As a bow to literary works that highlight controversial parts of Indonesian history, the Khatulistiwa Award honoured on Tuesday author Leila S. Chudori and poet Afrizal Malna, whose works shed light on the country’s past.
Leila took the prose prize for her novel Pulang (Homecoming), while Afrizal won the poetry category for Museum Penghacur Dokumen (Document Destroyer Museum).
Pulang is both a family saga and a story of exile and homecoming, set against the background of historical events in Paris and Indonesia, including two dark and violent periods of Indonesia’s history - the 1965 communist purge that marked the rise of the longest-serving Indonesian president Soeharto, and his fall in 1998.
Pulang bravely shines a light on these events and their ongoing repercussions through the story of the exiled Dimas Suryo and his daughter Lintang Utara.
Leila had been working on the novel since 2006, and the extensive research she undertook involved interviews with historians as well as Indonesian exiles in Paris.
Museum Penghancur Document is a poem collection from Afrizal, which has appeared in several major newspapers like Kompas and Koran Tempo. A piece from the collection titled “Ulang Tahun bersama Wianta” (“Birthday with Wianta”) sees him satirize the country’s citizens, who seem to disregard their past.
“Tomorrow, we will have our birthday, the way children celebrate it.. our country has been liberated. [We are] free to take a holiday from history and to put electricity poles deep into the seabed,” one of the poem’s verses reads.
Authors, critics and literature lovers all turned out to hear the announcement, and to celebrate the achievements of short-listed authors.
Established in 2001 with the goal of providing support and recognition to outstanding Indonesian authors, the Khatulistiwa Award has become an important event in Indonesia’s literary calendar.
This year, the competition was tight, with the prose category shortlist including Dewi Kharisma Michellia’s novel Surat Panjang tentang Jarak Kita yang Jutaan Tahun Cahaya (A Long Letter about Our Million-Year Distance), Laksmi Pamuntjak’s historical epic Amba, last year’s Khatulistiwa-winner Okky Madasari’s muse about the country’s human rights issues Pasung Jiwa (Soul Shackle), and AS Laksana’s short story collection Murjangkung (Cinta yang Dungu dan Hantu-hantu) (Murjangkung (Foolish Love and Ghosts)).
In the poetry category, Afrizal was up against Mashuri’s Munajat Buaya Darat (Land Crocodile’s Wish), Agus R Sardjono’s Kopi, Kretek, Cinta (Coffee, Cigarettes, Love), Soni Farid Maulana’s Telapak Air (Water’s Palm) and Deddy Arsya’s Odong-Odong Fort de Kock (Fort de Kock’s Amusement Ride).
The head of the jury, Damhuri Muhammad, congratulated all the authors on their achievements, and discussed the importance of encouraging a reading culture and the appreciation of poetry in society.
On accepting her prize for her work of historical fiction, Pulang, Leila expressed astonishment at being chosen.
“If I’d have known I would be up here, I would have got more dressed up!” she said.
She went on to thank both her readers and the Khatulistiwa committee, and praise the high quality of the other shortlisted novels, insisting that “everyone here is a winner.”