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Indonesian literati demand a translation center

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

| Mon, March 9, 2015 | 07:33 am
Indonesian literati demand a translation center

Work in progress: Several of the books translated or slated to be translated into English for the Frankfurt Book Fair, including the works of Lelia S. Chudori, translated into French. - Courtesy of Java Solo

An ongoing project to translate the works of Indonesia'€™s literary masters into English and German has been welcomed by publishers and authors.

'€œThe government, which previously turned a blind eye to literary works, has been left with no option but to pay serious attention to the project,'€ said author Okky Madasari.

The program is a part of preparations for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, when Indonesia will be the guest of honor.

Okky, the award-winning author of Entrok (The Years of the Voiceless), Maryam (The Outcast) and Pasung Jiwa (Bound), said that the government has left publishers and authors to their own devices when it comes to distributing their works outside the country.

'€œI received a request from a journalist in Spain for an interview after they found my book during the journalist'€™s holiday trip in Bali,'€ Okky said.

'€œMost of my readers are those who accidentally stumble on my books or read the reviews and buy them at [online bookstore] Amazon, or who meet me at book festivals or author conferences and buy my books just to get them signed,'€ Okky said during a recent book discussion held by women'€™s writers agency NyonyaBuku.

If her books received any international exposure, it was due to luck, Okky said. '€œWe cannot rely on the quality of our work per se and pray that someone will find it somehow.'€

Salman Faridi, the director of Yogyakarta-based Bentang Pusaka, said that the Indonesian publishing industry was small and not attractive enough to lure investors.

Introduce Indonesian literature to the world has to start by translating works into the main international language English, which could be both time- and money-consuming, according to Salman.

He said that he had to waste resources developing two English-language translations of Andrea Hirata'€™s Laskar Pelangi (The Rainbow Troops), because they didn'€™t fit in the local context, and eventually published the third one.

'€œIt'€™s already difficult to find a translator and the payment is high. The price of an English-to-Indonesian translation is Rp 25,000 per page, while Indonesian to English is Rp 150,000 per page. It'€™s higher in the German language. A page of a translated book is tagged at Rp 450,000,'€ he said.

'€œAfter all that trouble, we don'€™t know how to sell it.'€

Another speaker in the discussion, writer and translator Anton Kurnia said that the government should establish an institution similar to Malaysia'€™s Translation and Book Institute (ITBM).

'€œWe need quality translation works to develop our literary industry. The government should intervene for our cultural sovereignty,'€ he said.

Realizing that Indonesian authors and their works are virtually unknown to international readers, Valent Mustamin has collected their data and presented it in English.

On Valent'€™s website,, bookworms can find out everything about an author, including reviews of their works and about the reviewers.

'€œWe established it because we noticed the lack of resources dedicated to Indonesian literaturs and authors, especially one that is accessible to the international community, Valent said. '€œLet'€™s say that it is our tribute to the authors and a way to sell them out there.'€

 '€” JP/Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak