While in Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel Sapardi Djoko Damono dares question identities, and later unfolding the disturbing restlessness of divided feelings in Pingkan Melipat Jarak, here in Yang Fana Adalah Waktu the acclaimed senior writer doesn’t seem to show the slightest inclination to give his loyal readers an answer to the big question marks formed back-to-back in the two previous books. Instead, he poses another one, “Is it necessary to question love?” And, to make it even more complicated, is there really any line between existence and non-existence? What does exist and what does not exist?
The last of the trilogy starts with Sarwono’s surreal pondering over his feelings for Pingkan: not a question, it’s more of an affirmation that there is only them, and nothing beyond that. There is only their love, and anything else doesn’t exist. Their relationship, so it seems, is on a very straight path, no twists, no turns, not even a station to stop by. Their love is so true and unquestionable there is no need to make it otherwise.
However, what gets in their way is another’s doubt about another’s relationship. Katsuo, as we know from the two previous books is another man in love with Pingkan, asks her to come and see his fiancée Noriko, the girl personally chosen by his mother. At first Pingkan doesn’t get as to why she should meet the young woman she doesn’t even know who is engaged to the man that loves her in secret. Even if she is the reason why Katsuo feels reluctant to marry Noriko, and she’s aware of it, she doesn’t think she has anything to do with their relationship. But then she sees that Noriko rightly suspects her to be the hindrance to her engagement with Katsuo, and so demands to see her in person. Temporarily uncertain, Pingkan eventually goes to see Noriko, and, unexpectedly, Noriko likes her. So much for jealousy.
Now, the question this book seems to ask, “Is it necessary to question love?” In Pingkan’s and Sarwono’s case, the answer is definitely no. They know they love each other, they know they’re walking on the same path and that anything outside it just doesn’t exist. But they’re also aware that there is another man between them, and, in turn, that Pingkan becomes another woman getting in the way of Katsuo’s and Noriko’s already complicated relationship. And Pingkan is pretty much aware, too, of her role in that brittle engagement so she, eventually, agrees to meet Noriko and solve all the uncertainties there are. Although, in the end, she doesn’t quite solve anything because things get more and more complicated instead, as Noriko puts her engagement on hold and runs away to pursue what she wants to be.
If a question about love is not enough, then Mr. Sapardi gives you another one. In line with Hujan Bulan Juni: Novel and Pingkan Melipat Jarak, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu has also “otherness” as its issue, though not quite in the center of it all like in the first book. Being a liyan, or, that is to say, an alien, is something that Pingkan and Noriko share, as a Javanese-Manadonese and American-Japanese respectively, something that makes it hard for them to be accepted the way they are. But it is what happens most of the time to people like them—people of mixed blood, people who seem to have their feet at two places at the same time and can’t even decide who/what they are, much less getting people’s recognition. This, and its complexity in marriage, is actually a very interesting issue which I don’t think will get old anytime soon and that the writer addressed so well and so thoroughly in Hujan Bulan Juni. Unfortunately, he didn’t do the same here in the last installment. What Noriko has to face as an American-Japanese is merely sort of put on there as an adornment and never gets more attention.
And that is precisely the shortcoming of this novel: that barely anything getting explored properly—not Pingkan’s and Sarwono’s quirky but sweet relationship (they too much talk about somebody else’s), not Katsuo’s and Noriko’s planned, conflicted engagement, not even the “otherness” issue that deserves more room here. Everything appears to run halfway and then stop without further explanation. Well, Mr. Sapardi said that he had promised this series would be a trilogy, so a trilogy it is. But even so, there should be something completed, one or two things concluded. I won’t blame him for leaving the story hanging, but at the very least he could just talk about the sense of alienation more the way he did in Hujan Bulan Juni and so made the narrative strong enough to read. This book, in my honest opinion, is not the end of a trilogy. It’s a goodbye without saying why.
That’s said, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu is still a nice romance novel. The interaction between Pingkan and Sarwono is always loveable, while his with his parents is forever funny (if you understand Javanese language and culture). And Mr. Sapardi is ever poetic, though he didn’t apply that style to the dialogues, which, otherwise, would make them sound weird and unnatural. This book undoubtedly has everything I love about Mr. Sapardi’s fiction works: the jokes, the smooth and poetic narrative, the social issue and criticism (though not thoroughly elaborated), and the impartial characters (Sarwono, from the very beginning, has more or less reminded me of Soekram).
So, in conclusion, Yang Fana Adalah Waktu is basically a lovely book about love. It just lacks the thing that can make it more powerful, especially when it ends with a bit unpleasant cliffhanger. It looks like intentionally designed to be so, and yes, that’s where it hurts. So frankly speaking, among the three installments of this so-called Hujan Bulan Juni trilogy, the first book is still the best one.