Titles in the BTW series—with “BTW” standing for “by the way,” as in “by the way, have you heard about such and such an author?”— feature work by new and emerging Indonesian writers. This series of mini-books is aimed at publishers, editors, and literary critics.
Cok Sawitri’s stories shed light on the lives of modern Balinese people and the various challenges they face. Readers are invited to examine the Balinese psyche, mainly their essential need for balance between traditional customs and modern-day life. But external conflicts aren’t Sawitri’s only forte; she also looks into people’s hearts.
The poetry of Hanna Fransisca is heavily-laden with Chinese cultural metaphors. The pleasures of eating and cooking might be shadowed by violence and sacrifice, or even eroticism and sadism. We hear multiple voices in Fransisca’s poetry: those of both the minority Chinese and all the women who struggle against the confines of patriarchy.
History fascinates in the hands of M. Iksaka Banu. The stories in this collection feature well-crafted characters acting at key moments in Indonesia’s colonial past. Indonesia’s history has frequently been told through Western eyes. Now, M. Iksaka Banu reclaims the past and makes it come alive for today’s readers.
What distinguished Mona Sylviana’s writing, is her willingness to look at the dark side of life and to confront societal issues head on. In Mona’s stories, the world is not a safe place for women. Yet her characters do not respond to situations as passive objects or victims; they challenge the accepted order.
Clara Ng’s stories seem calm on the surface but they are liberally sprinkled with black humor and often contain unexpected elements of surprise. Her protagonists are usually women but rarely do they hold the same occupation. Ng’s stories are boundless; they serve as role models for women employed in a range of fields.
The book’s title, Ars Poetica, clues you in: the essays herein constitute a reflection on the art of poetry. With their lyrical language, Hasif’s essays are practically poems in disguise. Hasif writes as if in conversation with a friend for whom there is no need to lecture or show-off his knowledge.
Joko Pinurbo, a graduate of the Sanata Dharma Teachers College in Yogyakarta, first came to literary attention in the 1980s. He is known for his lack of pretense—both in his life and his work—and has published nine books of poetry, many of them prize-winners. In 2014 he received the SEA-Write Award.
The characters in Linda Christanty’s stories are placed in situations that force them to battle their inner demons. The achievement of personal insight, however, does not necessarily mean that her characters achieve redemption or resolution to their problems. Christanty explores the dark side of lives fraught with bitterness and gloom.
Zeffry Alkatiri’s collection of poems is a romp through history in verse. These poems are flashes of past events that are unrolled to form a historical mosaic of Indonesia’s capital city. Starting with the Dutch turning Jacatra into Batavia, the poems paint a unique picture of the development Jakarta has undergone to date.
Yusi Avianto Pareanom’s fictional characters are inseparable from their environment and cultural norms. The plots of these stories are no less idiosyncratic than their themes. With their focus on the urban environment, the lifestyles of the middle-class, and popular culture, the stories in this selection will appeal to readers of both serious and popular literature.
Ben Sohib’s stories, often set in Jakarta and with their panoramic backdrop of urban Muslim life, contain fierce criticism against religious radicalism and serve to admonish people who lightly use religious arguments to justify their actions. The author delivers his criticism in a light-hearted manner, making his stories the stuff of dark humor.
Siti Nurbaya by Marah Rusli is a classic novel that remains poignant even today. When it was first published, the novel made great impact on the region which was then known as the Dutch East Indies. But the novel stays relevant; the injustice experienced by key female characters in the novel is still a controversial topic in today’s Indonesia. Rich in descriptions, dense with foreboding, and filled with the inexorable workings of fate, Siti Nurbaya is much more than Samsu and Siti Nurbaya’s ill-fated love story. Siti Nurbaya documents the conflict between the dreams of a younger generation and stifling traditions. First published in 1928, Siti Nurbaya is still in print today and has been translated into several languages. HB Jassin, the prominent Indonesian literary critic, named Marah Rusli the first Indonesian modern novelist.
These neatly-constructed post-modern tales demonstrate the author’s skill at deception. Even in stories that contain portraits of reality, readers are compelled to question whether such “reality” is, indeed, real. These are stories that take jibes at both realist literature (with its emphasis on the social qualities of humankind) and absurd literature (which emphasizes humankind’s isolation).
Acep Zamzam Noor’s poems wrap silence around images of death and failure. Beauty and, of course, life itself is transitory. They are things that quickly pass, reminds Noor. The reader, when trying to uncover the meaning of the poet’s surreal scenes, learns much about the meaning of his own existence.
Warih Wisatana’s poems often present an unusual scene, which invites the reader to question the reality of that scene. His poems are not meant to shock, however: their voices are gentle, not forceful. He delves into the cultural heritage of the archipelago without the intention of revitalizing local color or political identity.
Avianti Armand is a writer, architect, and curator. She began to write architectural reviews in 1992 but turned her hand to poetry and short stories in 2008. Her work as both architect and author has garnered several awards and gained her wide recognition.