Sunday, 11 October 2015

#22Before23List: Indonesian Literature Review

Last year on my 22nd birthday, I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish before my 23rd birthday. One of those things was to read more Indonesian literature. It has been a great while since the last time I enjoyed reading Indonesian books on a daily basis - the time was around 2nd or 3rd grade. But this year I was determined to dive more into books from my own nation because - let's face it! - there are still so many great writers and stories to choose from. I'm so happy to have done that and here are the reviews of all the Indonesian books I've been reading recently. Although, be warned, most of these books aren't particularly new - I've just been reading Indonesian books I haven't explored into and just found lying around the house.

Negeri 5 Menara • Ranah 3 Warna • Rantau 1 Muara

By Ahmad Fuadi

What attracted me to this series, at first, is the cover art - as with most books, to be honest. Personally, I feel like Indonesian literature normally doesn't have interesting cover art. But this one is quite attractive and suitable for the topic of the story. If you're non-muslim and you don't really like a semi-religious tale, this is not the series for you. Although, if I had to compare it with a foreign book, I think the religious level of this book is quite similar to Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith - which I also enjoyed reading.

It tells the story of a small village boy named Alif Fikri who has to reluctantly go to an Islamic dormitory because his mother insists upon it. That's how it started, anyway, but the story grew from there. The point of the last two books was quite lost to me, since the first book looks good on its own in almost no relation to the sequels. The story is quite goody two-shoes, where the main character works hard and excels, almost without conflicts or problems. The second book is the most interesting to me because it's the only book where Fikri is depicted to have failed. I wouldn't say this is a must-read but you won't be sorry to have read it.

Dari Ngalian ke Sendowo • Pencakar Langit • Sebuah Lorong di Kotaku

By Nh. Dini

If you're new to Indonesian literature, I would suggest to start with works from our great writers - our Old Masters, if you would. Ms. Nh. Dini is clearly one of those great minds. Her works have been published worldwide in several languages and her name is heard throughout the globe. The order in which I read her books this year is actually from the most recent to the oldest. While the first and third books are her memoir - of very young and very mature years, the second book is a short story compilation set in different situations and even countries. Ms. Nh. Dini uses words so beautifully and gracefully, which sounds harmonious yet easily understood. It shows in contrast to pop-culture literature of the 21st century. Also, her mind is definitely emancipated, which is quite rare for women of her age. Fun fact: the third book is actually a literature must-read book of my 7th grade year. I didn't finish it then, though.

Jatuh Cinta Diam-Diam • Kata Kota Kita

Two short story compilations by different authors. As opposed to the other books in this review, these two are rather modern and deal a lot with adolescent conflicts and such. Let me talk about them separately to make it easier to understand. Jatuh Cinta Diam-Diam (by Dwitasari) is a compiled stories of people who are in love with someone although unable to say it or make into a reality. It touches a lot of surfaces, economical background and scenarios, which is quite interesting. The age range is usually quite similar, though - around university or high school years. If you're looking for an easy yet melancholic read, this might be the book for you.

In comparison, Kata Kota Kita (by various authors) is a book written by the first batch of Gramedia Writing Project. It takes place in different cities of the country (or the world) with different genres, scenes and characters. Since it's written by many people, the quality of the stories vary quite greatly. Some of the stories are rather dark and gloomy, some are mellow and sweet while some are easy and light. But I don't like it as much, to be honest.

Nadira • Biola Tak Berdawai • Nayla

Also three different books from three different authors. These are post-modern literature from the 21st century. Biola Tak Berdawai (by Seno Gumira Ajidarma) is a book adapted from a movie script, which is something I've never read before. To be honest, I didn't like it very much. I could imagine it being an incredible film - which I haven't watched, actually - but as a novel, it was too fast-paced and lacks organic story-telling - using dialogues instead of narratives. This was also a must-read book from my 7th grade book club at school, although at the time I stopped reading because I felt the content was too mature for a junior high schooler.

Nayla (by Djenar Maesa Ayu) and Nadira (by Leila S. Chudori) are both recent reads. Although they both have the main character's name as the title - and coincidentally they both start with N, they have almost nothing in common. Nayla deals with the dark, dark world of Indonesia, where broken marriages, night life and drug abuse roam the streets. Nadira is more "cheerful" in comparison, although it is also quite bleak in terms of storyline, as it opens up with a suicide. Spoiler alert: they do not end happily, although one has a better ending than the other.

The Rise of Majapahit • Berjuta-juta dari Deli

These last two books are both historical fiction, in case you can't already tell. Quality-wise, I must say one is leagues above the other. The Rise of Majapahit (by Setyo Wardoyo) tells the tale of how the kingdom of Majapahit came to be. Although it was supposed to a novel of sorts, the way it is told doesn't draw me to the story at all. It feels more robotic and less with heart, especially with all the grammatical errors and terrible paragraph structure, which somehow got away from the editor during proof-reading. I've never actually read the historical documents on this matter before so it was quite enlightening, although I think it could have been done better.

In comparison, Berjuta-juta dari Deli (by Emil W. Aulia) speaks volume. Although it is also historical fiction, told from varying point-of-views, it depicts the feelings and situation of the time quite perfectly. Unlike TRoM, this book cites a lot of evidence from its historical sources, making the whole story even more real than they already are. This book makes me realise that our people's suffering during colonial time wasn't entirely Holland's - or any other invader's - fault, it's the fault of our own too; we were - still are, actually - willing to sacrifice one another to get what we want, even when it comes from the enemy. I haven't actually finished this one yet, but I imagine it wouldn't end happily.

I'll be honest with you, I didn't read as many Indonesian books as I originally thought I would. It's not because I haven't been reading books. It simply means I have been reading other books, which you can see either on my Goodreads or monthly overview. Through this experience, I feel like there are actually some amazing Indonesian authors out there that I have yet to discover. Although - not gonna lie - there are some crappy ones too. But this definitely intrigues me to read more Indonesian literature, maybe something from Pramoedya Ananta Toer or some classics, such as Lupus - which I read back in 2nd grade. This opens up worlds of possibilities and I'm happy to oblige. Plus, now I have new friends who I can mooch books of.

This book review is also written to participate on #Reviews4Indonesia movement by Nulisbuku.com and Kutukutubuku.com to support Indonesia as Frankfurt Book Fair's (Frankfurter Buchmesse) Guest of Honour 2015.



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