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.
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.