Tropical naturalism; two novels by Okky Madasari

okky 1okky 2

Maryam (2012) which revolves around people who are displaced due to their beliefs and then banned into exile. Maryam has been translated into English under the title The Outcast (2014). Her first novel, Entrok (2010) which tells a story about military dominance during Indonesia’s New Order Era, has been translated also into English language with the title The Years of The Voiceless (2013).

 

One of the most wonderful ladies in Jakarta  sent this parcel a couple of months ago. Anonymously ! But I know who she is :).

It’s content? Two items, two examples of today’s Indonesian literature. By Okky Puspa Madasary, who is a very prolific and successful Indonesian author and literary prize winner. She published four novels within the timespan of only four years. That’s really extraordinary.

Perhaps she would be shocked if her novels would be compared to those of Emile Zola. After all she herself considers modern classic celebrities Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault and Edward Said to be her intellectual roots. Which in the case of Gramsci is a brave admission -at least when you are a citizen in Indonesia’s anti-socialist environment.

Yet judging by the contents of the novels I recently read, she also is a literary great-great granddaughter of the great French naturalistic author. While on the surface the focus of the two stories seems to be on the relation between daughter and mother, de facto the absence of rule of law which turns a religious minority in prosecuted victims and the exploitation and abuse of common people in the New Order military system, is what these books really are about. “The outcast” (Maryam  = name of the main character) and “The years of the Voiceless” (Entrok – = bra) expose the dark harshness of a life of  vice and misery, of discrimination and exploitation, of oppression and violence, of corruption and arbitrariness, of poverty and racism in Indonesia’s recent history. That, in my opinion, very much resembles hardcore tropical naturalism. And, by the way it fits one of my four preferred themes: vulnerable people and their human condition.

I like the novels :). With all my heart.

And what about the brain? Because the question whether these novels are good or even excellent books, has yet to be answered.

The answer will be given by history and the forum of literary pundits of which I’m definitely not a member. Apsanti Djokosujatno however is. He wrote she is in the league of, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Pedantic as it may be, I think that’s an exaggeration. Though my appraisal may have been influenced by the translation. I guess an able editor could have worked wonders – at least for “The Outcast”.

Now of course her books no doubt are a good, entertaining read, because  Okky Madasari is an excellent storyteller. They are relevant, because they deal with real problems the people of Indonesia had and have to cope with. They carry the reader easily away, because the main characters resemble people you can’t but sympathize with.

But “The Outcast” as well as “The Years of the Voiceless” suffer from overload. Too much. Slightly too much urgency. Perhaps even slightly too much of an activist lampoon.

Maybe the ambitions caused overreach also. While dealing with the development of the relation between daughter and mother, the books also address the struggle of modern women with tradition. On top of that the whole range of social, economic, religious and political tensions of the New Order comes along in a critical sense.

Real hors concours novels have to be timeless. Now Okky Madasari deliberately choose to write for here and now. That’s a very respectable choice but creates the danger of setting the sights too high at this stage of her career.

One more detail. I’m not excited about the author’s choice of perspective – the third person narrative. It’s common and fits late nineteenth century naturalism. But I’m afraid that’s more or less outdated. It produces a lot of description and relatively few dialogue. Which doesn’t help the reader to use his/her imagination. It’s a pitfall the author couldn’t always avoid.

So, a new, female, Pramoedya? No, not yet.

************************************************************************

Yet.

All in all, in spite of some flaws, I really enjoyed the novels. The author is ok, she is young, she is an interesting representative of a new generation of Indonesian authors. So I hope to lay hands on her other books – one dealing with corruption, one with individual freedom.

 

I don’t want to join the choir of Islam bashers.

Personil Satuan polisi Pamong Praja (Satpol PP) wanita Pemerintah Kota Banda Aceh saat mengawal dakwah umum jumatan di Banda Aceh, Jumat (19/9).

Even in colonial days Aceh was a special case in Indonesia. It’s not different now. It’s the only province to apply Shariah for Muslims. That’s remarkable in a secular state.

However it’s still a relatively moderate version of it.  Fortunately that part of Indonesia is not comparable to Saudi Arabia. Let alone IS.

Yet.

Change may be on it’s way.  It looks like it’s getting worse, I mean. The provincial administration is about to extent Shariah to all inhabitants of Aceh. Including ultra small minorities, like Christians.

No, I still don’t want to join the choir of Islam-bashers.

But by Zeus and Wodan, these days a number of so called Muslims do their utmost to push me to the brink !

Ten books that matter to me

boekenShow me your library and I will tell you who you are…

My mother used to read books to me. A lot. Often the same book,  at my request. Over and over again. When I was five I knew “Jantje’s eerste boek” (H Kaal, 1933) from cover to cover by heart. From that moment on, from the moment I could read myself, I’ve been a real ardent reader. Definitely after I finished Johan Fabricius’ fabulous book for boys, “De scheepsjongens van Bontekoe” (1924. Bontekoe’s ship-boys), which is set in the 17th century and tells the story of a few boys from the city of Hoorn sailing on an VOC ship to the East Indies. I was eleven or twelve years old and it may have shaped my lifetime appetite for literature and Indonesia ;-). Though a few years later there was a serious lull as far as my literary interest is concerned.At the peak of my  puberty the dictatorship of hormones directed my attention almost exclusively to the fairer sex.

Back to subject.

Now it happened the other day that fellow blogger, Fallissa Putri, asked ten persons to mention ten books that matter most to them. And to do so spontaneously.

Till now I didn’t respond to her request. Because… Well, just try yourself and you’ll find that it is tough. Frankly, it’s practically impossible to mention those books out of hand, to do so without taking a time out to think it over first.

As a book-lover you’ve read more than ten books which did stick on your mind. Most likely scores of books are or were important and dear to you. And moreover it’s quite a challenge to make a ranking. And of course there are several ways in which books can matter; style, content, emotion, plot, dialogues, intellectual or moral compass quality, whatever. Also for each of them there may be a separate list of most influential first ten books. Last but not least you can’t choose without asking yourself “why?” first.

Yet, after taking some time, I came to a conclusion. Several conclusions actually.

It seems it’s not the plot which is crucial to me. Nor the psychological development of the main characters. And, though it’s very important while reading, not even the style of writing.  Rather I tend to get hooked by books’ emotional atmosphere first and foremost. Books which go to my guts before influencing my brains I like best. So I select by using that criterion.

Next I noticed themes matter. Much. Four of them are of utmost interest to me apparently.

As someone who grew up and was educated during ( ’39 – ’45) and in the aftermath ( ’45 – ’55) of WO II, it is not that surprising that that global catastrophe is the first theme.  This specific war has been a literary crystallisation point for the largest part of my life ( * – scroll down for my three favourites in this category).

Probably adolescent  and student years ( 18 – 25 ) are the most determining stage in one’s life. In my life and times those were the years of high hopes and idealism. Leftist ideals mostly to me. No wonder the second main theme of my reading life is the  demise of the great ideals of socialism (social democracy) ( **  –  scroll down for my three favourites)

The next, third theme I seem to be obsessed by, is the melancholy of vulnerable people, their human condition ( like Malraux coined it).  The attempts of such ordinary people, common people, decent people, to compromise with or surrender to the  overwhelming challenges of life. It’s a popular genre, books galore.(*** –  scroll down for my two favourites).

My fourth and last theme is also almost obvious: the male perspective. I can’t deny I’m a man after all. Evidently many authors (m/f)  have a feminine perspective ( Isabel Allende) and many are as an author of prose or poetry literary  androgynous ( Paulo Coelho). But I seem to love those who take a masculine approach to their subjects (**** – scroll down for my two favourites).

So ultimately I found  ten novels that constitute the answer Fallissa’s question:

1.  Louis Paul Boon : Kapellekensbaan** (  Chapel Road)

2  Willem Frederik Hermans : De donkere kamer van Damocles*  (The Darkroom of Damocles)

3. Louis Ferdinand Céline : Voyage au bout de la nuit** (Journey to the end of the night)

4. Primo Levi : Se non ora, quando?* (If not now when?)

5. Günter Grass: Die Blechtrommel* (The tin drum)

6.  Bohumil Hrabal: Vita Nuova*** (Vita Nova)

7. Brigitte Reimann:  Ich bedaure nichts ** (I regret nothing)

8. James Salter: A sport and a Pastime ****

9.  Malcolm Lowry : Under the volcano ***

10. Ernest Hemingway: A farewell to arms****

Yokyakarta

yokyakarta

Yokyajarta is a renowned Indonesian city. A popular destination for tourists. One that is inhabited by  hospitable people. It’s a centre of tradition and modern science. Of open mindedness and religion. Where a guy I met, a Muslim, drank a cordial beer or two with me, a non believer, on our brand new friendship ( well, only if we call “Bintang”  genuine beer. Which is open to discussion…).

I hold the city in high esteem.

But  a student, Florence Sihombing, at the famous local university experienced some cracks in the paradise-like surface of Yokyakarta. Or just thought so. And wrote a tough critical review about it on social media. Yokyakarta according to her rant was inhabited by “poor, idiotic and uncivilized”  people. And she wanted it to be known by everyone.

Well, those addressed were not amused. They cried ‘slander’ or similar words. And Florence  got arrested. She apologized and promised not to do that again. But she stayed in custody. Her case became a hype on internet though. And her Alma Mater ran to her rescue. She was set free, but definitely is not off the hook. After saying sorry publicly, governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X asked his subjects to forgive the perpetrator. In spite of that for her the scandal is not over yet.

That is a pretty drastic reaction after some angry words by a ( probably slightly spoiled) young lady.

Overreaction actually. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, is a universal human right after all.

However apparently it’s content and limits are different in different places.

Florence had back luck living at a spot on the globe where the definition of slander ( and I guess libel, religious offense, pornography, obscenity etc also) is much less restricted than elsewhere. If, for instance, I would like to state that my small town’s citizens on average are, lets say, dull, behind the times, egoistic and materialistic followers of capitalistic consumerism, I could do so without the risk of being arrested.

…………………

Hey, by the way, this is an opportunity for me to vent some personal anger.

So, for the sake of solidarity with Florence and because of the urge I feel to at long last frankly speak my mind on my home town Zeist, I repeat that it’s

dull,

behind the times,

egoistic,

materialistic,

and crowded with petty capitalist consumers.

So much for Romantic Love?

Muze

“When a love relation comes to an end it shows that a lot of emotional bookkeeping had been taking place all the time while it lasted: ‘what did I receive in return for what I gave?’ “.

It’s a quote from last night’s ( 29.08.2014)  interview with Esma Linneman on Dutch public radio.  Subject was her autobiographic novel “Muze” (‘Muse, a love story in b-minor’) about an ‘unconditional love’ affair which collapsed.

I wonder is her observation gender-neutral or specifically feminine?

….