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Sabbath Day – West Java, Indonesia

April 7, 2016

I woke up this morning feeling like I was coming down with something. With itchy eyes and a sore throat, I prepared for the worst. After a quiet day, with steadily pouring rain sounds, I feel restored and confident I have once more held off this awful illness that is making the rounds.

Today I finished reading the hottest book to emerge from Indonesia in recent years, Beauty is a Wound, by Eka Kurniawan. The novel was published in Jakarta in 2002, but recently translated into English by Annie Tucker and published here in 2015. The Sun Daily has called thirty-nine year old Eka Kurniawan “one of the most exciting fiction writers in the Indonesia,” and the New York Times included the novel in its its of 100 Notable Books. In addition, he has received

  • 2015 Foreign Policy‘s Global Thinkers of 2015 “for pinning Indonesian literature on the map.”
  • 2015 IKAPI (id)‘s Book of the Year for Man Tiger.
  • 2016 World Readers’ Award for Beauty Is a Wound.

Publisher’s Weekly called the author a “Writer to Watch” and described the novel as “A Quixotic Journey Through Indonesian History and Myth”:

Epic in scope, the novel, which PW starred, takes on dark episodes in Indonesia’s history—including the anticommunist killings that took place there in the mid-1960s—while dealing playfully with the country’s traditional folklore and myths, many of which revolve around the undead.

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The University of Melbourne summarizes this way:

Beauty Is a Wound tells the story of a prostitute, Dewi Ayu, who rises from the grave after being dead for 21 years. The book follows Dewi Ayu and her four daughters, traversing Indonesia’s history from the colonial period, through the Japanese occupation, to the independence era. Incorporating elements of Indonesian folklore and magic, it is at times violent and sexually explicit, and quite often hilarious. You can read an excerpt from the novel here(link is external).

At nearly 500 pages, and stylistically reminding me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the book took a while to read. I’m grateful to add it to my “year” of reading multi-national literature. I will certainly seek out other Indonesian writers.

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