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Azhari Aiyub's tale of the bearded turtle

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, July 14, 2018  /  01:08 pm
Azhari Aiyub's tale of the bearded turtle

'Kura-kura Berjanggut' (The bearded turtle) by Azhari Aiyub. (JP /Ni Nyoman Wira)

At first glance, the novel Kura-kura Berjanggut (The Bearded Turtle), set in Aceh's past, may look intimidating, being almost one thousand pages in length.

But when you turn to the first page and start reading, the story will absorb you, and without realizing it you will have finished the first chapter in no time.

Written by Acehnese Azhari Aiyub, Kura-kura Berjanggut is set in Aceh from the 16th century onward. Narrated across diverse time settings, it follows the lives of several characters, one of whom is Si Ujud.

Si Ujud is studying at the Boating and Oceanology School of Istamboel when he learns that his parents have been murdered. He then goes on a series of adventures as he seeks to avenge his parents' deaths, from pirating with Tata Sifr against Liga Suci to becoming a spy for a sultan of Lamuri. Meanwhile, a mysterious brotherhood known as the Kura-kura Berjanggut continue to send hitmen to assassinate the sultan.

Released by Banana Publisher, Kura-kura Berjanggut consists of three parts; Buku Si Ujud (Si Ujud’s book), Buku Harian Tobias Fuller: Para Pembunuh Lamuri (Tobias Fuller’s diary: Lamuri killers) about a psychiatrist from Batavia and Lubang Cacing (Worm Hole), which is filled with writings from several characters. There is also Catatan Bantaqiah Woyla (Bantaqiah Woyla’s notes), which is related to the book’s first and second parts.

During an interview with The Jakarta Post on July 6 after a discussion about the book, Azhari admitted that he had tried to separate the three parts so the book would not be too heavy.

But the writer has his own reasons as to why the plan didn't succeed. “The first part could be a standalone book without the second and third parts, but it’d be hard for the second part to stand alone without the first,” Azhari said. “The third part reviews what has been remembered by the narrators of the first and second parts.”

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Azhari also provides explanations in the book, including a glossary. With so many characters, Azhari recounts their backgrounds at just the right times to remind the readers.  

Kura-kura Berjanggut was developed from Azhari’s short stories, including Hikayat Kura-kura Berjanggut (The Tale of the Bearded Turtle), which was published in Tempo in 2007. He began writing the novel in mid-2006 – two years after the tsunami struck Aceh, claiming the lives of several of Azhari’s family members.

At the time, he found it difficult to start writing. He had trouble concentrating and thinking clearly. “I thought, why don't I start [to write] a fable about a group who tries to kill a sultan – a story far from the reality of conflict in Aceh,” said the writer, who has also published Perempuan Pala (Nutmeg Woman).

The title of the book, Kura-kura Berjanggut, came from a conversation with his friend Nezar Patria. “I laughed so hard at that time. It’s about something impossible, right? It seemed like a good name for the group I was creating,” Azhari said, adding that the most difficult character to create was Hamzah.

Asked if people associated the novel with current political issues, Azhari said he was not interested in indulging the idea. “I’m glad if my readers are entertained by the story,” he said.

Kura-kura Berjanggut is available to order from Banana Publisher’s social media page and is priced at Rp 190,000. (wng)  

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