fiction, review

Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang

Such a tricky title this book has. Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang by Andrea Hirata is not actually about anyone named Maryamah Karpov, nor is it really about Lintang. In some ways it is about, like the previous three, reaching our dreams of life, but this fourth book of the Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy is more of a story about dreaming of finding the long-lost love than of a hilarious saga about dreaming of getting higher, better education. This book was first published in 2008 and had been arousing bitter controversy and criticism ever since. After reading it completely, I’d rather take the public’s side.

Written in a darker atmosphere, Hirata sort of  puts Ikal in a desperate search of his first and forever love, A Ling. Here, Ikal casts himself as the victim of an unfair love story and is willing to do everything, even the impossible, to find A Ling. He tells us how his mission to find her has been his biggest dream all along, how he has no qualms about walking across Africa and the Europe, sweating over making his own boat, taking a voyage to every island scattered across the Belitong, fighting against some dark, ancient, backward pirates, and mostly, about surrendering his life. I would personally say that the very idea of the love journey being narrated is not that exceptional, for every love story has that same base. However, of course, love story is never made only to end happily ever after. And the book proves it so.

Ever being observant of his cultural surroundings, Hirata keeps his portrayal of characters deep and accurate, especially those of the Malay people in Belitong, to say the least. This book has also a unique plot and an unpredictable end. Fortunately, much to my surprise, Hirata gets his strong narrative back to the top spot, though it doesn’t help the faulty over-the-top story. I must say that this book is just too much to a fault. Some things are just overwhelming that they seem to stray away from the main scope of the story. Some parts even bored me to tears. The only thing which still gripped me tightly while reading it is none other than Hirata’s writing style. Though darker in its atmosphere, Maryamah Karpov is still well-written, smart, and hilarious, so typical of Hirata. He definitely never fails to engage me in his storytelling.

All things considered, I’d say that Maryamah Karpov: Mimpi-mimpi Lintang is an anticlimax of the Laskar Pelangi Tetralogy, although Andrea Hirata himself said that this is not the end. So if you are not Hirata’s fans, you’d rather pass this book on. In my opinion, this is the worst book of the four installments, the most dragging, and the most unnecessary number. If this is really not the end, well, I’ll expect a better thing coming from Andrea Hirata next time.

Rating: 2.5/5

fiction, review

Sang Pemimpi

Laskar Pelangi doesn’t stop where it does. In fact, it continues to the next installment, revealing the other side of Ikal’s life. Though not as booming as the previous one, namely Laskar Pelangi itself, Andrea Hirata’s 2006 Sang Pemimpi can still attract a wide readership. Packed in a thinner, denser book, it continues to tell about dreams and the essential, hard-and-fast struggle to reach them. Set in Ikal’s early through late teens, its hopeful atmosphere strongly brings you to a wide awake state of mind, getting you out of the sleep of pessimism.

Still told from Ikal’s point of view, the story begins with his high school life together with his two best friends, Arai and Jimbron. He describes, in an as much hilariously pitiful way as Laskar Pelangi, how hard it is to live under extreme poverty with an extreme dream of reaching further, greater education. At some point in their teenage life, they dream of getting their further education in France, where art and knowledge live, and exploring the earth up from the Europe to Africa. In reality, the three of them are merely ordinary students, doubling as under-paid labors living in a poor, isolated small village which has only one high school. Nevertheless, they keep their dreams alive by struggling and striving non stop.

The characters of Ikal, Arai, and Jimbron show no abatement of spirit, which is the very soul of the story. They never cease to hope and believe in miracle and hard work. They show that no matter how hard it is to live under poverty, no matter how harsh the reality is, nothing is impossible as long as they’re eager and willing to do everything in their power to achieve their goal.

The best thing about Sang Pemimpi, to my thinking, is Hirata’s strong consistency in his style of writing: culturally witty, hilariously pitiful, and scientific in the most humorous way. It’s smart, without being smart aleck, yet enjoyable, making you forget its weakness appeared here and there, namely, if I may say, its weak narrative. I have to say that Laskar Pelangi has stronger and more poignant narrative. Though having no flaws in its plot, which is presented still in a recollection way of storytelling, Sang Pemimpi makes you think that you’re merely reading just another popular book. However, Hirata’s laughable ironic sentences keep it enjoyable to read. Sort of making me forgive the author’s inconceivable, sloppy decline in writing.

All in all, I still highly recommend this book to everyone. This book doesn’t only give you hopes, but drives you to get up and start to work on your biggest dream. Regardless of its unbelievably weak narrative, Sang Pemimpi is still a great, inspirational novel with great characters to follow.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Laskar Pelangi

Andrea Hirata’s Laskar Pelangi is just a fascinating tale of reaching dreams and the existence of miracle. It was first published in 2005 and has won national and international acclaim. It is one of the most widely read Indonesian literary works, one which has and continues to gain a very wide readership. It is its theme of “reaching dreams”, I believe, which is responsible for its huge success. Reaching dreams, however undeniably common, is what everyone is struggling for today. Hirata has cleverly altered his personal experience into something people desperately need to read to boost up their morale.

Told from Ikal’s point of view, Laskar Pelangi’s first pages present his lamentation over his boring, unmoving life. But then at some point his grumbling takes him to memories of his childhood, where life can be so bitter and hopeless. Back when he is a kid, living in a poor isolated village in Belitong with extremely minimum educational facility, Ikal is stepping on to a narrow, winding path towards what we would call “dreams of education” as he enters an almost-closed school, SD Muhammadiyah. With only ten students, including Ikal, the school can finally run, relying on what limited facility they have. Page after page, event after event, ordeal after ordeal that befall those kids, the Laskar Pelangi, emanate an atmosphere of determination and persistence no matter how hard they have to stand up on a shaky ground.

In any case, the kids of Laskar Pelangi are basically depicted as unflawless people with unflawless lives. Taking a look at Lintang, who is the smartest and the brightest of all, we have to uneasily agree that life doesn’t always turn out as we want it to. This unpredictability of life is clearly evident as those kids grow up: some becoming a very successful figure, some working as a labor, some frustrating over his job, some drowning into mental illness. This is the point where Hirata’s humbly telling us that life can be as much miraculous as disastrous. Nevertheless, Laskar Pelangi is not a novel which leads its reader to mournful pondering. Its characters, its plot, its implied message drive its reader to hope, to move, to work, and to be optimistic no matter what.

Hirata, as Ikal, narrates his dream saga in a culturally witty style, making it hilarious to follow. Impressively, this point of view doesn’t make it illogical in how the story is arranged. I found it more of a recollection of his childhood with personal understanding of his friends’ characters poured into vivid and clear sentences, random yet unpuzzling, rather than of a carefully structured narrative. So unfortunately, the slow movement and occasionally incorrect sentence composition make the writing a little bit weak and clumsy. Being a new author at the point of writing this novel, it could be slightly excusable. However, some readers might not want to let it go.

All things considered, Laskar Pelangi could be precisely perceived as a great debut novel from Andrea Hirata. Leaving aside the debate out there over whether or not it is worth being called a “literary work”, and its inevitably reckless flaws, Laskar Pelangi is still a great work of fiction (if you want to call it so), a great story of pursuing and reaching dreams, a great mean of retaining hopes and optimism. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is in need of good and inspiring read.

Rating: 3.5/5