The Pilgrim, first published in 1969, has been hailed as Indonesia’s first real modern novel. The main characters are an artist and a cemetery overseer; the former represents emotion and the latter signifies reason and the conflicting aspects of human nature. Despite the characters’ antagonistic nature and cruelty, they are—in some ways—very similar. Both represents forms of creativity, philosophy, and art. Both exist outside conventional society. Both are searching for genuine human values and are aware of their shortcomings. In The Pilgrim, the chaos of thought and feelings represents life in its chaotic randomness.
Violence, money, and melodrama are the volatile ingredients of The Rape of Sukreni. Written in the 1930s, The Rape of Sukreni is a modern Indonesian classic that is concerned with the Balinese-Hindu notion of karma, and the impact of modern commerce on Balinese society. More telling today than when it was first written, The Rape of Sukreni offers a unique, insider’s dark view of the island’s future that violently challenges the conventional image of Bali as a honeyed paradise.
First published in 1927, Kwee Tek Hoay’s The Rose of Cikembang is an excellent example of the peranakan literature of the Netherlands East Indies that flourished between the 1900s and 1942 when the Japanese occupation in Indonesia began. Highly sentimental, the novel is rich in many of the controversial themes that Kwee was famous for: inter-racial love and the lives of its offspring, fate and karma, mysticism and reincarnation. In pre-war Indonesia, Kwee Tek Hoay’s novels were loved by urban readers. The Rose of Tjikembang, his most popular novel, was filmed twice, first in the early 1930s and again in the 1970s.
The Saga of Siti Mariah, a translation of Hikayat Siti Mariah by Haji Mukti, is a window into the workings of Cultuurstelsel, the forced cultivation system imposed by the colonial government in the Dutch East Indies from 1830 until 1870. Embedded in this book’s pages are the lives of the Dutch sugar barons, indigenous elite, European officials, and Chinese middlemen who were enriched under the system, intersected by the lives of Javanese peasants who suffered under its yoke.
Arrested as a leftist-activist in 1966, Putu Oka Sukanta was imprisoned until 1976. In The Starling, he speaks of the terrible degradation of humanity and the inner strength and solidarity of comradeship which emerge in the extreme conditions of imprisonment. The poems go on to explore the painful steps in the reconstruction of life and social meaning after the prison gates have opened.
In the early 1910s, Semaoen was sentenced to prison for sedition by the Dutch colonial government. The Story of Kadirun, a semi-autobiographical novel, reveals with honesty and comprehensive insight the unjust treatment towards the indigenous people from a historical perspective. Kadirun’s tale, with its picture of the life of the Javanese during the colonial era, tells the readers what must be done to make the world a place fit to live in.
A landmark novel, The Weaverbirds is a tale of physical and spiritual struggles. The story spans from the formative days of Indonesia’s independence to Indonesia’s oil crisis in the mid 1970s. Larasati, the precious daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Antana, and Setadewa, the army-brat son of Capt. And Mrs. Brajabasuki, are childhood friends. But when they are older, they find themselves on the opposite sides of the country’s political spectrum. Even with their many differences, their relationship offers guidance to survival in a chaotic world.
Set in a small hotel in Yogyakarta, this play is a tale of thwarted aspirations and the mundane realities of adult life. It is also a commentary on the fluidity of sexual behavior as one female and two male characters try to ascertain the meaning of their relations with one another.
In 1953, when Sitor Situmorang published his first collection of poetry, Green Paper Letters (Surat Kertas Hijau), he established himself as a prominent poet. In an essay he wrote some thirty years later, he would state that the poems of this collection expressed a single theme only: “love and wanderlust being two aspects of one and the same experience.”
To Love, To Wander, with poems dating from throughout Sitor’s productive writing career, is a travelogue, describing forty years of ontinuous love and wandering. It would be difficult to characterize his poetic work as a whole, even though the travelogue we could draw on the basis of a careful reading seems to deny every idea of development and change.
The main characteristic of Sitor’s poetry is the simplicity of its wording, the clarity of its syntax. The tales and descriptions bear a deceptive transparency: they suggest a coherence and control that is only confirmed in the regular rhymes and rhythms – but once readers set themselves to a serious interpretation, that transparency fades. The very lucidity leaves many open places that are not filled by making connections with other poems. Sitor’s poetry is a poetry of words, evoking concepts, calling up series of pictures and images that never come full circle.
This book offers a compelling view of sexual and gender differences through the everyday lives of tombois and their girlfriends (“femmes”). Through rich, in-depth, and provocative stories, author Evelyn Blackwood shows how these same-sex Indonesian couples negotiate their transgressive identities and desires, and how their experiences speak to the struggles and desires of sexual and gender minorities everywhere.
The first Indonesian novel ever to be published in English, Twilight in Jakarta offers a grim cast of characters: corrupt politicians, impotent intellectuals, reckless journalists, manipulative Lefties, and impetuous Moslems, to name a few. Although the novel condemns political practices that were prevalent in 1950s Indonesia, readers will find that it still resonates today, when once again Indonesia adopts a multi-party system with political parties that compete and collaborate at the same time.
Few Indonesian essayists can compete with Nirwan Arsuka in his ability to pull together different strands of thought, periods of history, and fields of knowledge in a cohesive unit that is easy-to-read. Nirwan exercises a remarkably dexterous hand when it comes to bringing characters from the distant past back to life.
Taufik Ikram Jamil’s poetry is filled with references to the geography, history and classic Malay literature. With their Malay flavor and diction, his poems convey a tension between the past and present, between the colloquial and the literary, and between regionalism and nationalism. The poet bequeaths the wealth of the Malay language.