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.
Supernova presents a series of intertwined and unconventional love stories with a bit of science and spirituality added to the mix. The characters are urban and tech-savvy youngsters who are caught in different forms of contemporary social conflict. Supernova is a highly-acclaimed novel. The poet Taufiq Ismail wrote, “A renewal has taken place in Indonesia’s literary scene over the past decade. Supernova is intelligent, unique, and a truly exciting exploration into the world of science, spirituality and the nature of love.” The literary critic Jakob Soemardjo also said, “This is an attractive novel by a young writer. It is an intellectual work in the form of pop art, set in the real world. It opposes old values with new ways of understanding, so that readers can see the world in a different way.” Supernova: The Knight, The Princess and The Falling Star is the first in a cycle of a monumental work that consists of six novels.
Putu Wijaya’s debut novel, Telegram, was a literary trendsetter for its synthesis of reality and fantasy. Unapologetically disorienting, the text offers a compelling portrait of Jakarta and Bali in the early 1970s. The novel’s first-person narrator is a Balinese journalist living in Jakarta who receives a telegram informing on his mother’s illness. But nothing is as it seems in Telegram. As readers are brought into the stream of consciousness meanderings of this sympathetic yet troubled and unreliable narrator, what is real and what is not becomes increasingly difficult to tell.
Rendra (1935-2009) is one of Indonesia’s most important poets and dramatists. During his lifetime he embodied the Indonesian sense of what a true artist should be. He was a flamboyant personality, often dubbed “the peacock”. His dedication to his art was absolute, and he gave honest and creative expression to his emotions and thoughts. His writing used a simple, flexible long-limbed free verse that is attractive and immediately accessible.
Raised within a mystical Javanese milieu, Rendra saw nature, the individual and society as potentially forming one harmonious whole. In his poetry and his plays this commitment to personal authenticity and social justice was expressed through stories. He wrote about all sorts of people: himself, his family children and grandchildren, those he met in daily life, the poor, the marginalized, victims of social injustice, women and children forced to live without love. Rendra’s criticism of New Order government development policies led to his detention and the banning of his public reading and performance of his works for almost a decade. His message to those who held power but lacked compassion was simple: “we say NO! and NO! to you”. To life itself, he said: “be and continue to grow” – be present, be centered, and at the same time be constantly in motion, constantly flowing. This book is his testimony to the sacredness of life in all its beauty.
Available in e-book
Atheis (The Atheist), first published in 1949, portrays the spiritual and intellectual crisis of Hasan, a young Muslim who is raised to be devout but comes to doubt his faith after becoming involved with a group of modern young people. Upon publication, religious thinkers, Marxist-Leninists, as well as anarchists decried the novel for not explaining their ideologies in more detail; but literary figures and many in the general public praised it. The novel, considered to be a masterpiece of modern Indonesian literature, is included in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Literary Works.
I La Galigo, the vast Bugis epic myth, is one of the most voluminous works in world literature. The cycle is set in Luwuq, both cradle of Bugis culture and the intial residence on earth of the gods and their descendants. The Birth of I La Galigo is a bilingual publication, utilizing both Indonesian and English, and it represents a contemporary retelling of one of the epic’s most popular episodes.
The Dancer, a trilogy, recounts the tumultuous days of mid-1960s Indonesia. It highlights the lives of Srintil, a dancer, and Rasus, a bewildered young man torn between tradition and political progress. Through experience, both learn the concept of shame and sin: Rasus after he leaves their village and journeys into the world and Srintil when the world finally comes crashing into her remote village. The Dancer gives a ground-level view of the political turmoil leading up to and following the coup in 1965. In 2011, a movie produced by Shanty Harman and directed by Ifa Irfansyah was made based on this trilogy.
The Fall and the Heart by S. Rukiah, first published in 1951, is a classic from Indonesia’s revolutionary era. Our lead character is a young, middle-class woman who’s in conflict with her family because of her lover. The Fall and the Heart is a thoughtful rendition of young people’s emotions, with one foot set on revolution and the other set on personal crisis.
A terrifying and evil king, Jarasandha, is terrorizing the world—taking over countries, imprisoning just and popular kings, and ravaging havoc on communities around the world. The heroic Pandhawa family of five brothers craft a plan together with Kresna to put on a very special ceremony of offerings that will help forge peace in the world. Jarasandha, meanwhile, has made his own pact with the evil forces in the underworld, to sacrifice one hundred kings in order to secure his power. He needs three more leaders, as he has already taken control over ninety-seven. As the three leaders Arjuna, Kresna, and Bima face off with Jarasandha in his kingdom of Giribajra, a grand debate begins on the nature of belief, religion, and rituals—Jarasandha insisting he is in the right, and Kresna debating his every point. The story comes to a climax when the Pandhawa actually do go through with their ceremony of offerings, and various challenges to their own peace of mind force them to examine their own beliefs.
Another books in this package:
The protagonists of the stories in this translated collection all crave a private domain, a place that nobody else can touch. These characters are feisty, non-conformist, and fiercely independent—traits that do not necessarily serve them well in the constraints of the conservative environments in which they find themselves, be that the environment of their family, their work or their country. To read the stories in this collection is to enter the private domain of the characters. It is also to share with those characters their quest for the most elemental thing in life: meaningful connections with other human beings.
The first four decades of the national art theater in Indonesia (1926-1965) were a period of fascinating experimentation undertaken by elite intellectuals heavily influenced by, and attempting to come to terms with, the forms and styles of Western theater. Volume 2 of The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Drama contains a selection of dramas representative of this exciting and pivotal era in the construction of Indonesia’s modern national art theater.
As the New Order government became increasingly authoritarian, there was a clear shift in playwriting style from allegorical fairytales of wordplay, humor and oblique reference to a more direct engagement, interrogation, and call to arms. All in all, Indonesian drama during the New Order provides a fascinating window into a society caught between the legacy of tradition, the challenge of repression, and a strong desire for democratization.
Plays for the Popular Stage, the first volume of The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Drama, offers windows on interethnic cultural obsessions in Indonesia and signs of participation in global trends. Originating with growth of Indonesia’s urban centers in the late 19th century, popular theater addressed a new social constellation: the mass audience. This volume brings together representative plays from the 1890s until the 1960s, including examples of diverse genres that make up Indonesian popular theater: komedi stambul, opera derma, tonil, sandiwara and lenong.
Available in e-book
The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Poetry presents a wide-ranging selection of twentieth-century poetry, more than 325 poems by more than 180 authors, available for the first time in English translation. In Indonesia poetry enjoys a status far and above all other genres. Popular with the public in a way that’s unimaginable in the West, poetry is accessible through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, films and poetry readings. Major historical issues are articulated and negotiated through poetry, such as decolonization and the emergence of national consciousness, ethnic and gendered identities, and the environmental and social effects of modernization. This anthology offers a vivid portrait of twentieth-century Indonesia as seen through the lens of its poetry. As a complement to the Lontar anthologies of Indonesian drama and short stories, The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Poetry offers the unique opportunity to explore the trajectories of a nation and its people through its poetry, which continues to act as the barometer of Indonesian literary life.
The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Short Stories is the first definitive anthology in English of Indonesian short stories from the twentieth century. These two volumes, featuring a selection of 109 of the most popular and influential works of short fiction, span the entire century, from pre-Independence Indonesia to the year 2000, and include many new translations. The editors drew from a wide cross section of Indonesian short story writers with respect to ethnicity, gender, class, and ideology. Volume 2 presents 61 stories dating from the founding of the New Order government that followed a national bloodbath in 1965 to just after its end in 1998 and the dawn of the second millennia. Along with the rise of “newspaper-length short stories” and a dwindling focus on realism, this period was marked by numerous changes in style and form, especially in the last decade of the century when authors, concerned with the militaristic nature of the central government, began to adopt a much more direct approach.
The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Short Stories is the first definitive anthology in English of Indonesian short stories from the twentieth century. These two volumes, featuring a selection of 109 of the most popular and influential works of short fiction, span the entire century, from pre-Independence Indonesia to the year 2000, and include many new translations. The editors drew from a wide cross section of Indonesian short story writers with respect to ethnicity, gender, class, and ideology. Volume 1 presents 48 stories dating back to the days of rising nationalism in the first part of the century to just before the downfall of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, and the rise of a militaristic government following the tragic events of 1965. Stories from the 1920s that drew on oral storytelling traditions and were suffused with nationalistic ideology were gradually replaced by fiction written with realism as a guiding principle. At all times, writers were the unofficial spokespeople for the issues affecting their generation.