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Welcome back, `Olenka'

What inspires one to write, especially if the end product is a masterpiece that is to be talked about for decades to come?

"It was a woman," Budi Darma, author of award-winning novel, Olenka, said. "I opened the door to my room in Bloomington, and there she was."

And so, the mere sight of that woman, coupled with the abundance of idle time during his student days in the United States, prompted him to roll up his sleeves, lock himself in his room for 21 days, and pour his imagination out in a torrent of literature.

Thus, Olenka was born in 1983. It was Budi Darma's first work. Nevertheless, it won several awards including the Jakarta Art Institute Literary award and the South East Asia Write award.

The novel was published by Balai Pustaka, and has been reprinted several times. However, the last six reprints were mostly made by orders from the National Education Ministry and not for commercial purposes. The last printing was done in 1998 to the dismay of those curious about the allegedly controversial book, and for those longing to read it again.

After years of waiting, those thirsts were finally quenched, appropriately enough in the middle of the Indonesian Book Festival, in Senayan, Central Jakarta, earlier this month. Balai Pustaka has decided to print the eighth edition of Olenka and held its launching ceremony during the event.

Dozens attended the book launch to meet the author and get their hands on the 263-page-long fiction novel about the amorous plight of a young man with Olenka, the female character whose body was vividly described as "a map depicting the road to heaven", in the story.

"I am very curious about the book," Yuni, an aspiring young author who had read the book said at the launch,

"My lecturer told me it was one of the must-read classics of Indonesian literature."

Yuni approached Budi Darma eagerly and asked him about his writing. The 72-year-old author, a serious-looking literature professor whose timid gestures betrayed Olenka's frenzy of sensuality, answered her questions calmly.

Another literature enthusiast, Anggi, said he was relieved that Balai Pustaka decided to reprint the novel. "Thanks to this, more will become aware of what Indonesian literature has to offer," he said.

Anggi came across Olenka at his college days a few years ago when his lecturer told him to read the book.

Those familiar with Olenka took the opportunity during the event to ask questions they've been holding up all these years.

So who is this Olenka? Does she really exist? Why do elements of everyday Indonesian and even Javanese language often pop up in the book, despite the fact that its settings was in the US? Such questions added color to the book launch.

Budi answered those questions in his subtle and occasionally enigmatic way. "I took the name *Olenka' from a collection of short stories by Anton Chekov," he said.

Budi says his usage of Javanese wordplay in an American setting was due to his firm belief that a writer, no matter how dispatched from his or her homeland, will never be de-rooted of that land's culture. "Just look at Amy Tan and her works that are still imbibed with Chinese culture despite their Western backgrounds," he said.

The mysterious way in which the author speaks, seems to have rubbed off on his work. Some readers actually take pride in liking the book. "Not everyone can like Olenka," Anthay, a middle-aged reader who has been reading Olenka since his high school days, said at the event. "Even my close friends didn't share my taste on this."

Ariyantri, another fan of Olenka, shared similar views to Anthay. "Not everyone can enjoy that book, because it has so many complex relationships between its characters, but I fell in love with it for that exact reason."

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