Please forgive my presumptuousness but I think it is an absolute masterpiece. This book-lover had a quite different opinion but to me “Het getal Fu” really is a must read. A treasure chest of over 500 pages. Brilliant construction, substantial content, overwhelming amount of factual and relevant details and an elegant style of writing.
I had some doubts after I read translations of “Saman” (in Dutch translation “Samans Missie”) and Larung. Good, interesting books , perhaps even revolutionary in their cultural and political conservative context, but in a wider perspective more or less conventional and traditional.
It’s different now.
This book on the surface seems to be about friendship. Sandi Yuda and Parang Yati, contrasting as their personalities are, share a passion for climbing – and to some extent for a lady, their break and hyphen Marja. The first one represents modern lifestyle, the other is the champion of tradition conservation. But actually these fascinating characters are not the main subject. Nature, ocean, trees, rocks and mountains they climb and traditional culture and spirituality are. Or rather the attacks on this fading old charmed, enchanted world. The book is abundant with detailed and beautiful stories which tell the present and the roots of this world. And the stress which threatens it.
It first and foremost is a very eloquent charge against the three villains that jeopardize environment. Actually the book is a triptych with the three parts bearing their names : modernity (industry & commerce), monotheism (Islam & Christianity) and militarism (Special Forces & Militias). While the myths, legends, ghosts, animated springs, woods, rivers, seas and spirits made people experience awe and respect in relation to nature, this violent trio destroys and exploits natural resources and tries cunningly, violently and ruthlessly to crush this world’s traditional guard, traditional animism and polytheism. The author describes a frightening and shady reality in which these three forces cooperate and use each other to obtain that goal.
Charismatic and passionate environmentalist Parang Yati ultimately pays with his life for his ideals, while the relatively shallow Sandi Yuda, from whose perspective the story is told, saves his ass.
“Het getal Fu” is an awesome read. A superior blend of literature, philosophy as well as cultural and political commitment. Ayu Utami created a professionally and smartly woven web in which she in a very intelligent way uses all the many items in her writer’s tool-kit. The myths and religious movements are there, the historical “by-the-ways”, the theories on numbers, the role and harsh fate of deformed people, the village life. She even managed to smoothly integrate Wajang drawings and newspaper articles in the main story. The outcome is proof that superb creativity builds on a lot of research.
This book was an extremely ambitious project. And it well have may resulted in what eventually will turn out to be the great Indonesian novel – well at least the one of the first decade in the 21st century. I think Ayu Utami now joined the league of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. Who also is an author who combines literature with social and political commitment. The main difference between them is that Ayu Utami lacks the advantage of writing in English and therefore her scope unfortunately is smaller.
As a random amateur reviewer I should be modest and only prudently whisper my praise. Yet I want to shout it from the roof: hereby I declare “Bilangan Fu” ( “Het getal Fu“) to be world class.