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‘Not A Virgin’ author brings his books to English readers

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, February 15, 2019  /  05:24 pm
‘Not A Virgin’ author brings his books to English readers

Man of letters: Author Nuril Basri chooses to focus on the coming-of-age struggles of young Indonesians in his books, (Courtesy of Nuril Basri/-)

Nuril Basri has made a name for himself in the literary world through his intimate and comedic takes and observations of the absurdities of Indonesian life and the struggles of the many who feel trapped and pressured by simply living.

However, it was through these honest observations that he managed to spread his name overseas, making him one of the notable figures of Indonesian literature. Like his acclaimed peer Eka Kurniawan, the images that Nuril chooses to focus on involve the coming-of-age struggles of young Indonesians who are faced with the usual pressures that come with living in a judgmental, pressing society like Indonesia.

Dysfunctional families, loneliness, insecurity and, in one book, living as part of a minority in a foreign land are all parts of the world he has crafted.

Characters in his acclaimed 2017 novel Not A Virgin range from cross-dressers, drag queens, fanatical Muslims and basically the everyday scum that exist between the two completely opposite environments of gay bars and Muslim boarding schools.

The book’s main characters navigate through these toxicly masculine environments in a quest to truly understand their sexual identities.

Such backgrounds were inspired by Nuril's own upbringing. He was born in the staunchly conservative South Tangerang, Banten, and exposed to a disdainful world that feeds his inspiration to write.

During his history of working menial jobs as a minimarket cashier, waiter and language tutor, as well as an internet café administrator, the soon-to-be 34-year-old found solace in the art of writing. 

His themes are bold enough to make Indonesian publishers think twice about publishing his works.

Nuril claimed that Not A Virgin was rejected by many of them, possibly because of its controversial nature, and that four of his books have yet to be published in Indonesia.

Not A Virgin was first published in Malaysia and later translated into English by the Lontar Foundation. Its Indonesian version was published by Amanah.

Author Dewi “Dee” Lestari praised Nuril's novel. “Nuril Basri tells his story in a way that is at once light, straightforward and humorous. In this novel, he has created something that is both beautiful and moving, a tale that makes us willingly contemplate serious issues,” Dee wrote, as quoted on Nuril’s website.

'Love, Lies and Indomee' will receive its Singapore debut in March and its UK debut in May. 'Love, Lies and Indomee' will receive its Singapore debut in March and its UK debut in May. (Courtesy of Nuril Basri/-)

Nuril’s latest book, Love, Lies and Indomee, is a portrait of a cynical stocky woman trying to find love and marriage in absurd situations, shaped by her pessimistic surroundings. All the elements of the story are wrapped under Nuril's usual tarp of Indonesian social commentary: unfairly pressing family members, toxic masculinity held by most typical Indonesian men and a society that demands women adhere to a single personality.

It is considered the spiritual sequel to Not a Virgin.

Love Lies and Indomee, which had already been published in Malaysia under the title Enak (Good), is to receive its Singapore debut in March and its British debut in May, both under the Epigram Books imprint.

Nuril said he still could not find a publisher in Indonesia that wants to publish Enak and he decided to print and market the book himself. “I always write in the Indonesian language and then get them translated,” he says. "For me the most important thing is to write."

Along with Love, Lies and Indomee, Not A Virgin is to also be published by the British house Monsoon Books and is to make its debut at the 2019 London Book Fair, at which Indonesia is to be the festival’s “market focus” country for this year.

Nuril got the idea for the book’s concept and main character from the experiences of one of his younger siblings’ friends who had a history of being picked on because of her size and her dark skin color.

“Initially, I wanted this character to just become a supporting character, but I saw that she was the perfect vehicle for showing how such people can choose to be indifferent and careless about it all instead of playing the victim,” he says.

In this attitude, Nuril aims to convey the message of body positivity and display the traits of an independent female attitude in a city as judgmental as Jakarta.

The author said a British review of this book claimed that Love, Lies and Indomee essentially functions as the “Jakarta version of Bridget Jones’ Diary”.

“It’s about showing the triumph of women over their harsh social environments by depicting them as strong and carefree enough to get through that, instead of playing the victim,” he says. (ste)

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