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Desi Anwar’s five stories seek to soothe pain of growing up

Evie Breese

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, March 14, 2019  /  09:38 am
Desi Anwar’s five stories seek to soothe pain of growing up

Stories of women: Desi Anwar tells five stories of five young women growing up facing humiliation, disappointment and loss in "Lima Cerita", the Indonesian translation of her first foray into fiction "Growing Pains". (JP/Evie Breese)

Growing up is hard to do. And the worst part is that it never ends. In her first foray into fiction, journalist and writer Desi Anwar takes readers by the hand to show them that they are not alone in their struggles and that there “isn’t much a cup of tea can’t help with”.

Desi’s career is achingly impressive. After studying at a university on the rolling hills of Sussex in the south of England, she returned to Indonesia to start her journalism career as a TV anchor and reporter.

She currently works as a senior news anchor and hosts her talk show Face to Face with Desi Anwar where she interviews prominent people from around the world. Growing Pains is her eighth book published by Gramedia, with the recently released Bahasa Indonesian version Lima Cerita bringing the total to nine. 

Yet, such an outwardly successful life was not without its trials and tribulations. Weaving in her own experiences to Growing Pains, Desi tells five stories of five young women growing up facing humiliation, disappointment and loss.

The characters struggle to come to terms with parental death, falling out of love, and understanding that role models are still imperfect humans however much they are idolized.

Heartfelt emotions: Copies of Heartfelt emotions: Copies of "Growing Pains" and the Bahasa Indonesian translation "Lima Cerita" is displayed at the Aksara bookstore in Kemang. (JP/Evie Breese)

The central story, from which the collection takes its title, sees an unnamed 17-year-old girl attempt to strangle herself with her own hands. Told with gentle humor, Desi describes how the girl wakes up confused as to why she is even alive. Plagued by a newfound feeling of intense inferiority, she is aided by her kind English teacher Mrs. Barnes who gives her a hot cup of tea and, inadvertently, a hint on how to overcome her anxiety.

Through the stories, Desi addresses the complexity of emotions and mental health that many people struggle with.

“Most of us have had times and experiences when we’re not in control, or we’re carried away by our emotions,” she said at the Lima Cerita book launch in Jakarta recently.

The stories are a collection of Desi’s memories that have been fictionalized. By putting pen to paper, she has worked through experiences in her past to try to understand certain things in her life. 

Now that she has a better understanding of her own past, Desi hopes that by sharing her experiences she can guide others to better understand themselves.

Despite dealing with some difficult themes in her writing, Desi believes that by addressing them head on we can “just move on and look for new adventures”.

"None of this makes any sense": Desi Anwar reads an excerpt from "Growing Pains" in which a 17-year-old girl questions why she is even alive. (JP/Evie Breese)

Growing Pains was first released in English in July last year, with the Indonesian version Lima Cerita being released seven months later.

Desi admitted that translating the book into Indonesias was quite challenging. Having grown up in England, she finds it easier to express herself in English.

To truly capture what she was trying to say in the original, Desi sought the help of fellow author Dewi “Dee” Lestari whose translation skills set the tone for the rest of the book.

While Growing Pains is largely aimed at a younger readership, it is clear that for Desi the process of growing up is constant.

In a discussion with fellow author Dewi Kharisma Michellia at the book launch, the accomplished journalist revealed that even as an adult she still experiences feelings of inferiority. When meeting Richard Branson, Desi could not help but feel shy when faced with his intelligence, illustrating her belief that “we all have this fear that there is something wrong with me”.

In many ways, as the author of Growing Pains, Desi acts as the benevolent Mrs. Barnes, supporting her young readers through their own struggles. The stories themselves act as comforting cups of tea, with solace between their pages to show readers that they are not alone in their angst, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

- The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post


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