Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Indonesia
Author: Eka Kurniawan
Title: Beauty is a Wound
Translator: Annie Tucker
Publication Info: New York : New Directions, 2015.
This contemporary Indonesian novel depicts the history of the nation from World War II to the 1990s through a fictional port city as it goes through Japanese occupation, revolution against Dutch colonialism, Communist uprisings, massacres, and civil war. While it’s a well-written and engaging novel, it’s hard to keep reading through the depictions of rape, torture, and cruelty. Balancing these grim realities is a magical realism element which includes ghosts, curses, and reincarnation.
The book centers on Dewi Ayu, the beautiful and pragmatic prostitute, and her daughters. Three of her daughters, beautiful like their mother, end up married to local military commander, a mob boss, and a communist revolutionary. The last daughter, named Beauty, is cursed by her mother to be ugly to protect her from the suffering of her other daughters. And yet, all of these women, and their children, and the numerous other townspeople introduced in various tangential stories suffer and keep on suffering. It’s almost too much to bear.
“What does it feel like to be dead?” asked Kyai Jahro. “Actually, it’s pretty fun. That’s the main reason why, out of everyone who dies, not one person chooses to come back to life again.” “But you came back to life,” said the kyai. “I came back just so I could tell you that.”
“Have you become a communist?” asked his mother, almost in despair. “Only a communist would be so gloomy.” “I’m in love,” said Kliwon to his mother. “That’s even worse!” She sat next to Kliwon and stroked his hair that was curly and growing long. “Well, go play your guitar under her bedroom window like you always do.”
Recommended books: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Silver Stallion by Jung-Hyo Ahn