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Jakarta Post

Indonesian literature Stars in the making

  • Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

Frankfurt, Germany   /   Sun, October 18, 2015   /  03:26 pm
Indonesian literature Stars in the making Missing cat: Children’s book author Murti Bunanta (right) has visitors partake in the story of a little kitten in search of a new mother at the Island of Tales in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)" height="324" border="0" width="510">Missing cat: Children’s book author Murti Bunanta (right) has visitors partake in the story of a little kitten in search of a new mother at the Island of Tales in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)

At one of the world’s most renowned publishing trade fairs, more than 70 authors and hundreds of other artists from Indonesia embarked on a mission to bring local literature to the global market.

Indonesia had a good start at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, running from Oct. 14 to 18.

Amba (The Question of Red) by Laksmi Pamuntjak is enthralling German readers. Posters for her book can be spotted in many corners of the gigantic fair, and even on the venue’s bus. On top of that, the Indonesian author will have the honor to speak on the Blue Sofa, one of the most prestigious discussion forums at the fair.

Laksmi is not the only star. Sharing the spotlight with her are Leila S. Chudori with her novel Pulang (Home) and Ayu Utami with Larung and Saman, which have caught the attention of the European book market.

Other Indonesian authors presenting their translated works at the event are Okky Madasari, Oka Rusmini and Linda Christanty, who touches on human rights and sociopolitical conflict in Jangan Tulis Kami Teroris (Do Not Write We Are Terrorists).

Interestingly, their names have created the assumption among some German readers and media that female writers dominate Indonesian contemporary literature.

“It is because they prefer to read books in German, and the [Indonesian] books translated into German happen to be mostly written by women,” Leila said.

However, most of the Indonesian authors at the book fair are in fact male, and some of them have come with their latest translated works. Aside from Andrea Hirata with Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), Eka Kurniawan — often hailed as the successor to legendary man of letters Pramoedya Ananta Toer — presents the German version of Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger).

Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 comes at a time when Indonesian publishing houses are seeing book sales drop by 10 to 15 percent, according to the Indonesian Publishers Association (Ikapi) chairwoman Lucya Andam Dewi.

In choosing Indonesia as this year’s Guest of Honor, the fair organizers hope to see new aspects of Indonesia, not only its famous traditional culture, but also its socio-political transformations and its dynamics as a young democracy with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Most importantly, Indonesian literature is expected to shed some light on Islam and diversity at a time when Europe is dealing with rising numbers of refugees from Muslim countries.

No doubt, Indonesia needs to wholly embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being the fair’s Guest of Honor. And the last three days have shown that the country’s authors, comic and multimedia artists, and even chefs, are working hard to make the most of it.

Young talent: The youngest Indonesian delegate, 11-year-old author Nadia Shafiana Rahma (third right) talks about her creative process to German students in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)

Missing cat: Children'€™s book author Murti Bunanta (right) has visitors partake in the story of a little kitten in search of a new mother at the Island of Tales in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)

At one of the world'€™s most renowned publishing trade fairs, more than 70 authors and hundreds of other artists from Indonesia embarked on a mission to bring local literature to the global market.

Indonesia had a good start at this year'€™s Frankfurt Book Fair, running from Oct. 14 to 18.

Amba (The Question of Red) by Laksmi Pamuntjak is enthralling German readers. Posters for her book can be spotted in many corners of the gigantic fair, and even on the venue'€™s bus. On top of that, the Indonesian author will have the honor to speak on the Blue Sofa, one of the most prestigious discussion forums at the fair.

Laksmi is not the only star. Sharing the spotlight with her are Leila S. Chudori with her novel Pulang (Home) and Ayu Utami with Larung and Saman, which have caught the attention of the European book market.

Other Indonesian authors presenting their translated works at the event are Okky Madasari, Oka Rusmini and Linda Christanty, who touches on human rights and sociopolitical conflict in Jangan Tulis Kami Teroris (Do Not Write We Are Terrorists).

Interestingly, their names have created the assumption among some German readers and media that female writers dominate Indonesian contemporary literature.

'€œIt is because they prefer to read books in German, and the [Indonesian] books translated into German happen to be mostly written by women,'€ Leila said.

However, most of the Indonesian authors at the book fair are in fact male, and some of them have come with their latest translated works. Aside from Andrea Hirata with Sang Pemimpi (The Dreamer), Eka Kurniawan '€” often hailed as the successor to legendary man of letters Pramoedya Ananta Toer '€” presents the German version of Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger).

Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 comes at a time when Indonesian publishing houses are seeing book sales drop by 10 to 15 percent, according to the Indonesian Publishers Association (Ikapi) chairwoman Lucya Andam Dewi.

In choosing Indonesia as this year'€™s Guest of Honor, the fair organizers hope to see new aspects of Indonesia, not only its famous traditional culture, but also its socio-political transformations and its dynamics as a young democracy with the world'€™s largest Muslim population.

Most importantly, Indonesian literature is expected to shed some light on Islam and diversity at a time when Europe is dealing with rising numbers of refugees from Muslim countries.

No doubt, Indonesia needs to wholly embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being the fair'€™s Guest of Honor. And the last three days have shown that the country'€™s authors, comic and multimedia artists, and even chefs, are working hard to make the most of it.

Young talent: The youngest Indonesian delegate, 11-year-old author Nadia Shafiana Rahma (third right) talks about her creative process to German students in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)Young talent: The youngest Indonesian delegate, 11-year-old author Nadia Shafiana Rahma (third right) talks about her creative process to German students in the Indonesian Pavilion.(Courtesy of the Indonesian National Committee at the Frankfurt Book Fair)

Their activities are concentrated in the luminous Indonesian Pavilion, where Indonesian architect Muhammad Thamrin invites the visitors to discover seven areas, termed islands, located in a sea of translucent cubical lanterns.

On the Island of Inquiry, an Indonesian technology firm debuts an application that demonstrates how to carve out of West Java'€™s bamboo wood the traditional angklung tube instrument, while another tech firm presents the Javanese folklore of Timun Mas in an augmented-reality book.

Comic artists like Is Yuniarto, Muhammad '€˜Mice'€™ Misrad and Beng Rahadian, show off their instant sketching skills on the Island of Images, which is adorned with comic books and pictures of classic comic covers projected on a round screen.

In a trip back to sweet childhood memories, acclaimed children'€™s book author Murti Bunanta reads her story Anak Kucing yang Manja (The Spoiled Little Kitten), as the visitors sit and lay their heads on a spacious round coach on the Island of Tales.

Murti, whose books have been sold in the US, Canada and South Korea, reads with the gentle, calm voice of bedtime stories, until the storyline gets so exciting that she vibrantly jumps around, mimicking the kitten'€™s meow and inviting the audience to take part in the reading.

The largest of them all is Island of Scenes, which accommodates major discussions and performances. This is where Butet Kertaradjasa reflects on Indonesian theater and Dorothea Rosa Herliany reads out her poets in The Spoken Word session.

Acclaimed 79-year-old novelist Nh. Dini converses with her admirers, including one European man who has brought his entire collection of Nh. Dini novels to the event.

'€œI am old and have to be accompanied all the time,'€ says Dini, who is in a wheelchair, upon arriving in Frankfurt. '€œSo this may be the last time I accept an overseas invitation.'€

Veteran poets Sapardi Djoko Damono and Taufik Ismail as well as author Ahmad Tohari also make their presence at the book fair.

Aside from the big names, the Indonesian Pavilion also allocates space to young authors. On her first overseas journey and accompanied by her father, 11-year-old Nadia Shafiana Rahma from Yogyakarta shares her fondness of writing fiction stories with German students in a session called '€œFun and Share: Learning to Write with Nadia'€.

In another hall, the Indonesian stand becomes the epicenter of Indonesian publishers to offer their books to publishing houses from around the globe in the matchmaking session.

Nung Atasana from the Borobudur literary agency, who leads the session, hopes that it would help Indonesian books expand beyond their current overseas market, which is concentrated on Malaysia and other Asian countries.

'€œWe are aiming to make copyright deals here,'€ he said, adding that around 30 representatives from Indonesia and international publishers partake in each session.

'€œOnce a book becomes a hit in one country, it is much easier to market that book in neighboring countries, such as happened to Laksmi Pamuntjak'€™s Amba, which has been translated into Dutch and German, and also the works of Eka Kurniawan.'€

Germany is one of the key target markets for Indonesian publishers. Since last year, 142 Indonesian titles have been released in the German-language market.

Indonesian publishers, like fellow publishers in Southeast Asia, were working hard to make their presence felt on the international market, said Peter Schoppert, director of NUS Press Singapore.

'€œIt is challenging for all of us in Southeast Asia. [Especially] with regards to the US, we'€™re not so big in their mind. So we have to work quite hard, I think, to make them understand more about us,'€ said Schoppert, who has released English versions of some Indonesian works, including a collection of Goenawan Muhamad'€™s essays.

'€œI see the quality of publishing in Indonesia rising very quickly; we are now seeing the beginning of a business inside ASEAN, with Malaysian publishers buying Indonesian titles and Thai publishers starting to look into it. We are beginning to see this business growing.'€

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