Andrea Hirata: A Writer's Journey
The Jakarta Post - WEEKENDER | Sat, 08/23/2008 3:57 PM |
The success of Andrea Hirata’s tetralogy — Laskar Pelangi, Sang Pemimpi, Edensor and Maryamah Karpov (to be released soon) — has turned the best-selling author into a rising star on the Indonesian literary map. Readers can’t get enough of him, critics don’t know what to make of him and filmmakers are knocking at his door. He sits down with Maggie Tiojakin and tells her why, despite all the attention, he remains a small- town boy at heart.
It is in the afternoon and Andrea Hirata, wearing a mauve shirt and a black beret, is in the middle of a day full of meetings. This will be his sixth interview of the day, but he seems unfazed by the prospect of sitting through yet another hour of relentless questions.
quick glance at his standard profile does not do full justice to the author of
three best-sellers, and his laid-back attitude often betrays the energy that
emanates from within him as he speaks. He begins by telling the story of his
beloved teacher, Ms. Muslimah, whose passion for teaching inspired him to write
Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors), his first work about growing up on the
“I always wanted to write her a book,” he says, leaning forward across the coffee table. “Ever since I was in the third grade, I had this profound image stored in my head: the rain was pouring down hard one morning and, holding a banana leaf over her head, Ms. Muslimah urged her students to come to school.
“It was incredible. So, I said to myself, ‘Some day I’m going to write her a book.’ And I did, many years later.”
admits that he took his time to complete the book. As usual, life got in the
way. An alumni of the
Drawing a distinct line between his two professions as an economist and writer is not quite as easy as it sounds. Some may raise their eyebrows at his career choice, as an employee of PT Telkom, given his newfound status as a literary icon. Nevertheless, to know Andrea is to embrace his options, his view of the world, and what he makes of them.
“As you get older, you worry about things like financial security,” he says. “I’m glad that the books are selling as well as they do and I enjoy writing very much, but I’ll never give up [my job]. I’m too old to be sending out my CV and sit through job interviews.”
How old, exactly?
“No,” he shakes his head. “No, no, no.”
Coming from Andrea, this is a typical response. Despite his generous smiles, he is very careful about giving out information about himself. Readers and the media have tried to guess his age by way of his looks. They throw out a ballpark figure, which he neither confirms nor denies. This knowledge is a privilege reserved for those who are closest to him, he says.
“I think writers of memoirs need to be respected for the bold decision they take to bare their lives open. That alone should be enough. The things I write about, if you notice, are sensitive issues for a lot of people. If I told you my age, they would get ideas. The next thing you know they’ll be filing lawsuits against me.”
A little wary, perhaps, but not without reason. In Laskar Pelangi, he made scathing comments about the mining industry in his native province. Unlike some writers, he doesn’t shy away from the bitter reality of living in a country where issues of race, religion, status and ethnicity are deeply rooted in communities. On the contrary, he tackles them head-on.
“It’s hard to be a minority,” he explains. “People look at you a different way, like you don’t belong, and I don’t think many people realize just how difficult it is to live as a minority. Where I come from, we learn to tolerate one another. Whether one is of Chinese descent or Malay descent, what matters is we’re part of the same country, the same world. We’re human beings. Tolerance is the key.”
has learned about tolerance and differences from his travels. One of the things
he loves to do is backpack, discovering nations and people, stepping onto
strange lands where life is only as predictable as the unexpected rainfall or
sudden dust storm. He proudly taps his legs when he mentions his experience of sifting
hot sands from the soles of his shoes in the
Tolerance, he believes, is the connecting thread among nations and peoples. He has been continually surprised by the extent of tolerance among people for other’s idiosyncratic behavior, including in his own experiences.
And the journey continues. Globe-trotting is as much an adventure as it is a mental challenge. For Andrea, the experience of traveling can change the topography of a person’s soul. He encourages others to step out of their comfort zones and unearth the beauty of faraway, often magical, places. However, after all that he has seen and done, one thing remains the same.
a small-town boy who comes from a traditional family on a tiny island called