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9 Indonesian book translations to read on World Book Day

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, April 23, 2020  /  08:39 am
9 Indonesian book translations to read on World Book Day

Reading provides escapism in difficult times. (Shutterstock/Marish)

In times when you literally cannot go anywhere beyond the confines of your house, reading has become a means of escapism for many people.

Speaking of reading, we will soon celebrate the annual World Book Day on April 23, which aims "to promote the enjoyment of books and reading". According to UNESCO on its official website, the date was chosen during its General Conference, held in Paris in 1995 to pay tribute to several prominent authors who died on that date -- William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, to name a few.

While some Indonesian authors such as Pramoedya Ananta Toer and YB Mangunwijaya are relatively well known by global readers, many works by contemporary writers are just beginning to gain traction as they have just been translated in recent years.

Here are several books by Indonesian authors that have been translated into English, for those who wish to enrich their reading palette.

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1. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Written by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Annie Tucker

Eka Kurniawan, of Beauty is a Wound fame, tackles the world of street fighting and petty criminals in this book. The story puts Ajo Kawir in the spotlight, along with his impotent genitals and his hopeless romance with female fighter Iteung. Following his break-up with Iteung, Ajo Kawir becomes a fearless fighter with nothing to lose.

The book is written in short, fast-paced chapters with poetic and witty lines that are characteristic of Eka Kurniawan. Through the story of Ajo Kawir, Eka presents hard-hitting jabs on the Indonesian government and society.

Available on: Amazon

2. The Original Dream

Written by Nukila Amal, translated by Linda Owens

Originally published in Indonesian as Cala Ibi in 2003, the novel gained widespread attention after it was shortlisted for the Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa Nominee that year. The book might put off some readers at first due to its nontraditional plot, which tells a story within a story. However, the lyrical writing and vivid imagery lend the book its strongest appeal.

The book tells the story of Maya/Maia and a dragon named Cala Ibi as they venture into the world of dreams, inviting the reader into a magical realism story.

Available on: Amazon 

3. The Adventures of Na Willa

Written by Reda Gaudiamo, illustrated by Cecillia Hidayat, translated by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul and Kate Wakeling

Despite being marketed as a children's book, Na Willa also makes an amusing yet nostalgic read for all ages.

The book is told in short stories, as if it is written by Willa herself, portraying the day-to-day adventures of a child growing up in a suburb of Surabaya, East Java. Curious and strong-headed, Willa makes a perfect companion for both children and adults.

Available on: Emma PressBook DepositoryAmazon and Post Santa (Indonesian version)

4. Paper Boats

Written by Dee Lestari, translated by Tiffany Tsao

Published in 2009, Perahu Kertas was adapted into a two-part movie in 2012 starring Maudy Ayunda, Adipati Dolken and Reza Rahadian. The story centers on a quirky girl named Kugy as she begins her university life in Bandung, where she meets Keenan, an aspiring painter. The book follows Kugy and Keenan's friendship as it takes a romantic turn, complicated by the presence of Remi and Luhde, as well as the diverging paths in their adult life.

Available on: Periplus, Amazon

5. The Birdwoman's Palate

Written by Laksmi Pamuntjak, translated by Tiffany Tsao

What better way to learn about Indonesia than reading a book about food from across the archipelago? Originally published in Indonesian as Aruna dan Lidahnya, the book was shortlisted for the 2015 Khatulistiwa Literary Award. In 2018, a movie adaptation starring Dian Sastrowardoyo and Nicholas Saputra brought the book to popular attention.

The book follows the story of Aruna, a reporter, as she travels the country for an investigative report. In every local cuisine in the cities that she visits, Aruna discovers so much more than just food.

Available on: Periplus, Amazon, Book Depository

6. Sergius Seeks Bacchus

Written by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao

The poetry book was the first winner of Jakarta Arts Council's Poetry Competition in 2015, and yet, this is not the most special thing about the collection. Consisting of 33 poems, the book tells the experience of being a minority in Indonesia, in terms of both sexuality and religion. The collection shows the range of Norman's references, from mythology to urban, pop-culture. Consider this poem titled "On a Pair of Young Men in the Underground Parking Garage at fX Sudirman Mall" for instance.

The English translation of the book received the PEN Translates Award from the English PEN in London.

Available on: Giramondo, Tilted Axis Press

7. The Wandering

Written by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein

In a Faustian story, the protagonist makes a pact with the devil: a pair of red shoes that can take her wherever she wants to go, in exchange for the feeling of belonging and the safety of a home. The novel takes the readers on a journey across the globe, from Jakarta to New York. The novel's original title Gentayangan represents the state of constantly being in-between, as in the book, the journey is more important than the destination.

The Wandering is not just another travelogue, as it allows the readers to make their own story, ala the classic Choose Your Own Adventure series. 

Available on: Book Depository, Amazon

8. There is No New York Today

Written by Aan Mansyur, translated by John McGlynn

The poetry anthology is launched near the premiere of hit-movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? 2 (What's up with love? 2), as some poems of the book were used in the movie. 

The 80-page book also features photographs of the streets of New York, presented as if the pictures were taken by the movie's main character Rangga -- who lives in the Big Apple before going back to Indonesia.

Available at: Gramedia

9. Eyewitness

Written by Seno Gumira Ajidarma, translated by Jan Lingard and John H. McGlynn

A journalist cum novelist, Seno Gumira presents history and fiction with a clarity that is more effective than dry, and a somewhat murky story on what actually happened in Timor Leste (formerly Indonesia's province of East Timor).

The short stories focus on individuals that become victims of Indonesia's occupation in Timor Leste, fleshing out the human costs that are often shadowed by the big, nationalistic lens in politics. (kes)

Available at: Amazon

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