan sayangnya, tidak bisa kita hindari.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review

Orang-Orang Bloomington

2016 reprinted Indonesian edition by Noura Books

Budi Darma’s narrative is always a place where readers will find the darkest sides of human beings: hatred, envy, spitefulness, loneliness, indifference, anger, obsession, resentment. If anyone ever read his works before (for example: Hotel Tua, Kritikus Adinan, or Olenka), they’ll know right away that the late Indonesian author never describes human beings as “okay” (literally or figuratively). People have ill-intentions, they have their own evil; and the tone in which Mr. Budi portrays them can always drive the reader even more to that dark corner where they wish (or deny) that they are not one of them. Orang-Orang Bloomington is no exception. Every piece of the seven short (and rather long) stories on the list brings us disturbing narrators who let us see more characters with even more disturbing behaviors and attitudes and thoughts, which often result in sort of saddening situations.

Laki-laki Tua Tanpa Nama is the starting example. Through the eyes of the ever-curious, and disturbingly anxious, narrator―who rents an attic room in Ny. MacMillan’s house, which is one of the three in a row in Jalan Fess―the reader will see an old World War II veteran who plays with a gun in his own rented room and carries it to crowded places, causing confusion (and cautious amusement) among people.

But under this worrying situation―at least according to the narrator―what becomes a bigger problem is the indifference of the people around him, and how it clashes with the narrator’s unreasonable, growing fear. On the one hand, readers have to witness how―for some people―an old, senile man carrying a gun (loaded or not) is “none of my business”; on the other hand, the narrator keeps nagging his lady neighbors about the old man and his gun and trying so hard to get to know and befriend him so that he can stop him. It’s not something pleasant to read; it shows how people―in their comfortable space―try to draw a clear line between other people and themselves and end up misunderstanding others and then taking an unnecessary, fatal action. It also shows how our unstoppable desire to meddle in other people’s business can bring about their bad ending.

Another disturbing story is Keluarga M. However, here, instead of giving a disturbing vibe of a character, the narrator seems more of a dark-hearted, vengeful person. The Meek family is poor, and though both parents (Melvin and Marion) are working, the children (Mark and Martin) still cannot get enough food and clothing, and they definitely do not have toys to play with. That, quite understandably, leads to both often having fights with other children in their apartment complex over toys and trivial stuff.

Mark and Martin, however, also do not have the best of characters, and do not always do the best of actions. One day the narrator finds out that the younger brother has scratched his car’s passenger door, so he demands justice from their parents. But Melvin and Marion defend their children, and they already apologize so there’s nothing the narrator can do about it. Unfortunately, the narrator’s mind cannot rest until he can make Martin pay for what he’s done; and somehow, in his action of revenge, he hurts the other family’s child instead.

In Yorrick readers will meet a worse narrator (not the worst, if they can understand the annoyance and the broken heart he has to suffer) and an annoyingly worse character who (very much strangely, as the narrative shows) is very likable among people around him. For some inexplicable reason, Yorrick―this annoying man, at least according to the personal experiences and opinions of our narrator―can be very friendly toward others (but not toward the narrator) and can even snatch the attention of the girl our narrator falls in love with. If we put ourselves in our narrator’s shoes, we can probably understand why he hates Yorrick (and everybody around him) so much; but if we step back and observe everything from another point of view, then we won’t probably agree with all his actions.

Not all stories here are bleak and dark, though; some are pretty warm to read―with a tinge of grittiness still. Orez is a story of a man who’s determined to marry the woman he loves despite knowing what bad things could result from their marriage, and who still loves his son however his condition is and whatever he’s growing up into. There’s a fleeting moment when he almost kills him but fortunately doesn’t have time to because once he gets back into his car, that moment’s gone away. Ny. Elberhart is also heart-warming, although it is actually a reminder to the reader that we, people, at the end of our days, will always be old and lonely and have no one to accompany us day and night, unless there’s someone who is sometimes willing enough to take care of us―someone who doesn’t necessarily like us, for that matter.

Through these “unpleasant” stories, in general, we kind of able to see our true faces reflected like in a mirror. It’s not to say that we are all as bad and pathetic as those characters drawn by Mr. Budi, but at the very least we are as complex as they are. None of us are saints, and sometimes, not to say that it is right to, we can hate someone who has treated us unfairly or has merely annoyed us to the core.

Mr. Budi treats all his characters in this book very humanly, giving them a chance to speak out their minds through their narratives and let the reader see not only their personalities but what makes them decide what they do. And Mr. Budi’s profound writing style lend more strength to their each characterization so they look, feel and sound so real that readers would not probably be able to bear it sometimes. Some points in some pieces feel too cruel, too painful to “enjoy”. For some readers it would probably be like, “I’ve had enough of this life I don’t need it to be written on a piece of paper.”

But that’s not actually the flaw of Mr. Budi’s writing here; it’s the grammatical errors and the diction. Orang-Orang Bloomington was written and first published in 1970s and 1980 respectively so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Mr. Budi didn’t use today’s standard of Indonesian language. But the book being reviewed here is the reprinted edition from 2016 and they should’ve edited some incorrect sentences and confusing diction but apparently they didn’t. It makes the writing a bit off and awkward; and just imagine reading it in the middle of putting so much effort to sit still and face unacceptable characters.

All in all, however, Orang-Orang Bloomington by Mr. Budi Darma is a classic to start off if people want to know more about Indonesian literature, though not about our culture because that’s not what he’s talking about here. But at least people get to know our kind of literature and that there are still more fields yet to explore. This book is already translated into English by Tiffany Tsao and published by Penguin Classics for those who are interested.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die

Is it The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die, or is it the old tradition? In this novella by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay it is, sadly, both. Translated from Bangla by Arunava Sinha and firstly appeared in English language in 2019, this book depicts a particular landlord family and the society they live in with all the traditions and patriarchal practices they’ve been performing through generations. It’s supposed to be funny, through the actions and voices of the characters, but as the plot progresses and we get deeper into it, it’s not funny anymore.

It opens with Somlata, a poor young girl of 18, being married off to an older man from an aristocrat family that’s already at the door of bankruptcy. They have nothing left but a facade, they even have to borrow money to pay for Somlata’s dowry. And while the family tries so hard to maintain their dignity, Somlata knows they can no longer survive without doing anything.

In the knowledge of this, Somlata stumbles upon the body of her husband’s aunt, whom she calls Pishima. When she finds her Pishima is already dead, and her ghost appears out of thin air. She asks Somlata to keep her box of jewelry and not to tell anyone in the family about it, much less letting them have it―even though they both know the family is in financial crisis. Somlata is so scared of the ghost but she does what she’s told, and does not admit her keeping the box although her sister-in-law clearly knows that she does.

The family’s financial crisis can no longer be ignored, and with Pishima’s box of jewelry Somlata might just save the entire family from falling further into poverty. But her fear of Pishima, and her ghost’s constant appearance and following Somlata everywhere remind her that she cannot break her silent promise. She therefore sells her own necklace and invites her husband to open a shop. Her husband’s reluctant, and the family, except for Somlata’s mother-in-law, is resolutely against the idea. They are a landlord, upper class family, they “don’t do trade” and they “don’t be a shopkeeper”. But Somlata’s husband finally agrees, and though their business often fails at first, they can eventually pass the storm.

Somlata’s persistent efforts can be seen as her act of kindness and loyalty to the family she’s married into, but on the other hand, it can also be considered as her act of rebel against its long-lived tradition. They are too busy preserving their dignity and refuse to do any labor to stay afloat, while Somlata sees no other way to survive than to do so. She’s insistent in the face of the family’s sneer and rejection and ridicule at the beginning, and her hard work and her husband’s willingness to follow her suggestion and guidance prove to be fruitful. But this is the only line that she’s determined to cross, and that’s certainly for the sake of the family.

As the second generation, her fate is actually no different (no better?) than Pishima’s, who had to conform to the patriarchal family tradition and suffer from it all her life through to her death. She was married at 7 and widowed at 12, and never allowed to remarry or even to enjoy a little bit of worldly pleasure after that. She’s doomed to be a miserable, unhappy, caged widow all her life and what she had left to keep is her box of jewelry―that’s why her ghost warns Somlata not to give her jewelry to their family, because she holds a deep grudge against them for all the sufferings they had put her through as a woman and a widow. She curses them all the time, wishes them all dead. She also teases Somlata to betray her husband and go seeing the handsome guy who’s been stalking her for days. But Somlata resists the temptation, because there is only one line she’s determined to cross.

Her daughter Boshon though, as the third generation, is the true rebel of the family. She refuses to submit to any social mores or family rules or patriarchal system which has held down her mother and her great-aunt. She doesn’t want to marry, and she doesn’t want to be loved merely for her looks because it’ so “empty” and pointless. She even sneers at her friend Priti who’s so mooning over her boyfriend.

The narrative says a lot about how the three women of different generations and different personalities and thoughts have to face the same problem: long-lived tradition, endless sexism, and familial system unfriendly to women. Somlata is the bridge between the heavily shackled Pishima and the more free Boshon, that’s pretty obvious; her situation is not as bad as Pishima, either, but she still restrains herself at the end, knowing that she has limit she cannot break. Pishima’s ghost appearance here and there at unexpected moments throws out all of her rage and anger toward all of those system and tradition, because she is dead and cannot do anything anymore to take her revenge on her family and society. Boshon’s freedom seems relieving, but let’s not forget the fact that she has privilege of being pampered by her family, that she’s entitled to do as she likes because she’s the only granddaughter of their family whose mother has successfully dragged them out of poverty. The sexism is still there, and she’s determined to fight against it.

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay has certainly an engrossing, thought-provoking, yet funny style of storytelling in this book. Well, it’s not funny because it is funny, but because it’s ironic and it’s a mockery of the way and the condition that we live. It’s funny because it’s not supposed to be the life that we live. It’s funny because after three generations, old tradition and sexism are still lurking behind us, trying to catch us unguarded and put chains on us, though each in a slightly different way.

There are more and more books highlighting women’s problems we see being published every year, both in English or translated ones. And among those growing number there are still very few from South Asia, which is actually very rich and unique and has many things to tell the readers. Mukhopadhyay’s The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die might only be one among those few, but its poignancy is worth a spotlight.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Bagaimana Kita (Seharusnya) Memandang Olenka

Dalam sebuah cerita, sudut pandang adalah yang mendorong jalannya narasi dari awal hingga akhir. Sudut pandang ini bukan semata-mata perkara dari “kacamata” siapa cerita tersebut dilihat dan dikisahkan, tetapi juga memengaruhi bagaimana kemudian pembaca menerima dan memahami cerita tersebut. Bukan hanya itu, sudut pandang jugalah yang “membentuk” karakter setiap tokoh yang kemudian tertanam di benak pembaca.

Novel Olenka diceritakan dari sudut pandang pertama, dari “kacamata” Fanton Drummond, sang tokoh utama. Namun ada yang terasa sedikit mengganggu pada sudut pandang bercerita ini. Gangguan ini datang dari bagaimana tokoh Olenka digambarkan sebagai seorang wanita, diperlakukan sebagai seorang wanita. Gambaran yang menggelisahkan akan tokoh Olenka ini juga datang dari Wayne Danton, suami sang tokoh dalam judul. Jadi bisa dibilang, bagaimana karakter Olenka “dibentuk”―dan bisa jadi “diterima mentah-mentah” oleh pembaca―adalah bagaimana kedua tokoh pria ini (secara dominan) memandang tokoh tersebut.

Pertama-tama mungkin kita mesti melihat bagaimanakah karakter Wayne Danton, seorang penulis menyedihkan yang tidak memandang Olenka sebagai istri melainkan sebagai wanita jalang dan budak belaka, dalam urusan seks pun dalam urusan rumah tangga. Wayne seorang pria yang egois, yang ia pikirkan hanyalah karier dan dirinya sendiri. Ia tidak mau bekerja karena baginya itu akan mengganggu pikirannya dan memakan waktunya sehingga ia tidak akan sempat menulis. Demi menopang keluarga, Olenka-lah yang harus bekerja. Wayne juga menganggap Olenka sebagai alat pemuas nafsu dan memaksa Olenka memiliki anak―dan melahirkan anak yang tidak diinginkannya membuat Olenka tak pernah menyayangi Steven, anak mereka, begitu pula sebaliknya. Masih ditambah lagi, Wayne terus-menerus berusaha (dan berhasil) membuktikan bahwa Olenka bukanlah seorang ibu yang pantas dicintai.

Sementara itu, Fanton Drummond, sang narator dan tokoh utama, bisa dikatakan terobsesi terhadap Olenka. Pemuda gelisah ini mungkin terlihat sebagai “pria yang lebih baik” daripada Wayne. Fanton mencintai Olenka dengan tulus dan tanpa usaha. Ia merasa memiliki ikatan batin dengan Olenka dan merasa terus dibayang-bayangi Olenka. Ia mengikuti semua keinginan Olenka dan ketika Olenka menghilang dari hidupnya, ia menelusuri jejak-jejak Olenka. Bahkan saat mengejar Mary Carson, Fanton tetap tidak bisa melupakan Olenka. Ia juga merasa bahwa dengan mengenal Olenka, ia dapat mengenal dirinya sendiri.

Tetapi bagaimanakah Fanton memandang Olenka? Apakah sebagai manusia, ataukah benda? Apakah sebagai subjek, ataukah objek? Ketika berhubungan intim dengan Olenka, Fanton selalu menganggap Olenka sebagai “peta dunia”, yang ia ketahui “lika-liku dan seluk-beluknya”. Dalam menggambarkan hubungan dan badan Olenka, Fanton selalu menggunakan kata “meletakkan” dan “menggarap”. Bagi Fanton, tubuh Olenka adalah alam yang dapat ia “garap”, ia “rombak”, ia “kuasai”, ia “miliki”, dan ia “rusak” kalau perlu. Bahkan, pada salah satu bab, Fanton pernah berkata, “Seorang laki-laki jantan yang baik mampu menguasai perempuan bagaikan pioner memperlakukan tanah dan hutan,” dan “saya yakin bahwa dia [Olenka] juga ingin saya perlakukan demikian.” Dari mana Fanton tahu? Apakah Olenka pernah berkata demikian? Setidaknya, dari sudut pandang Fanton sendiri, ia tidak pernah mengutip pernyataan dari Olenka bahwa Olenka memang ingin diperlakukan seperti “tanah dan hutan”.

Bukan hanya dalam hubungan seks, dalam hubungan cinta pun Fanton menganggap Olenka sebagai objek. Bagi Fanton, Olenka adalah “sasaran” dari rasa cinta dan gairahnya, tujuan dari segala obsesi dan keinginan-keinginannya. Sudut pandang Fanton dalam bercerita juga menjadikan Olenka objek pemikirannya. Olenka merupakan sosok yang jauh, sosok yang tertanam di benak Fanton yang kemudian ia gambarkan dengan kata-kata dalam narasinya. Sekalinya Olenka memiliki ruang untuk bicara sebagai subjek, sebagai dirinya sendiri, adalah ketika ia menulis surat panjang kepada Fanton. Dalam surat tersebut, Olenka bercerita tentang dirinya, tentang keluarganya, tentang pengalaman “main apinya” dengan seorang kawan perempuan beralias Winifred, dan bagaimana akhirnya ia menikah dengan Wayne dan menderita karenanya.

Dalam surat tersebut, Fanton bukanlah objek bercerita Olenka sebagaimana Olenka dalam narasi yang dikisahkan Fanton pada keseluruhan novel. Fanton merupakan “teman bercerita” Olenka, Olenka bercerita kepada Fanton. Dalam surat tersebut, Olenka adalah subjek sekaligus objek narasinya sendiri, dan Olenka tidak memandang atau memperlakukan Fanton sebagai objek dalam hal apa pun, sebagaimana yang terlihat sebaliknya. Sesungguhnya, ini bukanlah sesuatu yang dapat dianggap aneh. Namun lantaran penggunaan sudut pandang pertama pada novel ini―juga “cara pandangnya”―ini menjadi terasa tidak (atau kurang?) adil. Adil memang bukan soal “sama” dalam segala hal, tetapi entah mengapa dalam kisah ini ketimpangan yang demikian terasa―sedikit banyak―mengganggu.

Lalu bagaimanakah kita (seharusnya) memandang Olenka dalam kisah ini? Apakah sebagai “wanita jalang” seperti yang digambarkan Wayne Danton lantaran ia gemar “melayani” pria-pria lain? Sebagai “bukan istri dan ibu yang baik”? Atau apakah seperti yang digambarkan oleh Fanton Drummond―objek cinta dan obsesi serta objek seks yang bisa diperlakukan sesuka hati?

Dalam novel Olenka, tidak ada satu pun tokoh yang sempurna, atau bahkan “cukup baik” menurut standar moral tertentu―entah itu Fanton, Wayne, ataupun Olenka sendiri. Maka apakah kita mesti bergantung (dan percaya) pada sudut pandang Wayne yang membuat ketidaksempurnaan Olenka tampak sebagai suatu “keburukan” alih-alih suatu “kewajaran” pada diri manusia biasa akibat kesulitan-kesulitan yang menimpanya? Apakah kita mesti menerima sudut pandang Fanton yang membuat Olenka tampak seperti benda tak bernyawa dan hanya diberi kesempatan bicara sepanjang beberapa lembar surat?

Olenka, jika dilihat dalam bingkai yang lebih luas, bukan semata-mata sebuah kisah nan kompleks tentang manusia-manusia yang gelisah dan bermasalah, manusia-manusia yang (tentu saja) tidak suci dan murni. Novel ini tidak hanya bercerita tentang orang-orang dengan ego masing-masing, yang berjalan di atas pilihan masing-masing dan menanggung akibat masing-masing. Novel ini, disadari atau tidak, juga merupakan contoh dari cara pandang umum terhadap wanita―bahwa wanita sering kali dipandang sebagai objek (dalam hal apa pun itu, dan sengaja atau tidak sengaja), serta bagaimana “wanita yang tidak baik” dipandang dari “luar” lantaran tak ada yang mengetahui masalah serta penderitaan-penderitaan yang menuntunnya pada hal-hal yang dilakukannya, mengingat ia tidak diberi panggung yang layak.

fiction, review

Fish Soup

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo is a pretty difficult book to stomach. It is not because it’s about women and their sexuality, but because the entire narrative is so unapologetically blatant in describing them. Or, rather, “cruelly” so. It’s like a slap in the face of everybody who believes that women should keep docile, modest and only follow the generational, social rules and patriarchal views in which they should not show their desire, should not be sexually active, or that they cannot be as sexually free as men are. This book wants to tell readers that women cannot be sexually repressed, should not be sexually repressed. And that they should not be punished for being a victim of sexual harassment and/or abuse.

The first part is a novella entitled Waiting for a Hurricane. The opening paragraph truly gives a punch, with the middle of it talking about being in the middle:

The middle was the worst place to be: hardly anyone made it out of the middle. It was where the lost causes lived: there, nobody was poor enough to resign themselves to being poor forever, so they spent their lives trying to move up in the world and liberate themselves. When all attempts failed – as they usually did – their self-awareness disappeared and that’s when all was lost. – (page 7)


The unnamed female narrator is always where she has been since she was born, dreaming of getting out of the place where she is now. She doesn’t care if she’s very smart and could have a “bright future”, she only cares about running away, escaping the small city she lives in. She even dumps her boyfriend because she knows he will never (be able to) bring her out of their hole. And finally she decides to be an air hostess, that way she at least can leave her city even if only for a short time and be back again. She becomes more and more desperate to go away upon seeing her brother marrying a nurse from the US, hence gaining a green card. But after so many efforts she has done, she can only eventually find herself stuck in the middle, in the life that she knows with someone who is also never going anywhere.

The second part of the book, Worse Things, is a mini short-story collection consisting of seven stunningly disturbing pieces. Once again, they’re not disturbing because of the ideas, but rather for how merciless the narratives can be. Like A Pariah might only be a simple story about an old woman in the middle of her recovery after having a cancer, but later it is revealed that deep down she still has her desire and that it is somewhat satisfied by a man so much younger than she is. The question then might not be “what is wrong with her?”, but rather “is it wrong?”

Another “disturbing” piece in this part is the titular short story, Fish Soup. It’s disturbing in a way that Mr. Aldo Villafora always has bad imaginations of his wife while he is in delirium. In his mind, his wife is a “whore”, always having sexual relationships with many different men, always brutally shameless. There’s also a point in his dreams where his wife is already dead, and what is left is only bad memories. The whole narrative clearly shows that Mr. Villafora doesn’t have quite a good impression of his wife, thinking that his wife is a “bad woman”. But then the question is, why? And the next question is, does that impression match his wife’s real character? Seeing that, as it is, the real person of his wife is not presented until the end of the story, and only in a glimpse with an anxiety over Mr. Villafora’s condition.

Something We Never Were is an attempt to reverse the male-female point of view on men-women (sexual) relationship. It is very often that we see men having free sexual relationships with any woman they like without maintaining ties while women have to bear whatever consequences there are. But here we see Salvador yearns for a “normal” boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Eileen while the girl only wants sex and nothing more. The differences between them do not stop there. Eileen is too well-read and too broad-minded for Salvador that he cannot catch up with her train of thoughts, cannot understand her. And while he feels more and more in love with her, she doesn’t seem to have the same feeling at all. And when Salvador finally wants to break up with her, Eileen just cannot get, “what is there to break?”

The third and final part is another novella, Sexual Education. Well, it is, in part, about sexual education in which young girls in a school are encouraged to refrain from having (free) sexual relationships, seeing that so many have ruined their own future by having babies so early and being married off in such a young age. But, of course, some students do not just be quiet and comply with the teachings. Particularly Dalia, the narrator’s close friend, who has no qualms whatsoever about revealing her thoughts about women’s sexuality and doing sexual activities freely and openly with her boyfriend. But our narrator is so sick of her friend’s behavior and her way of (sex) life, though she herself doesn’t seem to agree with her teacher.

The story doesn’t have any end, as it is opened and is not concluded in any way. It even ends up displaying “another story” where one of their schoolmates is being raped by several boys and that she cannot get justice, cannot even spread the news about her tragedy because the editor of the newspaper is a relative of one of the rapists. And the boys, of course, are spared from any punishment.

Generally speaking, all stories in this book do not have any specific end. They all do not have any conclusion. It is as if Robayo wants to show that women’s problems, whatever they are, never have any solution. Women keep being hit by patriarchal views and practices, and especially, sexually. Fish Soup may not be a breakthrough in itself, but it is definitely a statement, a harsh statement, that those patriarchal views and practices against women should stop right now, that women should get justice when they are being the victims of sexual misconduct done by men, that there should be an end to it.

Margarita García Robayo’s Fish Soup is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time, in a way that it’s so true and blatant that readers might want to stop and take a breath and admit to themselves that this is what happens, what always happens, in our society, even up to this day. It wants to wake us up by pouring cold water right to our face, making us shocked and see the reality immediately. And it doesn’t feel sorry for it, because that’s the least that it can do.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Joyride to Jupiter

Quietly vibrant, or brimming with subtle emotions―perhaps that is the way to describe Nuala O’Connor’s Joyride to Jupiter. It may sound like a collection of nineteen dull short stories with flat tone at first, but once readers get deeper into each of them, striking characters with heart-wrenching stories and clever narrative-handling are there to be found. O’Connor indeed tell them matter-of-factly, no flowery words or anything―she doesn’t seem to feel the need for―but the result is some knocking effects and restlessness banging in our heads.

The banging is loudest in some, like in Consolata, where Helen brings her new boyfriend Matthew to see her mother at her old house. It has been a long time since she came back home, and distant, somewhat bitter memories slowly open up before the reader as she’s thinking of her past, her late father, and Sister Consolata. Helen knew her when she was still a child and they were friends. But as layers of secrets unfolded unexpectedly, that friendship unfortunately―painfully?―had to fall to pieces.

Family bitterness also appears in Tinnycross, though in a different form and on another level. Oliver and Bernard are trying to divide the estate they inherit from their mother. Olly wants a half of the estate value, but Bunny denies him that, still blaming their mother’s death on his brother for never coming home to see her. Though Olly finally gets the amount of money he needs from Bunny’s wife’s own share, but deep inside, there’s a pain he never shares―pain coming from the attachment he never ceases to have to their family estate, to his childhood home.

This family theme seems to keep repeating, more so in Mayo Oh Mayo and Storks. But Mayo Oh Mayo is not the type of family story people usually have in mind. It’s more of how the writer, or the characters she creates, see the family bond. Is it more than anything that a passionate, brief affair cannot throw it off the cliff any minute? Or is it something that you can crush under your feet so easily? Apparently, the male character here doesn’t only think that Dublin and everything in it do not suit him, but also that a fling is a fling, and nothing about that can disturb his family life―though Siobhán, our female protagonist he’s having an affair with, thinks the otherwise.

Meanwhile, Storks throws out all the jokes life has in store. Fergus and Caitríona are on vacation in Spain to relieve their pain after losing their baby (again). It’s so obvious that Caitríona has it worse than her husband, and she just doesn’t want to do anything or say a word or even meet anyone. But unfortunately, she, and her husband, meet Worms Gormley―or Will, as Caitríona remembers him. He is an old friend of Fergus, and an old lover of Caitríona, but nobody knows. It may not be the right time to see a man with his happy family and healthy kids when you have just lost yours, but it’s definitely not the right time to find out that your secret ex-lover was actually your husband’s roommate, or that he’s the one who can actually heal your deepest wound.

O’Connor sort of want to state, however, that there might be one thing which is more important than family, or marriage bond: the bond between women, sympathy and empathy between women. Shut Your Mouth, Hélène doesn’t say that women have to keep mum about everything, but to do it at the right time. Women, of course, are entitled to say anything they like, anything they want, anything they deem proper to talk about; but when a man has sexually abused you and his wife, who was witnessing it, strikes him to death, you probably do not want to tell anybody about it.

It’s not suprising when women write about women, about their feelings, suffering, points of view, unpleasant experiences, their want (and dreams) of freedom, their secret passion and various problems. But Nuala O’Connor has certainly written women’s stories in a thorough way, with a very quiet yet very loud voice. The theme is mostly around family, yes, but she doesn’t hesitate to get deeper into it and dig out the darkest part of it. O’Connor also doesn’t hesitate to claim that there are other kinds of family (in The Boy from Petrópolis and The Donor) and that a family is never okay (Futuretense). That being said, what O’Connor always emphasizes here in this collection is women’s feelings and experiences, and how they see and handle their problems―whether it is with hatred or bitterness, anger or sympathy, sadness or love. Seeing all the female characters in all of the short stories contained, we can see (and be convinced) that women can be different from one another, but rest assured that they have one thing in common: they are free people, they want freedom, they practice freedom, they can be and do anything they like.

The problem with this book is that not all the premises are interesting, and not all the narratives are told engrossingly. Some are just so-so that you might want to skip them, or read them without paying much attention. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, though.

One thing for sure, Joyride to Jupiter by Nuala O’Connor gives you a wide-range angle on women, various points of view we should ponder about―different ones we should use to look at them.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Subuh

Indonesian edition’s cover

When it comes to Turkish literature, we don’t seem to be able to separate it from its characteristic melancholy. And this melancholy seems to come from, very strangely, matters of bad politics, social injustice, clashes of ideologies and failed romance all at once. At least, Orhan Pamuk has proven so. We might not want to think that Turkish literature is only about the Nobel laureate, but Selahattin Demirtaş exudes apparently pretty much the same kind of atmosphere when writing stories. All of his twelve short pieces in this small and thin collection are dimly melancholic, be it about honor killing, a wrongly accused house cleaner, conflicts and suicide bombings in Aleppo, or a little girl running away from the war in her home country with her mother.

The first issue to be brought foward in the book Subuh (translated from Turkish into Indonesian by Mehmet Hassan) is, interestingly enough, masculinity. Or the way we see it. Laki-laki dalam Jiwa Kami (The Man Inside) looks like a semi-fable where the protagonist is a prisoner who watches everyday a female sparrow building a nest to lay down her eggs, while the male one doesn’t do anything more than staying in guard on the fence outside. One day comes a group of inspectors from the “Department of Nesting Code Enforcement”, charging them with a crime of building a nest without permission. Those inspectors give the pair of sparrows two options: destroy the nest, or give them their brood as compensation. The female, of course, refuses to do so and chooses to fight the inspectors, but the male seems so scared of them and tries to talk it over. At the end, it’s only the female sparrow that fights them alone and fiercely to defend the nest she builds and her offspring.

Looking at it from a distance, or closer, the piece shows the instinct of a mother and to what extent they would wield their power to protect their children. This is the nature of a woman. Males, quite the opposite, tend to use threats and physical strength to stomp on others, especially when they are part of the authority. On the other side, though, they can also be as lame as the male sparrow when it comes to facing the upper power while as weak as people in general see women, they can be strong enough to fight the injustice.

Speaking of masculinity, the second story Seher (the original book title and the Turkish word for Subuh/Dawn) displays blatantly and brutally how toxic it can be when added to pride and honor. They demand even the lives of women, in the name of the family’s good reputation, despite the women being innocent in any sexual crime or assault or even harassment they have suffered from. For the men of the family, their female relatives are guilty only for losing their virginity, whatever way they lose it, and whether or not they actually want to lose it.

Seher, the titular character, falls in love with Hayri and believes that the man returns her feeling as “he picks her out” from so many other women in their work place. He asks her to go out and meet up after the day of Eid celebration, and Seher feels both anxious and excited at the same time about the meeting that she doesn’t dare to look at anyone in the eye. And so they meet and talk, and when it’s time for Seher to go home Hayri offers her a ride to her house. At this very point, it would be pretty much unsurprising to see Hayri (and his friends) stir the vehicle to a different direction and then rape her in turn. This secret cannot be hidden, cannot be hushed, and cannot be solved in any civil way. Once her father and brothers know it, it’s over for her.

Injustice seems to be penned down everywhere in this book, Nazan Petugas Kebersihan (Nazan the Cleaning Lady) and Salam Untuk Si Mata Hitam (Greetings to Those Dark Eyes) being the most glaring examples. But while Nazan Petugas Kebersihan generally talks about the injustice we often see in legal system, Salam Untuk Si Mata Hitam is more about the huge gap between the rich and the poor, between people with low and high education, and between those living in the city and in the village. In Nazan, we see how demonstrations voicing any dissatisfaction with the government are deemed disruptive that everyone on the street should be arrested and tried for such “crime”, whether or not they’re truly involved in them. In the latter, two illegal child laborers are faced with difficulties when they are trying to get their payment after working on a construction site, building a type F jail in Edirne. This seems to be something which is, surprisingly, common in any unskilled, physical labor. People with money (or, in this case, the government) always want cheap labor to do these things, so they go and hire child, lowly educated laborers who have no insurance or official permission to work, hence no need to pay them high. If anything happens, they can also wash their hands easily.

Demirtaş’ narratives on wars are no less thought-provoking, matter-of-factly yet gloomily elaborating how people try to escape from them and still do not meet a good end. In Gadis Laut (The Mermaid), a five-year old girl named Mina and her mother are running away from their hometown Hama in Syria where war has taken her father’s life. When they don’t have much on them her mother has to bribe the boatmen so they can cross the Mediterranean Sea, but that doesn’t help them at all. The story of Hidangan Aleppo (Kebab Halabi) is certainly not less heart-breaking. Hamdullah is himself a refugee from Aleppo who ran away to Hatay and who has finally had a good life there, opening a kebab restaurant where everyone eager to taste the famous Arab kebab is going to. But he never forgets his friends in Aleppo and lets them stay in his two-story house, including the first love of his life, Rukiye, who was married to another man at 16. Sadly, though, his good life must end there when a suicide bombing ends Rukiye’s and her husband’s lives.

Besides those short stories, Subuh also presents others with different themes such as mundane life (Sesunyi Sejarah/As Lonely As History) minority (Akan Berakhir Istimewa/A Magnificent Ending) and even one with a surrealist style (Tak Seperti yang Anda Pikirkan/It’s Not What You Think), which is looking at imaginary love stories that never once end well. Despite the various themes and diverse styles, all stories in this collection have proven the melancholic tone the writer chooses to use most of the time, melancholy which doesn’t particularly bring tears but is there to make readers feel moved and think about the things depicted in each narrative. It is all because, presumably, Demirtaş wants to show us what is wrong with his country, what is wrong with his society, and that even if life seems so hopeless there in his land there is always hope, at least hope to escape from the misery.

Subuh by Selahattin Demirtaş is really a heart-wrenching collection, well written and pretty well translated. It’s small and condense, short yet with such knocking effect on the reader. It is one which people really should consider to read to know, even if not about Turkey, at least about how this world in general doesn’t really work well.

Rating: 4/5

fiction, review

Uncommon Type

Tak mungkin tak mengenal negeri Paman Sam beserta segala gagasannya mengenai kebebasan, kesetaraan, dan kesempatan. Paling mudah gagasan-gagasan ini dapat dilihat dalam film-film Hollywood di mana Tom Hanks telah lama menjadi bagiannya. Namun, kini sang aktor peraih Piala Oscar memilih untuk menampilkan itu semua dalam sekumpulan cerita singkat bertajuk Uncommon Type. Berisi tujuh belas cerpen, yang beberapa di antaranya berbentuk kolom surat kabar, Hanks memperlihatkan makna impian Amerika serta rasa cinta terhadap negara dari sudut pandang warganya dalam sebuah pengabadian.

Impian Amerika bukanlah sekadar cita-cita. Setidaknya di buku ini impian Amerika direpresentasikan sebagai suatu “kenyataan”, suatu tujuan yang pasti tercapai apa pun rintangannya, siapa pun dan bagaimana pun latar belakangnya, serta sekecil apa pun kemungkinannya. Amerika Serikat yang (tampak) berjaya itu digambarkan menolak untuk berkata “tidak mungkin”. Sebagaimana dalam kisah berjudul Who’s Who?, sebuah narasi klise tentang seorang aktris muda berbakat dari kota kecil yang mengejar impiannya menjadi seorang aktris panggung besar di New York. Tak kurang-kurang kesialan yang harus ditanggungnya, tak kurang-kurang usaha yang harus dilakukannya, dan akhirnya Dewi Fortuna pun tersenyum padanya.

Pun dalam cerita yang cukup panjang, Pergilah Temui Costas, yang berkisah tentang seorang imigran gelap yang lari ke Amerika demi terbebas dari kekejaman rezim komunis di negara asalnya. Assan, serta temannya Ibrahim, melarikan diri dari kejaran polisi Bulgaria seusai kabur dari penjara dan diam-diam menyeberangi perbatasan menuju Yunani. Di Yunani, Assan mendapat pekerjaan sebagai juru api di Kapal Berengaria yang akan berlayar membawa kargo ke Amerika. Sembari menyelundupkan Ibrahim, menyeberanglah ia ke negeri kebebasan. Dengan bantuan sang mualim kapal, ia berhasil mendarat di New York tanpa dokumen dan tanpa ketahuan pihak yang berwenang. Namun tentu hidup di Amerika bukannya tanpa kesulitan. Meski telah diberi “uang saku” oleh sang mualim dan diberi tahu di mana ia dapat menemukan orang Yunani, tetap tidaklah mudah bagi Assan untuk mendapatkan pekerjaan dan tempat berteduh. Akan tetapi, lagi-lagi, Amerika adalah negeri sejuta kesempatan dan kemungkinan bagi siapa saja. Walau telah ditolak berkali-kali oleh Costas, seorang pemilik restoran Yunani, Assan akhirnya memperoleh pekerjaan untuk bertahan hidup di negeri barunya.

“Kesempatan dan kesetaraan bagi semua orang” di sini tidak hanya berlaku bagi kaum pria. Hanks menegaskan bahwa wanita juga memiliki kesetaraan yang sama. Dan bukan melulu kesetaraan dalam hal pekerjaan, tetapi juga dalam hal bagaimana wanita dipandang sebagai manusia. Ini terutama dapat dilihat pada sosok Anna yang muncul dalam tiga cerita pendek yang berbeda. Dalam ketiga cerita tersebut ― Tiga Minggu yang Melelahkan, Alan Bean Plus Empat, dan Steve Wong Memang Sempurna ― Anna memang bukanlah tokoh utama dan merupakan satu-satunya perempuan di antara empat sekawan, tetapi ia digambarkan sebagai wanita yang mandiri, cerdas, aktif, dan tangguh; tak kalah dan bahkan dapat mengalahkan ketiga teman laki-lakinya dalam banyak hal.

Ketangguhan dan kemandirian ini dimiliki pula oleh sosok ibu Kenny Stahl dalam kisah Akhir Pekan Istimewa. Sosok ini menarik bukan lantaran ia menawan secara fisik, tetapi lebih karena cara Hanks menarasikan cerita dan menggambarkan tokohnya. Ibu dan ayah Kenny dikisahkan telah lama bercerai, dan ayahnya telah memberinya keluarga baru. Sementara itu, ibunya masih belum (atau memilih untuk tidak?) menikah lagi meski memiliki kekasih, dan menjadi seorang wanita karier yang sukses. Dari cerita akhir pekan bersama sang ibu, pembaca dapat mengetahui mengapa orangtuanya bercerai. Andai ditulis dari sudut pandang sang ayah, cerita ini akan terasa penuh penghakiman; sedangkan jika dikisahkan dari sudut pandang sang ibu, ia akan terlihat sangat egois. Untungnya, Hanks memutuskan untuk bercerita dari sudut pandang si kecil Kenny, yang masih polos dan dapat menerima keadaan apa adanya. Dengan demikian, pembaca dapat bersimpati terhadap ayah Kenny sekaligus memahami perasaan dan keputusan ibu Kenny.

Akhir Pekan Istimewa hanyalah salah satu contoh bagaimana keluarga di Amerika “berjalan”. Kisah pendek Selamat Datang di Mars juga mempertontonkan hal yang sama, meski dengan konflik berbeda. Keluarga Ullen tak bisa disebut sebagai keluarga harmonis. Dengan seorang ibu pemarah, seorang saudara perempuan memilih tinggal dengan pacarnya dan yang seorang lagi bertekad untuk datang dan pergi sesuka hati, serta Kirk yang selalu tenggelam dalam buku-bukunya, sosok Frank sang ayah yang selalu sabar dan menengahi pertengkaran demi pertengkaran menjadi satu-satunya orang yang masih punya akal sehat di antara mereka. Hanya bersama sang ayah pulalah Kirk merayakan ulang tahunnya yang kesembilan belas di pantai Mars, tempat ia pertama kali belajar dan kemudian menjadi raja ombak. Tetapi kejutan terbesar di hari itu bukanlah hadiah jam tangan anti-air pemberian Frank, melainkan rahasia keluarga yang selama ini tak pernah diketahuinya. Atau, mungkin, yang paling mengejutkan adalah sikap Kirk sendiri setelah mengetahuinya.

Yang terakhir, dan mungkin yang paling menonjol, dari buku kumpulan cerpen ini adalah rasa cinta terhadap negara yang tanpa cela. Aroma nasionalisme tercium begitu kuat di lima dari tujuh belas cerita, kendati beberapa di antaranya bukanlah secara langsung mengenai cinta negeri. Nasionalisme ini kerap muncul dalam bentuk olok-olok terhadap lawan di masa-masa Perang Dunia II dan Perang Dingin. Ini sebagaimana yang disiratkan dalam cerpen kedua, Malam Natal 1953, di mana para tentara sekutu Amerika Serikat digambarkan begitu hebat di medan perang, sedangkan para tentara Jerman digambarkan sebagai pecundang. Pada Alan Bean Plus Empat ― yang menghadirkan tokoh Anna beserta ketiga kawan lelakinya ― sang narator seakan mengejek Rusia yang gagal dalam misi ke bulan mereka sementara empat sekawan Amerika ini berhasil memutari bulan bahkan tanpa bermodalkan pelatihan dan dukungan dari NASA. Jelas-jelas sang narator hendak berkata, “Kami orang Amerika biasa saja bisa melakukannya, sedangkan kalian astronot Rusia tidak.”

Satu hal lagi yang kentara dari tulisan-tulisan Tom Hanks dalam Uncommon Type adalah kecenderungannya untuk “mengabadikan” masa lalu. Ini tampak jelas dari hadirnya mesin tik kuno bukan hanya dalam bentuk gambar tetapi juga di hampir semua cerita pendek yang disajikan. Hanks bahkan mendedikasikan tiga cerpen khusus untuk menghadirkan mesin tik kuno sebagai “tokoh” yang tidak hanya numpang lewat: Inilah Meditasi Hatiku, Kembali ke Masa Lalu, dan Penginjil Perempuanmu, Esperanza.

Secara umum, menulis memanglah suatu bentuk pengabadian. Dalam tulisan, pemikiran-pemikiran seseorang serta peristiwa-peristiwa yang pernah terjadi tak akan lenyap oleh waktu; karena terus dibaca dan disampaikan oleh satu orang ke orang lain, dari suatu waktu ke waktu berikutnya. Dan Uncommon Type adalah salah satu contoh dari pengabadian tersebut.

Rating: 4.5/5

fiction, review

Sepasang Sepatu Tua: Sepilihan Cerpen

Sapardi Djoko Damono’s Sepasang Sepatu Tua might have just been released last year, but the contents are surprisingly not new. Most of them are recognizably included in the short story collection Pada Suatu Hari, Malam Wabah; so Mr. Sapardi’s readers might get the feeling of reading the “same” book twice coming from different publishers. The reason behind this decision to republish many of the same contents over a short period of time was not known, unless one wants to speculate the later publisher merely intended to use the late senior writer’s popularity to boost their sell, for this was not the first time they―or any other publisher―did so with senior writers’ old works.

Of the nineteen pieces (short and rather long) included in this collection, only seven which are definitely outstanding, mostly for their unusual themes and styles of narratives, and some for the way Mr. Sapardi twists the plot. The first on the table of contents, the titular story, is such a one. Told in subtly hilarious tone, Sepasang Sepatu Tua narrates the close relationship between a university professor and his newly bought pair of shoes. He bought them (which were originally made in Germany) in a Chinese shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown, hence their ability to speak Chinese. Yes, the shoes speak, and the professor can hear them though is unable to understand what they say since it’s a foreign language to him. Over a period of time, however, he’s come to get their daily conversations and, inevitably so, started to feel annoyed at the same time.

Rumah-Rumah is also a giggle-triggering one. In quite the same style as Sepasang Sepatu Tua, it tells a story of “talking” houses in a complex bad-mouthing each other the way human neighbors usually do. They whisper about how the house number eleven is never in peace, the family living there are always in a row, not a single time do they ever keep quiet. Meanwhile, the house number thirteen is a mere uninhabited one being let by the owner but never gets rented. Worst of all, the house number fifteen is only half-built, because the owner doesn’t have any money any more to finish it. These “lonely, bitter” houses are just like the human dwellers: envying each other, whispering about each other, and yet never realizing that life is merely about seeing through the tinted glass.

Two short stories in a row are talking about mentally ill people. The first one, Seorang Rekan di Kampus Menyarankan Agar Aku Mengusut Apa Sebab Orang Memilih Menjadi Gila (or, in English, A Colleague at the University Suggests that I Ask What the Reason People Choose to be Crazy) literally tells of a university professor who asks a random wandering insane person why he chooses to be crazy. The crazy man, recalling his mother’s saying to him, feels annoyed by the constant questioning and thinks that the professor himself must be out of his mind. Meanwhile, the second one, Membunuh Orang Gila (literally translates Killing A Mad Man) talks about a driver accidentally hitting a wandering mad man on the street with his car. The mad man dies on the spot. Strangely (or not?), the driver feels sad about the mad man’s unexpected, sudden death―though he claims that it’s not him hitting the mad man, but the mad man who hit him―for he has already considered the mad man his own friend, seeing him everyday on his way to Bogor. And then a question pops into his mind: who is the crazy one in this world? How did they become crazy? Are they the victims of revolution who were never proclaimed a hero? Or are they the victims of reformation who were oppressed back in the day? One thing for sure: the sane person is the one who goes wherever the wind blows.

Just like the twist he does to the legend of Ken Arok and Ken Dedes in the quite long piece Hikayat Ken Arok, Mr. Sapardi reverses the entire premise of our famous fable about a cunning mouse deer in Dongeng Kancil (The Story of A Mouse Deer). Traditionally, the protagonist mouse deer could easily play tricks on other animals (the tiger, the crocodile and the snake) and get away with it. But here, the truth is the opposite. The Storyteller has decided that the mouse deer is the one being tricked by the other said animals and even by human beings. Having objections to his “new” fate, the mouse deer sets to find the Storyteller to find out what will happen to him next. On his way, however, he is trapped by humans and being caged and prepared for a wedding feast. He has no way to run.

Jemputan Lebaran is perhaps the most reflective short story of all in this collection. It reflects on how we (the Indonesian Muslims) see the Eid ul-Fitr celebration. It’s been our tradition upon the celebration day to go back to our hometowns and do the same things and meet the same people every year. So traditional it is that we just do it automatically without thinking and without knowing what the “rituals” mean. The protagonist wants to apologize to the Eid ul-Fitr for this, and to try to understand what that particular celebration day actually means.

And, the last of the most engaging stories in this collection I was appealed to, Suatu Hari di Bulan Desember (One Day in December) is my favorite both here and in the other book Pada Suatu Hari, Malam Wabah. It focuses on the main female protagonist Marsiyam who is sentenced years in prison for badly beating her husband. No, it’s not a hoax. It’s true. She indeed did that. But here the reason behind it is the main highlight: Marsiyam was always blamed for their childless marriage, and her husband accused her of having an affair with another man. There is only so much a woman can take, and this had been beyond Marsiyam’s emotional and mental capabilities. Strangely, after being years in prison, she gets pregnant, though she never had any physical relationship with anyone there.

Reading the entire collection, it won’t be wrong to say that Mr. Sapardi keeps true to his style and narrative twists. He never merely stands and lets himself be swayed either to the left or to the right, the way he never accepts the dominant narrative as it is―which is what he does here most of the time. He laughs at the world without showing off his sneer. His writing is as quiet as usual, but strong and profound. His ideas are never the common ones, and his reflections on life are always worth to be reckoning.

The fact that Sepasang Sepatu Tua might not be his best short story collection is perhaps because some pieces are delivered in pretty boring tone, like Ratapan Anak Tiri and Daun di Atas Pagar. Meanwhile, a thought-provoking piece like Ditunggu Dogot might be too difficult for some readers to stomach.

That’s said, Sapardi Djoko Damono is a truly great writer worth to watch, and Sepasang Sepatu Tua is still good enough for readers to spend their time reading it.

Rating: 3.5/5

fiction, review

Die, My Love

2020-05-29_10-39-06Being different is already difficult, much more being a different woman who doesn’t live up to everyone’s standards. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz is a blatant protest against these standards, and it never feels sorry about it. First published in 2017 by Charco Press (and co-translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff), this short novel tries so hard to point out what is wrong with a marriage that obviously goes wrong in a patriarchal society which tends to see everything out of standards in a woman as wrong. You might want to prepare yourself, for this one is totally unapologetic.

The story begins with our (anonymous) protagonist imagining herself holding a knife in her hand, ready to kill her husband. Of course, it does not truly happen, but the desire to do so is there and never ceases to exist. What she never has a desire to do is having a baby, and yet there she is, with a six-month toddler to care for. Another problem wedged in her heart that surges immediately in her early narrative of stream of consciousness is the big question of why her husband picks and chooses her while there are so many other beautiful, attractive women out there. And readers might have their own big question in turn: if she doesn’t feel like it, why doesn’t she say no?

But, well, that probably is not the right question to ask, since the book is obviously not about the choices women could have, but what they have been trapped into. As the story progresses, readers can see that the protagonist is so out of place in her own world: she isn’t only unfit for marriage, but the entire household stuff, the neighborhood, the way the world “usually” works. She sees everything that is “normal” as imprisoning, a cage she’s yearning to get out of from. The only place she can feel free in is the forest next to her house, where she often sees a deer with a pair of warming eyes. It is the deer she considers her life partner instead of her demanding husband who always sees her as weird and unsettled and not the kind of wife he wants her to be. He even thinks her excessive sexual appetite annoying, not letting her get what she wants while he himself strays away and has sex with another woman.

And this is also where the problem lies. The protagonist’s husband never (or, never wants to) fulfill her huge, endless sexual needs that when she knows her married neighbor has his eyes on her, she directly jumps into an affair with him. Her husband flies into a rage, of course, but while you know unfaithfulness is never the right thing, you cannot blame her. You would demand faithfulness from the husband as well, and since he cannot give that, you would stand up for her.

But a secret affair is not the only problem wrecking their marriage. The protagonist’s unusual (if you want to call it “unusual”) sexual appetite has also created another one: the husband sends her to a mental facility. What then makes the reader feel unsettled is all the patients there are male, except her. This action by the husband can be interpreted by the reader as misogynistic, being based on an opinion that women with such sexual desire are “not normal”. Is that how the world sees them?

The entire narrative bottles up pressure and frustration, resulting in having unrestrained demons screaming for freedom inside oneself. This having demons doesn’t mean that women are evils, as misogynists might think, but that they are not liberated the way they want to be, or should be. If this book seems to be the total opposite of misogynistic, whatever you might call it, then it is. All male characters here do not seem to be a good man to the protagonist—not her husband, not her lover, and definitely not her father-in-law, who never loves his wife. It feels like the protagonist (or, the writer) wants to say that if “normal people” can be misogynistic, then why can’t we be the opposite? Die, My Love seems to want to demand justice for women, for “unusual women”, that is, in a very extreme way. And it just doesn’t care, it doesn’t want to pretend the other way around.

What might become a problem here is actually the protagonist herself. Not her demonic character, but her silence. Why does she keep silent in the entire story? Why, every time she and her husband have disagreements, she never argues or expresses her opinions? Why does she never say no? Because she never has a choice? Is that how the writer portrays all women in the world and the mentality that, sadly, get them fall under patriarchy: do as you’re told, keep quiet, don’t fight back. And if everything doesn’t go well or as you like it, turn to the backstreet, fight from the dark.

But perhaps that is just the case, and Die, My Love is the written proof of this sad situation, of all women’s frustration. And if this difficult premise is already hard enough to chew over, then readers might want to prepare themselves for the difficult writing style: no names, no quotation marks for conversations, no clear distinction between the past and the present. Everything is blended, everything is like in a daze, yet so strong and poignant and heart-tugging. And Harwicz doesn’t seem to want to give the reader a certain ending, only hope for freedom.

I wouldn’t say that Harwicz’s Die, My Love is a super marvelous work of feminist literature, and reading it might give you a headache (literally), but it’s a screaming voice that we should consider for it’s own sake. It’s something different about someone different, and not a few people might be able to relate to it.

“It’s not that I’m assuming I want to slit his throat. I’m only saying that submission pisses me off.”

Rating: 3.5/5