Quote: Anak Semua Bangsa

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Kalau Tuan segan menerima banyak angin, jangan jadi pohon tinggi”

Anak semua bangsa – Pramoedya Ananta Toer


Quote: Bumi Manusia

November 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Dan begitulah aku pun mulai belajar merasai panasnya dendam.”

Bumi Manusia – Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Book Review: Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk by Ahmad Tohari

November 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

Ronggeng Dukuh ParukRonggeng Dukuh Paruk by Ahmad Tohari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard about the book from my high school teacher more than 10 years ago. Only last year I started reading more world literature in the Netherlands and thought that I would start reading Indonesian literature. From the first few pages I already realized how shocking it must be for Indonesians in the 80’s to read this book. It’s one of the most important Indonesian book to read in my opinion.

The way I see it, this book portrays clearly how women (and young girls) are exploited and objectified by authority figures around them. If you look under the layers a little bit, perhaps you will also be disturbed by how Tohari in the end clearly showed that the female ronggeng is the victim, but how the male soldier Rasus is clearly the male hero and rescuing the female victim (albeit too late). Maleness and femaleness is only explained in the context of sexual (and hierarchical) relationship.

I don’t think I can ever write a proper book review, but here are some things jotted down in my book journal when I read this book:

Narrated in combination of 3rd person and 1st person as Rasus, the male protagonist, the book is somewhat imbalanced in its views.

Sexuality and eroticism is the only empowering essence and identity of Srintil because it’s the only thing she’s ever known. She had been convinced by others that she’s meant to live the life of a ronggeng, an entertainer who dances and prostitute herself to some extent (to the extent that certain men with certain wealth could afford her), when she was only 11. In my opinion, the character of Srintil in the book is still a female character portrayed by a male writer in the Indonesian 80’s.

Up to page 230, Tohari did not explain how the stupidity and poverty of the villagers were due to the fact that they’re uneducated. Repeatedly, also in 3rd person, they described their belief and attitude without adequate portrayal of their uneducated state. This all-knowing and insightful narrator seems to think that everything is the result of their valid belief system. Later in the book, at the end in fact, that the uneducated state of the villagers was acknowledged by our tragic hero Rasus.

Repeatedly there are words like “anak kandung keluguan alam”. What I’m confused about is that this is the way he wrote it in 3rd person. If he insisted continuously being sentimental and portraying the nature of the villagers and their ignorance as innocent and all good, nothing can be criticized about it.

I am disturbed by some sentences, for example in page 231, “ronggeng adalah keperempuanan yang menari, menyanyi, serta kerelaan melayani kelelakian”. So many things can be criticized in the sentence:

1. Which femaleness? Keperempuanan yang mana? The one that is repeatedly enforced to be taken upon by receiving threats, violence and abuse? The one that is not based on free will due to the lack of knowledge on it?

2. Kerelaan? Free-willingness? It wasn’t free will, it’s forced and imposed upon with violence by her own family and support system.

3. Kelelakian? Maleness? even here maleness is only explicitly depicted as sexual maleness.

To throw in this sentence as if it represent femaleness is wrong.

The question of what is femaleness, what it’s supposed to be, was never explored in the book besides that it only involves weakness, state of being exploited, servitude of the sexual needs of men (described as maleness), and only by this sexual services that one (femaleness) affirms the other (maleness), vice versa.

Perhaps this is femaleness as understood and seen by the writer.

– RN, Semarang, 19 November 2011

Book Review: Arok Dedes by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

November 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Arok DedesArok Dedes by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Arok is not portrayed completely in this novel. Pram avoids intimacy with Arok’s character writing, as opposed to Dedes. We get a complete picture of Dedes a human being with feelings, lust, even her desire and satisfaction of power, and her fear and sadness of losing it to Arok. On the other hand, Arok’s depiction is only of how he tried to obtain control and power, never without internal motive, but not completely without.

The novel is written in a way that readers will be absorbed in history. In the end I just wanted to know what happened next. But this is as far as Pram would ever tell the story. The book is funny and contemplative, and what I like is that some things are described quite explicitly, like how Kebo Ijo became the one person that everyone used for their own purpose (because he’s stupid, easily lured by promises of power and weak in character).

There’s repeated message of how people of different religion should respect each other, that everyone has their own right to worship whomever they want (in this case, they are Buddhist, and either Shiva or Wishnu worshipper), and that common people, the lowest in caste has the right to be a leader in the government.

It’s refreshing to see how lust for power is depicted so explicitly in this book. It is today’s reality reflected in a novel set in the 13th century Java.


The painting

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment


The painting, it doesn’t just remind me of you, or us. It reminds me of me. It reminds me of the road I’m taking and the spirit I need to keep going with.

Maybe you never thought about what it means when you chose to give me this particular work of art. Maybe you thought I’d appreciate the colours, the richness of the colours. I was certain that you said something like, “we went to an exhibition together and I found out that she liked art” as you were about to give me this print on my birthday party, while everyone was watching curiously.

And so it was, a beautiful, magnificently coloured print. You explained to me, “this is the work of a Dutch artist, Gertie Janssen, you can look it up”. You’re a real friend, you’d known that I would look it up. “It’s written here, the 55th of only 200 prints they produced”.

I never owned any prints before. Posters are more suitable for my budget. Prints are something else, it’s luxury. And a print from you, a gesture so personalized and full of understanding, a sort of loving kindness, is beyond touching, it’s inspiring. We’ve gone far beyond the day when we first met, I only was a student sitting impatiently for my first lecture in a foreign country, you were a curious teacher. Somehow it has gone much beyond that line to what now is a maternalistic friendship on your part, and puzzled amazement on my part of how we got this close.

Today the print is neatly framed, hanged on my wall. A sober creature, head held up high and looking straight ahead, elegant and determined. Her feet on the move, striking  forward they seem. Red for bravery, yellow for liveliness, blue for the calm force that moves all things. Sunrise II by Gertie Janssen. The sum of my experience this year, the marking of a new beginning ahead.

Everything moves you, and that’s when you know that it’s a beginning, that you are in motion. Embrace the sunrise.

Where Am I?

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