Maggie Tiojakin is not funny. In fact she’s rather serious, particularly in making everything sound serious. While she doesn’t seem to have any intention of drawing tears from our eyes, her forte lies in the ability to give us that pause, making us stop for a moment to ponder life, and do so again after another read.
And she’s really good at it.
Maggie’s exploration of her surroundings breathes into most of her short stories the soul that’s deemed necessary to keep them afloat. Most of them are interesting, some of them unbearably heavy, but all of them deploy the perfect ingredients that work: not so long as to be boring and not too short to come up empty.
Balada Ching - Ching could be the defining collection of Maggie’s best works so far: 13 short stories, including six published previously, one in schedule and others not specifically written for the collection.
This is excellent stuff, and Gramedia Pustaka Utama has made a laudable effort to enrich our literature. If this isn’t nice, we don’t know what is.
One thing is for sure, Maggie managed to avoid the problem of translated literature. Previously published in English, a second language for her, these short stories shot out to receive positive reviews from critics at the time of their release. And when it was required to have them rewritten in Indonesian what came through in her personal interpretations was slightly different, slightly more engaging in details, mostly appealing, and formed a group of new literature that stands on its own.
The plots of her stories do not drag on or slump like those of many Indonesian writers who dwell too long in explaining the unnecessary. Hers are indubitably brave with topics as simple yet as complicated as the fractions of life itself.
Titles such as Liana, Liana (Waiting for Mother), Dua Sisi, Luka (Crush) and Kawin Lari (He Said, She Said) can otherwise reveal the paradigm of everyday events through Maggie’s eyes, making us question the usual and unusual, making common occurrences interesting and engaging.
The theme of racism is huge, but a child desperately waiting for her mom; a foot massager falling in love with her client’s foot; and what a dying 15-year-old child brings to the world are elements of life’s colors we may have previously ignored.
However, this doesn’t mean Maggie’s way of storytelling is maxing out. Obviously there is room to grow. Simplicity is working nicely for her, and though some of her stories could soar to unquestionable heights, readers’ common expectations after the big entry points are often cut short by following events, by forced romance and immediate continuations that are somewhat less natural. She worked them out OK, but they could have been up there.
But still, it’s hard to count this as criticism. These stories, if not well spawned, are often crafted brilliantly as explorations with sufficient research and depth to give us not just knowledge, but an emotional, personal understanding of what truly happened — although sometimes she chooses to blur the endings, hinting with a bag full of flowers or a heart pinned with needles.
Readers will love this collection. Some will be glued to your eyes like contact lenses and some will stay in your minds for a following read the next night. Whatever happens, Balada Ching-Ching is definitely that type of book that keep on your bedside for some time.