Many of Gunawan Maryanto’s stories are reinterpretations of Javanese literary texts which themselves were based on or inspired by episodes in the in the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian texts. Through their retelling, Gunawan shows himself to be part of a long tradition of self-examination and speculation about human motives, dharma, and fate.
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.
S Ann Dunham’s Surviving Against the Odds bears witness to her knowledge of and affection for Indonesia. By the mid1980s, Dunham had begun to see the audience for her work as made up of not just academics, but also Indonesians, aid workers, and foreign analysts whose findings affect the lives of ordinary Indonesians. Rather than going with the academic flow, Dunham stayed true to a research program, all in an effort to speak the truth about power and policy making.
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.
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In The Anatomy of Travel, the distinctiveness of Gerson Poyk’s writing can be seen in the way he portrays local color. This color is found in the themes of his stories, in the characteristics of the protagonists, the names of the characters, the settings where the stories take place, and the plots of his stories, which are simple and straightforward. The nineteen short stories in this collection cover spiritual and social issues in rural society, the difficulties of urban life, and social intercourse with foreigners. Through this collection of short stories, the reader truly travels and is able to taste and smell the colors of the author’s world.
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 is one of the lesser known classics of the Indonesian revolutionary era and arguably the strongest piece of prose writing by an Indonesian woman author before the 1970s. Rukiah’s account of a young, middle-class woman’s experiences with her lover, her family, and the struggle for independence is deceptive in its simplicity and is a rare and thoughtful rendition of the ideas and emotions of young people who had one foot in the revolution for its own sake and the other foot in the revolution as a reflection of personal crisis.
Azhari’s reimagined stories of Aceh in the 17th century encompass a garden of extraordinary beauty, a turtle with chin hairs, pirates in the waters of the Malacca Straits, and so much more. The author’s enthralling storytelling, reminiscent of the 1001 Nights, makes you, the reader, ever so impatient for what comes next.
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.
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