Sunday, July 16, 2017

USA Africa Dialogue Series - The secrets of Indonesia’s finest novelist: Eka Kurniawan’s books are characterised by bold ideas...

The secrets of Indonesia's finest novelist:

Eka Kurniawan's books are characterised by bold ideas and a rambunctious energy

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash. By Eka Kurniawan. Translated by Annie Tucker. Pushkin Press; 209 pages; £12.99. To be published in America by New Directions in August; $15.95.

EKA KURNIAWAN'S hugely inventive fiction is a potent blend of grounded realism and flighty fantasy. It has led some to describe him as Indonesia's finest writer since Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006. "Beauty Is a Wound", his first novel, charted both the rebirth of an Indonesian prostitute and the upheavals of her country's 20th-century history, while his second, "Man Tiger", related the tragic past and inner fury of a youngster possessed by a supernatural white tigress.

"Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash", his third novel, sees the author reining in the surrealism to deliver a pulpy, visceral tale of sex, violence and comeuppance. Ajo Kawir, a Javanese teenager, witnesses the brutal rape of a local madwoman by two policemen, and from that moment on is rendered impotent. He vents his frustration by picking fights with strangers, and when his anger intensifies and his reputation spreads he is given the task of hunting down and killing a thug called the Tiger.

The novel's drama unfolds in a series of short vignettes, each of which comes packed with larger-than-life characters, lurid thoughts and graphic deeds. Ajo Kawir scraps with, then falls for, a beautiful female bodyguard named Iteung. He talks to his "hibernating" penis (or "Bird"), communing with it, berating it or willing it to life. And after a spell in prison he finds a sidekick and a mysterious new girl, as well as a tougher nemesis in the form of the Beetle. In and around all this Mr Kurniawan serves up Peeping Toms and rival lovers, street fights and road rage, messy bodily functions and grievous bodily harm—an ear is severed, bones are broken, eyeballs are gouged.

"Vengeance Is Mine" is clearly not for the faint-hearted. However, Mr Kurniawan offsets the carnage and lightens the mood with skew-whiff logic and humour that ranges from slapstick to ribald to pitch-black. At other key intervals he utilises the mayhem to expose and examine more serious concerns such as corruption and injustice. There is the occasional priapic silliness and the title is unwieldy if not awful. Still, it is hard not to be caught up by the book's bold ideas and rambunctious energy.

Funmi Tofowomo Okelola

-In the absence of greatness, mediocrity thrives.

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Culture, Art History, Film/Cinema, Photography, World Literature, Criminal Justice, Sociology, Child Welfare, Lifestyle & Community. 
This article appeared in the Books and arts section of the print edit

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