Book Review: Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk by Ahmad Tohari
November 19, 2011 § 3 Comments
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