Book Stories


World Kid Lit Review: The Adventures of Na Willa

Apr 22, 2020 / The Adventures of Na Willa
“D’you know what, Mummy? That book is actually far more interesting than I thought it was going to be.” Praise for Na Willa from a nine-year-old boy.

‘The Wandering’: Intan Paramaditha’s magical red shoes

Apr 12, 2020 / The Wandering
In the novel The Wandering, the protagonist gives into temptation and makes a deal with the devil. He gives her a pair of magical red shoes that allows her to fulfill her greatest desire: to travel the world. The devil’s gift, however, comes with a stern warning: “Adventure, or more precisely, wandering, will be your eternal lot. You will find shelter, but never home.” So begins the protagonist’s – and the reader’s – journey. Written in an interactive format similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s series, The Wandering, which was first published in 2017 in the original Indonesian as Gentayangan, moves from one place to the next, be it Berlin, New York, Lima or Amsterdam.

Writing Orang-orang Oetimu, Writing Wounds

Mar 26, 2020 / Orang-Orang Oetimu
Two years ago, in 2018, a book by a little-known author won the Jakarta Arts Council annual award for best novel and became one of the most widely discussed texts in contemporary Indonesian literary circles. Orang-orang Oetimu (People of Oetimu) by Felix K. Nesi is a portrait of a small fictional town on the island of Timor in eastern Indonesia. The book clearly stands out for its satirical wit, cyclical structure, and cohesive navigation of myriad perspectives. However, also remarkable is the way in which Nesi – himself originally from Timor—depicts the province of East Nusa Tenggara, a peripheral region that is seldom represented in Indonesian literature. His is a humorous yet fully heartfelt depiction of life in the context of pervasive violence in Timor. From 1974 to 1998, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) led a fight for East Timorese independence, and the Indonesian state in Jakarta attempted to crush the separatist movement at all costs, committing gross violations of human rights against members of the revolutionary movement and civilians alike. In representing the reality of Timor, Nesi also exposes political and social ills from across the Indonesian archipelago. Today, Nesi continues to command attention in Indonesia as one of the country’s emerging literary voices. In the first weeks of 2020, the author spoke on his process for writing Orang-orang Oetimu in Yogyakarta, a university city on the island of Java. He began by expressing the motivations behind writing one of his characters: Laura, a young woman who, in the novel, is kidnapped, separated from her parents, detained without trial, tortured and abused, before finally escaping into the forest and stumbling upon a small kampung. From Nesi’s powerful, personal anecdote on Laura’s character arose a reflection on the main concerns embedded in his novel: trauma, both personal and collective; politics of identity and representation within Indonesia; and the simultaneous power and futility of storytelling. The following translation of the essay he read aloud acts both as an important exploration of those themes and as an introduction to the work of this compelling new voice in Indonesian literature.

Books Roundup: Shirl, Blueberries, The Wandering

Mar 11, 2020 / The Wandering
Remember the feeling you had as a child reading a choose-your-own-adventure novel? Your future felt near, your options seemed endless. In The Wandering: Choose Your Own Red Shoes Adventure, Intan Paramaditha attempts to create this same feeling in adults. Stephen J Epstein translated Paramaditha’s fist work, Apple and Knife, a short story collection reframing traditional fairy tales, and he is back for a second time translating The Wandering from the original Indonesian. Like in her previous work, familiar folktale elements appear throughout: Pacts with the devil, magic mirrors, witches and gnomes, the Wizard of Oz and Rumpelstiltskin. But this is more than a short story collection. Paramaditha uses the choose-your-own-adventure format to ask the reader to reflect on the choices we have, as well as the choices we don’t.

Let’s talk about sex: ‘C*bul’ puts spotlight on porn

Mar 11, 2020 / C*bul: Perbincangan Serius Tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer
Sex and pornography have been controversial topics in Indonesia for years and are often taboo simply because discussing them will always intersect with traditions, norms, religious beliefs and the law. Hendri Yulius has no such qualms. The young Indonesian writer and lecturer of gender and sexuality studies breaks the boundaries with his new book titled C*abul: Perbincangan Serius Tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer (Pervert: A Serious Discourse on Contemporary Sexuality). Released in late 2019 by Marjin Kiri Publisher, the book unveils contemporary sexuality from a pornographic point of view. It is noteworthy for the fact alone that nonfictional books on sexuality, pornography and eroticism are few and far between in Indonesia.

Twisted Stories

Mar 09, 2020 / Kitchen Curse
Ten years ago, I read Eka Kurniawan’s “The Otter Amulet” (Jimat Sero), a story about a former bully victim who uses an amulet to protect himself from harm, an outsider trying to fit in. It was written for a horror story anthology, a tribute to Indonesia’s most prolific horror writer Abdullah Harahap, that Eka co-wrote with Ugoran Prasad and myself. I was struck, perhaps with envy, by the way he presents horror that creeps in silently. I was not shocked by the violent scenes but rather the perverse moments revealing the uncanny ways in which the protagonist sees and understands events. It is a story about the horror of looking. In Eka Kurniawan’s universe, the gaze can be disturbing, exposing the darker side of what it means to be human.

Clarissa Goenawan pens tale of teenage misfits’ gothic soul-searching

Mar 08, 2020 / The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
Mainstream stories about popular teenagers can be a little bit boring sometimes, since their lives are kind of predictable and go smoothly most of the time. What is not so predictable is the second novel of Indonesian-born Singaporean author Clarissa Goenawan, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, which is scheduled to be released on March 10 via SoHo Press. It follows the lives of Ryusei (male) and Chie (female), two invisible, perhaps even ill-fitting teenage university students as they try to make sense of the suicide of their close friend Miwako Sumida.

Rendang by Will Harris — poems that brim with soul and playfulness

Mar 06, 2020 / Rendang
One of the standout scenes in Rendang rises from a second-hand memory in the daydream of a bored poet in a dressing room. A couple see a woman on the street dancing, hood over head, can of Diet Coke in hand: “The wind blew/and she nearly lost her balance but not only did she/not fall, she performed a kind of hop/and skip.” It’s one of many moving portraits of everyday grace in the debut collection of Will Harris, a young Anglo-Indonesian poet who has already won the acclaim of the Forward Prizes (Best Single Poem shortlist, 2018) and the Arts Foundation (Poetry Fellow, 2019).

The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha review – existential journeys

Mar 06, 2020 / The Wandering
The Wandering is the Indonesian writer Intan Paramaditha’s first novel (her first story collection to appear in English, Apple & Knife, came out in 2018). And what a debut it is: an ingenious choose-your-own-adventure challenge, it is at least five books in one, a series of forking paths as imagined by Leibniz, Borges or Deleuze. It opens with a Faustian bargain. After steamily copulating with Mephistopheles, the narrator receives a magic pair of sparkly red high heels that will take her anywhere she likes, with a note: “Their owner was a witch, but she is long dead.” She wakes to find herself in New York City, about to board a plane to Berlin or Amsterdam or Zagreb. But which? That is up to you, reader. You will be addressed in the second person, in keeping with the conventions of the choose-your-adventure form, blending you with the narrator, and conferring upon you a god-like omnipotence. (To an extent, that is: Paramaditha hasn’t written a path for you to chuck it all in and play pinochle in a retirement community in the south of France.)

C*bul: Perbincangan Serius Tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer by Hendri Yulius

Mar 06, 2020 / C*bul: Perbincangan Serius Tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer
Hendri Yulius’ C*bul: Perbincangan Serius Tentang Seksualitas Kontemporer unveils the contemporary sexuality from the pornographic points of view. The content of the books itself is noteworthy because there are not so many non-fiction books that exposes the issues on sexuality, pornography and eroticism. The book itself begins its premise through an intriguing quote by Leo Bersani from his writing Receptive Bodies saying, “Does sex exist?” Hendri starts his discussion with the importance of telling the readers about sexuality and pornography. Marquis de Sade is placed as a pedestal of the allegory and Hendry further illustrates others opinions uttered by several philosophers.