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Jakarta Post

'€˜O'€™ A multilayered fable

  • Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 7, 2016   /  10:39 am
'€˜O'€™  A multilayered fable New work: Author Eka Kurniawan poses with his latest novel, O." height="396" border="0" width="512">

New work: Author Eka Kurniawan poses with his latest novel, O.

After presenting a ghostly tiger at the center of a gripping murder case in novel Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger), author Eka Kurniawan is back with another work.

In his upcoming novel, O, noted author Eka Kurniawan seems to offer a humorous plot by bringing in a monkey.

“It tells the story of a monkey who wants to marry a Dangdut Tsar,” the blurb of the novel reads.

Prior to the official launch of the book on March 14, Eka surprisingly talked about and shared a couple of copies of the novel at a recent literary discussion at the Institut Français d’Indonésie (IFI) in Jakarta.

The audience, who were mostly readers of his work, could not hide their excitement as Eka talked about his latest novel.

He said the book is about a monkey from a topeng monyet (traveling monkey performance), which sees a picture of a dangdut superstar in a magazine and suddenly falls in love with him.

“She believes the dangdut singer used to be a monkey too. So, the monkey joins the performance, believing that by training in human behaviors, one day she will become a human and meet her idol,” said Eka, who has been dubbed a “writer to watch” by Publisher’s Weekly.

“Basically, it is a fable. Then the humans come.”

Upon hearing the plot, some may perhaps relate the dangdut tsar to Rhoma Irama, a legendary singer in the genre that is a fusion of Malay and Indian music, who is known as the Dangdut King.

Book talk: Eka (right) talks with Didier Vuillecot, the cultural attaché of the French Embassy (center), during a literary discussion titled “Lire C’est Vivre: Eka Kurniawan and Lelaki Harimau” at the Institut Français d’Indonésie in Jakarta.(JP/Yuliasri Perdani)

New work: Author Eka Kurniawan poses with his latest novel, O.

After presenting a ghostly tiger at the center of a gripping murder case in novel Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger), author Eka Kurniawan is back with another work.

In his upcoming novel, O, noted author Eka Kurniawan seems to offer a humorous plot by bringing in a monkey.

'€œIt tells the story of a monkey who wants to marry a Dangdut Tsar,'€ the blurb of the novel reads.

Prior to the official launch of the book on March 14, Eka surprisingly talked about and shared a couple of copies of the novel at a recent literary discussion at the Institut Français d'€™Indonésie (IFI) in Jakarta.

The audience, who were mostly readers of his work, could not hide their excitement as Eka talked about his latest novel.

He said the book is about a monkey from a topeng monyet (traveling monkey performance), which sees a picture of a dangdut superstar in a magazine and suddenly falls in love with him.

'€œShe believes the dangdut singer used to be a monkey too. So, the monkey joins the performance, believing that by training in human behaviors, one day she will become a human and meet her idol,'€ said Eka, who has been dubbed a '€œwriter to watch'€ by Publisher'€™s Weekly.

'€œBasically, it is a fable. Then the humans come.'€

Upon hearing the plot, some may perhaps relate the dangdut tsar to Rhoma Irama, a legendary singer in the genre that is a fusion of Malay and Indian music, who is known as the Dangdut King.

Book talk: Eka (right) talks with Didier Vuillecot, the cultural attaché of the French Embassy (center), during a literary discussion titled '€œLire C'€™est Vivre: Eka Kurniawan and Lelaki Harimau'€ at the Institut Français d'€™Indonésie in Jakarta.(JP/Yuliasri Perdani)Book talk: Eka (right) talks with Didier Vuillecot, the cultural attaché of the French Embassy (center), during a literary discussion titled '€œLire C'€™est Vivre: Eka Kurniawan and Lelaki Harimau'€ at the Institut Français d'€™Indonésie in Jakarta.(JP/Yuliasri Perdani)

Take a trip past a traffic intersection in any of Indonesia'€™s big cities to see a topeng monyet, in which a monkey on a chain, usually called Sarimin, acts like a human, from putting on lipstick, taking a stroll with an umbrella to riding a miniature wooden horse. Topping off the performance, the monkey will don a monkey mask.

These little monkeys performing on Jakarta streets are what prompted Eka to write O.

Eka'€™s daughter, who is still in kindergarten, always asks him to stop the car every time she spots a topeng monyet, even if the traffic lights have turned green.

'€œAt first, I wanted to write a book for her. I canceled it, first, because she was still learning to read. Second, the story grew even more complex,'€ said Eka, who worked on the novel for eight years.

Book editor Mirna Yulistianti said O was much more complex than Eka'€™s previous novels.

'€œIt features more characters. The plot contains layers of stories, which make it complex,'€ she said.

'€œIt seems that only a genius author like Eka could create a story with such complexity in Indonesia.'€

Eka, dubbed the successor of the late legendary author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, soared into the global literary world with his debut novel, Cantik Itu Luka (Beauty is a Wound), which takes on dark episodes in the country'€™s history and fuses them with traditional folklore and myths.

His ascent has continued as more of his translated works have received praise from international media and readers. Cantik Itu Luka has been translated into 25 languages.

Lelaki Harimau, which follows a man who believes that a ghostly tiger living inside his body is responsible for a murder, is available in five languages, aside from Indonesian.

The English translation of his third novel, Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas (Love and Revenge), will hit bookstores next year.

With Eka'€™s tremendous success in mind, Gramedia has prepared 15,000 copies of O for its first print run '€” four times the usual quota for local books.

'€œThe number reflects our high expectations. We expect it will be a bestseller,'€ said Siti Greti, the general manager of Gramedia Pustaka Utama.

'€œBookstores are grappling to get the books. We want to make sure that every store gets enough.'€

Gramedia will also feature O as its hot new title at the London Book Fair in April.

At the discussion, Eka revealed more about the elements of local culture that inspired his previous works. It involved Suzanna, a movie star from the 1970s and 1980s who was crowned the queen of Indonesian horror.

'€œThe ghosts of classic horror movies are usually female. I ridiculed that when writing Cantik Itu Luka. Dewi Ayu is a ghost throughout the novel, from the moment she rises from her grave until she'€™s
dead again. In Lelaki Harimau, there is a mystical tigress, while in Seperti Dendam, there is a ghost character.

'€œSo it is like a tribute for Suzanna and friends,'€ Eka said with a smile.

When the French Embassy'€™s cultural attaché, Didier Vuillecot, congratulated Eka on being included as one of the top global thinkers of 2015 by Foreign Policy magazine, Eka played down the achievement.

'€œI guess it is because they don'€™t know much about Indonesian literature,'€ he said, prompting laughter from the audience. '€œSo when they saw my name, '€˜Ohh'€¦ here it is. One name from Indonesia'€™.'€

Wittily, Vuillecot responded: '€œEka'€™s answer is very Indonesian. His answer reflects modesty. But it [his achievement] is a fact.'€

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