Indonesian Short Stories

Thanks to Novroz from  Polychrome Interest and Mel U from The Reading Life I discovered Indonesian short stories.

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.

18 thoughts on “Indonesian Short Stories

  1. Thank you or terima kasih for being the first to review an Indonesian Short Story, Caroline.

    Your review makes me really curious with this short. All that you have mentioned in a short story sounds unbelieveable.
    What Umi did happen a lot in my country, especially in the villages (a bit rare in the big city like where I am currenly living).

    • After I finished writing I saw that Mel U had reviewed it last year and pointed out that it showed a slice of life of the poor and that the main protagonists, the narrator and her husband were from a different social background and chose to live there whereas the others had no choice. It is a short story but there is a lot in it.

  2. Everywhere I go in the blogworld today, bloggers are reading really exotic writing! I feel I’m stretching my limits with my mini-Italian challenge. 😉 You do make the story sound very intriguing.

    • For someone whose aborted PhD had the title “Vodun in Haitian Literature” this is by far not the most “exotic” I’ve read. 🙂 I agree though and am pleased that people start to read outside of the boundaries they have set for themselves. Italy is as good a starting point as any but then again as much as travelling isn’t for every one, books from other countries are not for every one. My problem with non-European books is that I read them less as literature than as texts.
      In this case it was decidedly content over style.

  3. I really like reading short stories and have been trying to read more of them–will have to keep this in mind. I’m enjoying three Asian anthologies I have been reading from–it’s kind of cool getting a view of an entirely different part of the world!

    • I agree, it is like taking a mini-trip but I think it is precisely this that keeps others away. The link I attached to Words Without Borders is great, they have such a lot of online stories from different countries. Not everything is of high literary quality but it is interesting anyway.

    • Thanks, Stu. I’m sure you will like some of the stories. Novroz reviewed her favourite Indonesian novelist not long ago and he did sound very good.
      I have quite a few Asian writers on my TBR pile, either in German or French translations. I will start to review them anyway, maybe when people hear about them and ask for them, the chance that they will be translated will grow? I have read quite a lot of japanese writers and some of the Indian sub continent but the rest not yet.

      • Thanks for the review and I would be extremely glad if you could review the Buru Quartet, a series of four novels by Pramoedya Anata Toer which he conceived when he was a prisoner on the remote island of Buru (a kind of Indonesian GULag Archipelago). It’s an outstanding work in my opinion.

        Also Mochtar Lubis’ “Tiger! Tiger!” or his “Twilight in Djakarta” I found very interesting. There is also a good effort made by the Lontar Foundation to publish the most important Indonesian literary works in English:

        I intend also to publish some reviews on my own blog later (when my pile of “to be read” books gets a bit smaller):

        Right now you can find there two entries related to Indonesian books (“Republic of Fun” by Butet Kartaredjasa, and “The Light House”, by Popok Tri Wahyudi) .

        Maybe I got carried away a bit, but I lived several years in Indonesia and am very fond of this country and naturally very interested in its literature as well.

        • It’s so rare to see anyone mention or review Indonesian books and I know next to nothing, so thanks a lot for the recommendations.
          And your links. The Buru Quartet rings a bell. So do the other two.
          I can imagine that it would be an amazing place to live.

  4. This is simply a great post-this is a very rich story in which a lot happens-I am very happy you posted for our event-for those interested in joining in Indonesian Short Story Week (held open all of August)-there are resource pages on my and Novroz’s blogs. One of my favorites is “Her” by Titus Basino

    • Thanks for stopping by and the kind words. I read your review after I wrote mine and found it so interesting. I didn’t pay all that much attention to the fact that the social backgrounds were so different but it’s true. I admire your blog from afar btw (that’s called lurking, right?).
      Thanks for the suggestion, I hope I can read it online, I would like to make a second contribution.

  5. Pingback: Indonesian Short Story Month Has Finished – Thank You « Polychrome Interest

  6. Just discovered this post by accident, Caroline. I don’t think I have ever read an Indonesian story before. This must have been a wonderful event. Thanks for your review. ‘The Rooms Out Back’ looks like a wonderful story. I will try to read it at the link you have given.

    • You know what, this is one of the top ten posts on this blog. (I guess that’s how you discovered it. 🙂 ). Every day visistors come looking for Indonesian stories. One would think it’s the most read literature in the world. I was very glad I participated. It was my first Indonesian story. I started an Indonesian novel which is so good but I put it aside during GLM and haven’t returned to it yet. I should.

      • Yes, I think that is how I discovered it 🙂 I saw it in the mail that I got when you commented on my post. I wondered how I missed this post of yours. I think you must have written it before I started following your blog. The story is there at the link you have given. I can’t wait to read it 🙂 Thanks for writing about this story and for the link. It is so wonderful that it is one of the top visited posts in your blog 🙂

        • I hope you’ll enjoy it. I don’t know when it was but possibly before we knew each other. It’s interesting to be able to catch a glimpse of another country.

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