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Dissecting 'Nirzona', a love story narrated through Aceh's social and cultural contexts

Aly D. Musyrifa
Aly D. Musyrifa

Indonesian poet

Jakarta  /  Tue, February 21, 2017  /  04:12 pm
Dissecting 'Nirzona', a love story narrated through Aceh's social and cultural contexts

Nirzona by Abidah El Khalieqy (Shutterstock/File)

Reading Nirzona, a novel by Indonesian writer Abidah El Khalieqy, may supply us with a deeper understanding of love and differences, and at the same time may also strengthen our feelings of national unity, which seems to have decreased, recently.

In the vague global culture, Nirzona is a clear literary contribution to the world of civilization as it reminds us of the significance of humanity, of love, by showing its spiritual and transcendental dimensions.

Used for a title of literary work, the term “Nirzona” evokes a wide range of meanings. It is used here, however, to describe the state of human existence in a borderless territory, where such an institution as a state, or a city, is absent. And under such a situation there is a love story, of Sidan and Firdaus, progressively narrated through the social and cultural contexts of Aceh, both after and before tsunami, particularly during the “empty” period rising after tsunami until the signing of Helsinki peace agreement.

Read also: Reminiscing Aceh tsunami through romance novel

With its beautifully knitted language, as well as its poetical diction, the novel touches the sensitive area of the reader’s emotional intelligence, trying to bring the reader up to a wider comprehension of the diversity in race, religion, tradition and culture in Aceh without necessarily distracting the reader from the primary idea of the love story it deals with.

As appears in many of the main characters’ dialogues and communications, the use of foreign languages such as Arabic, English, Turkish and Hindi, and the local languages of Java and Aceh, has even enabled the reader to experience a “world adventure,” inspecting the West and the East, the new and the old civilizations that have constituted part of the history and religious culture of Aceh, a special district in the western part of Indonesian archipelago that is famous with its title Mecca Verandah.

To say it briefly, Nirzona is among popular fictional pieces that describes with a great success the elegance of a love story through sharp, severe social criticisms. To put it another way, it is through these social criticisms that the love story of Sidan and Firdaus continues to enchant the readers in a manner that does not make the whole idea of the love story less important.

Sidan, who was born and grew in Aceh, falls in love with Firdaus, who comes from East Java. They met and started their relationship when they were students in Yogyakarta. When these seeds of love have grown and turned into trees of beauty in their hearts,  a big tsunami in Aceh occurs and destroys everything, including their special relationship. It is told in the novel that the tsunami has sunken the city and thousands of its citizens; and at the same time it has also sunken their growing feeling of love. It is after the devastating tsunami that the love story in this novel starts its touching plots.

Abidah El Khalieqy is known as one of the Indonesian writers who mostly deal with gender and women issues. Nirzona is no exception. The fact that women in Aceh have fought for their homeland since before independence, in the New Order and in the Reform Era, it is always interesting to see how she describes all of this in a critical, dynamic way. She also inserts her criticisms of the social impacts of sharia in Aceh.

Read also: Questioning Islamic label of books and films

In addition, Abidah also examines the conflict between men and women in a political context. With her lovely language, and with the available facts and data, she has tried to show that social and cultural life in Aceh after the tsunami has been hard, even if the whole nation is responsible for it. This is the reason why the people of Aceh could not protect themselves from the attacks of propaganda. As a matter of fact, they are angry to see how cruelty and violence happens; they are shocked to see how power and greed move beyond the limits of humanity. 

Still, Nirzona manages to make readers smile and laugh at themselves amid the fragrance and stink of human behavior. Love that unites Sidan and Firdaus is to stay blooming in pure air: the truth of true love is to be there and it is there in the absence of pretension. Love desires nothing, but itself.

Amazon-Crossing (Amazon Publishing) has made the right decision to ask Annie Tucker -- an Indonesian literature observer from Los Angeles -- to translate the novel into English, and to publish it in the form of both digital and printed book. 

The English version of Nirzona is called Nirzona: A Love Story and was released to international audiences on Dec. 1. The cover, designed by world-grade designer Shasti O’Leary Soudant has a symbolic element.


Title: Nirzona: A Love Story

Author: Abidah El Khalieqy

Translator: Annie Tucker

Publisher: Amazon-Crossing, Seattle, USA

Printed: November, 2016

Page: 244 



The writer is an Indonesian poet, used to live in Montreal, Canada, where he was a member of Quebec Writers’ Federation.         

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