Novroz who is from Indonesia and Mel U who lives in the Philippines are hosting an Indonesian short story month this August and everyone is welcome to join. If you want to know more, check out Novroz’ Introductory Post where you can find suggestions and links to sites where you can read Indonesian short stories online.
I read a few stories but the one I liked the most was by Nenden Lilis A., an author from West Java. I found the story which is called The Rooms Out Back in the issue Tropical Currents of Words Without Borders.
I liked The Rooms Out Back a lot, it opens a door to a world we don’t know, to ways of life we are not familiar with. There is such a lot in this story, I hardly know where to start.
A young woman, mother of a small child, lives with her husband in a very lively, somewhat chaotic apartment building. Every morning at 7.30 they are woken by the shadow of a cat. Usually they get up at 4.30, do various things, chat with neighbours, pray and nap for a little while until they finally get up for good.
From the first scene we are drawn into this world where a lot happens outside of the apartments and the narrator tells us something about all the inhabitants of the house.
Unlike most of the others she is a happy wife, her husband is kind and gentle and helps a lot while the other husbands tend to drink, have affairs and beat their wives.
What I found extremely fascinating is the narrator’s relationship with Umi, one of the women in the house. Umi has been abandoned by her husband and tries to make a living selling lotions and potions and massaging people.
Reading about this reminded me a lot of my studies of cultural anthropology where I learned how much of the money gained for some households in some countries stems from informal economy. Like housework it is invisible but contributes to a large extent to the family’s survival. These women have to be industrious and ingenious to make a living.
The casualty in their discussions fascinated me, they mention sex naturally and without shame, the body is important and treated as such. Umi offers to massage the narrator because she feels tense. Imagine we would offer that to someone we hardly know?
Just one word on the writing. It isn’t anything special but we have to bear in mind that these stories have been translated from the original language. Maybe the style is more refined in Indonesian.
You can read the story here. I’m interested to read more of her work and to discover other authors.