Sunday, July 31, 2016

Badass Women in Supernatural Un-Feminist World {Indonesia}

Beauty is a Wound | Eka Kurniawan

3.5/5 stars

Badass Women in Supernatural Un-Feminist World: Indonesia's Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
Eka Kurniawan was only in his 20s when he wrote “Cantik Itu Luka” (which was later translated from Indonesian to English by Annie Tucker as “Beauty is a Wound”). While he grew up during Suharto’s turbulent and anti intellectual reign, the book was published when Indonesia had sprung out of its shell to become what it is today. 

It is a supernatural tale of Dewi Ayu, the generations after her and the ones before her. Although the Author insists that the history of Indonesia is a mere backdrop, key historic events are not only intricately woven with the fate of Dewi Ayu, but are strikingly similar.

But let me be honest here. The Indonesian language is gruff (which is my perception of speaking it a little and living in the country for 2 years) I just don’t find it poetic or lyrical like Hindi, or even English. And this seems to be carried over to the English Translation. 

(C’mon, the words for no, nose, face & baby sling are TIDAK, HIDUNG, WAJAH & GANDONG! Didn’t really require caps lock to emphasise though..)

And it’s not just the language. The material itself is mildly crass, uncouth, and difficult to read through the rapes, prostitution and incest. You may or may not cringe with the authors obsession with shit. For e.g. “the midwife assisting her couldn’t be sure whether it really was a baby and thought that maybe it was a pile of shit”. 

Yes. You read that correctly!

I paused every now & then, exasperated and wondering why people loved the book. I then realised that what kept me going one tragic event after another, was that the author didn’t really pause and dwell over them.

It would be something as shocking as “the dogs ate the baby.” But before you dilated your pupils and dropped your jaws long enough, you moved on to the next part. Very Wayang Puppet show inspired,. Serious, yet playful.

Another reason why I kept going was because of the week I was having. It was the week I stumbled into a podcast about a young Pakistani girl talking about her clitorectomy (now THAT was really hard to listen), the Game of Thrones season finale & Laverne Cox teaching her ‘students’ about the female anatomy (on Orange is the New Black S2). 

Let’s say by the time I got to this book, I was sufficiently desensitised to cruise to the end of the book! And although a difficult read I was strangely satisfied with the book once I finished it.

Globetrotting with Books: Family Tree Ref of Indonesia's Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
The family tree (You may need it!)

What I absolutely *LOVED* was Dewi Ayu’s character, who was SO badass! She took things in her stride, and would face every tragedy flung in her face with as much pragmatism as humanly possible. Not the type to sit and wallow, she in fact did whatever she could to make the best out of the situation. 

But the daughters? Ummm, not so much. It is difficult to digest that they just accepted their fate without a decent fight. (Fatalism *is* what I encountered during my stay in Indonesia anyway). Or Perhaps the author for some reason just became too stingy, in spite of inviting us to be part of their lives for pages & pages.

Ghosts, rebirths, predictions and babies vanishing from the wombs- There is a fair amount of magic realism too tangling the stories together! The book literally starts with “One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years”

Globetrotting with Books: The Series & Link Up

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Related: While the world is confounded and wary of the world 'feminism', an Indonesian woman gets tangled wiggling through life’s hurdle race! Here's her story.  

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  1. Loved reading your review. Now I will have to find this book so that I can experience the language for myself. :)

  2. I can see how you were desensitised to this book after the other things you had experienced that week! It sounds like a very interesting read, and I think I'd certainly be interested in giving it a go, but it even sounds a bit too full on for me, and I don't think I'm easily shocked!!

    1. It didn't shock me, rather made me a bit uncomfortable and a bit prudish! haha. You must give it a try!

  3. This post makes me a little sad. No language in and of itself is gruff, and Indonesian has been and continues to be used to communicate very beautiful things. However, this book sounds awful - either poorly written, poorly translated, or both. But please don't throw the fifth-most spoken language in the world under the bus! Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on!

    1. Hi Tina, I think it's aptly translated! And the book is one of the VERY FEW Indonesian ones that have been translated int English, AND has been compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez!